The Beat Goes On
Colin Haskins following his inner moonlight to Litchfield
Colin Haskins is preserving and promoting the history of the Beat Generation.
Photo by Antoine Bootz
When Colin Haskins came upon the red, rustic cottage embraced by woods off Beach Road he knew he had found a new home. “When I saw the place I had to have it,” said the Beat poet, author, and event promoter, as he sat with friends on his new back porch overlooking a marsh and soothing woods. “I love it here. Everybody has been so welcoming. Whether I stay in this house or somewhere else, I want to remain in Litchfield.”
Haskins has committed much time and energy over the past decade nurturing poets and furthering the awareness of Beat poetry. The “Beat Generation”, as they came to be known, was a group of writers interested in changing consciousness and defying conventional writing. The original “Beats” were heavily influenced by the Zen Buddhist philosophy. The phrase “BE-AT” (Latin) implied consciousness of who you were, what you were doing, and where you were going during any moment of time.
Beat poetry started to become popular in the 1940s in New York City and then increased its following in the 1950s and 1960s, fueled by such notable and counterculture Beat poets as Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.
Haskins, who has no academic experience with the art form, began attending poetry readings in 1994 and started hosting events soon after in 1995. “I’ve been heavily influenced by live performances. My early exposure to poetry was at open mics and Slam, which is a poetry competition. We hosted monthly events on poetry legends, which ultimately became just Beat Era poets.
Haskins enjoys watching Kerouac and listening to his music and poetry recordings. He adds, “I love Edna St. Vincent Millay. I identify with her because she was also from Maine (Haskins’ birth state). Her live recording of `Love Is Not All’ shows the bold dignity of a great woman, musically and lyrically, so confident and so typical of the Beats. Although Edna is not historically Beat, her temperament and courageousness was absolutely Beat.”
“I write every day,” Haskins says, as he pushes back a wisp of slightly graying hair from his forehead. “I used to give lectures on ancient Egypt, but then one day I went to a poetry reading and had a catharsis. I took part in a poetry reading, a competitive one actually, my first time out reading my work. I received a minus infinity from one judge,” he shares, laughing. But that did not deter him. He kept writing, getting up in front of audiences, and the rest, well, makes for some interesting reading and listening.
Haskins is executive director of National Beat Poetry Foundation with Yvon J. Cormier and Debbie Tosun Kilday. He is also poetry director at The Licia and Mason Beekley Community Library, New Hartford, where he manages a monthly “Kerouac Café” for the National Beat Poetry Festival. He co-founded the Connecticut Beat Poetry Festival, National Beat Poetry Festival, and International Beat Poetry Festival with Yvon J. Cormier. He is founder of Free Poets Collective, which is the first group certified to host the yearly “Woman Scream” event in the U.S. held in Connecticut in March. He was one of the main organizers for the three-day National Beat Poetry Festival and Awards Ceremony held at the John Noelke Gallery in Torrington this past September. He has written and published six poetry books.
Haskins hopes to bring Beat poetry to a venue in Litchfield. “This is such a rich area for the arts” he explains. “While we pay homage to the Beat poets that came before, we are also striving to bring new voices to the forefront. Really, our poetry is all about pointing out the injustices of the world and commenting on them. As Kerouac said, ‘Beat poetry is sympathy’.”