Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings is the story of poet Allen Ginsberg’s encounter with Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Current Groningen City Poet and former University Poet Joost Oomen recognizes the struggles of a poet just starting out.

New York, 1943. Allen Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe, enters Columbia University and gets to know the extravagant Lucien Carr, who introduces the young Ginsberg to a drug-fuelled circle of artistic friends.

They eventually call themselves The New Vision and decide to start a literary revolution, even though none of them has ever really written anything. ‘It is really difficult and scary to show other people what you’ve written for the first time. The movie portrays that struggle very well.’

Ginsberg eventually reads his first poem to Jack Kerouac and Carr in a rowing boat that they have stolen. Whereas they are impressed, Joost Oomen isn’t. ‘It wasn’t a good poem, just a load of hippie nonsense. Most first poems are like that, and so were mine.’

He recalls his first performance, at the age of 17. ‘I was asked to recite a few poems at an event in Leeuwarden. Even though I had experience of performing as the drummer in my band, I was very nervous. So I recited them really quickly, just to get it over with.’

Finding inspiration

The friends go out together, take all sorts of drugs and regularly skip class. In an era of American history in which homosexuality was regarded as a disease and explicit books were locked up in a prohibited section of the library, The New Vision saw it as their duty to break the law – much to the displeasure of their literature professor, who told them that if they wanted to set the world on fire, they should travel to Europe to join the war.

‘You can see that they are trying to find things to write about by taking drugs and doing crazy things’, says Oomen. ‘However, although some life experience is necessary to write a good poem, those experiences are usually not planned. Eventually, Ginsberg wrote his best work, Howl, at a time when he was completely honest with himself and the world.’

Exciting and energetic

Even though Kill Your Darlings is about poets, there is little poetry in it. The plot is exciting, jazzy and energetic. There is never a dull moment. David Kammerer, who is desperately in love with Carr but is rejected by him again and again, eventually acts as the catalyst.

The different battles each character has to fight finally result in a powerful scene in which Ginsberg, Carr, Kerouac and Burroughs all seal their fates. ‘That scene shows what’s going to happen to them in the future. It was very nicely done’, says Oomen.

Writing class

‘Kill your darlings’, says the literature professor. It is an oft-heard adage in writing classes, and it is exactly what Ginsberg, Carr and the others do, each in their own way. Not only did they contribute to the history of literature, they also provoked an exciting movie. Oomen agrees. ‘Some parts were typically American, but the movie nicely combined the uncertainties of a poet just starting out with an exciting plot.’