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UCLA Library's 'I'm a Stranger Here Myself' takes on the Beats

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The story of the Beat Generation is often seen as a tale of two cities: The movement began in New York and blossomed in San Francisco. A UCLA Library exhibit sheds light on "a third, lesser-known hub" — Los Angeles, specifically the beachside bohemia of Venice.

"The Beats were an influential part of our literary environment," says Susan D. Anderson, a library special collections curator who specializes in modern L.A. history. "We want to highlight their presence as well as the rich diversity of other nonmainstream writing [that was] found in small magazines like 'Trace,' 'The California Quarterly' and later, 'Coastlines,' presses, galleries and avant-garde communities."

That lively scene is celebrated in "I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Poets in Post-WWII L.A.," in the Charles E. Young Research Library through June 14. The show, which draws mainly on books, manuscripts, photographs and ephemera from the university's collections, was organized by Anderson as was "Beat 101," a primer on the era, in the Powell Library.

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Among the poets featured are two — Allen Ginsberg and Stuart Z. Perkoff — who, Anderson says, "stood at the center of their constellations."

Ginsberg's epic "Howl" announced the arrival of the Beat movement in the mid-1950s. The library exhibits were created in conjunction with the staging of another major work, "Kaddish," presented in April by the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA. "Kaddish," which was published in 1961, is on display in a 1992 limited-edition book (with art by R.B. Kitaj) along with an original mimeographed copy of "Howl" and material related to the writer's visits here.

While Ginsberg had a national reputation, says Anderson, "Perkoff was the king of Venice … a wonderful poet whose Venice West Café was a community gathering place. We have his papers, including a lot of his journals, which are filled with musings, drafts of poems and collages."

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"I'm a Stranger Here" offers glimpses of literary Venice and a Beat scene brought to the public eye by Life magazine and the 1959 book "The Holy Barbarians" by Lawrence Lipton. The show also looks at Beat images in popular culture, including stereotypical "Beatniks" on television and in cartoon and song.

"We do want to remind you a lot was going on besides the Beats," says Anderson, who notes the exhibit's title comes from blacklisted writer Don Gordon's poem "At the Station," which appeared in "Coastlines." "We explore the broader postwar landscape of voices and venues — what laid the foundation for contemporary poetry in L.A."

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