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'Ruth Weiss: The Beat Goddess': Pioneer who broke every norm to set beat poetry's foundation gets apt tribute

It took her no time to became a Jazz troubadour portraying the zeitgeist of Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco
Ruth Weiss (Screengrab/YouTube)
Ruth Weiss (Screengrab/YouTube)

When you run a Google search for 'poet and performer ruth weiss', one of the first things that show up is the fact that she preferred to spell her name in lowercase. Born into a Jewish family in the tumultuous years of the rise of Nazism in Germany, choosing to write her name in lowercase was a symbolic protest against German "law and order", where all nouns are capitalized. If that is not proof enough of the spirit of this woman who pioneered the art of beat poetry, read on, for any amount of adulation is not enough for her.

To say that Weiss is one of the most influential writers of the Beat Generation is not even cutting it. In several interviews, she has elaborated on how she always knew what her calling was — a poet, an artist who talks about life as it is yet bringing new avenues to life. In fact, Ruth Weiss was the woman who practically set the foundation stone for jazz beat poetry. But it all happened as a fluke — as a product of random events that she embraced.

As a 10-year-old refugee, she escaped the Nazi Reich to the United States with her parents. when her parents started working for the Army of Occupation, she went to school in Switzerland and spent a lot of time hitchhiking and writing — these two skills would help her later in life. The family soon moved back to America and settled in Chicago. Weiss would soon move out of Chicago and eventually settle in San Francisco — 'I loved the fog,' she used to say.

It is here that she began jamming and reading poetry with street musicians. She would hold poetry and jazz sessions every Wednesday night in a club called The Cellar. From here, it took her no time to became a Jazz troubadour portraying the zeitgeist of Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

'Ruth Weiss: The Beat Goddess' is a documentary that tells of the creative, inspiring life that she has lived over a span of 92 marvelous years. Directed by Melody C Miller and produced by Elisabeth Montgomery, the documentary features real-life footage and interviews bringing to light her prolific career and paying her tribute. "It is up to us as Ruth Weiss' friends and fans to make sure her poetry is read, heard, and experienced," Miller had said about bringing the documentary to a large audience — an audience that revels in beat poetry but is unaware of its foundations. 

The documentary, which also uses images of modern dance, art, animation, and music to embody her oeuvre, further highlights significant historical moments in the world's social and literary movements. The documentary on the contemporary of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac also sheds light on what it was like for a female artist to build herself — keeping herself aloof from society's expectations and jabs, and the role that she had to play in paving the way for female artists.

'Ruth Weiss: The Beat Goddess' is an in-depth exploration into an extraordinary artist and human being. For viewers in the UK, 'Ruth Weiss: The Beat Goddess' will premiere at the Romford Film Festival, Tuesday, August 18, 2020.