I'm reading an article about Beat Generation / Beat poets, and it goes:

Ginsberg arranged for six seriously decent unknown poets to read at the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street. The invitation promised “Allen Ginsberg blowing hot; Gary Snyder blowing cool,” as well as “abandon, noise, strange pictures on walls, Oriental music, lurid poetry. Extremely serious.”

What does Allen Ginsberg "blowing hot" and Gary Snyder "blowing cool" mean in this context? Although I've found the idiom "blow hot and cold" from the dictionary, I still don't understand what this sentence means.

1 Answer 1


Bear in mind that this was pretty much the peak of the hipster/jazz/beat generation.

They are taking an existing metaphor "blowing hot & cold" (roughly, to keep changing your mind on a decision), & bringing it right up to the Jazz parlance of the time, twisting it to fit the new meanings these words were gaining & throwing the original metaphor's meaning right out of the window.

To 'blow' is to play - trumpet or saxophone etc.

'Hot' is great playing - exciting, difficult, fast, energetic.

'Cool' is to be hip & 'with it' [fashionable]. It can also be 'laid back' [relaxed] - slow, smoky jazz, rather than high energy.

Both can actually be used interchangeably in this type of instance, in the same way it later became good to be 'bad'… or the latest version I'm aware of, something that is 'sick' is actually as good as it gets. [I know... kids, huh?]

"Blowing hot" is playing - or in this case reading poetry - really well, with excitement & energy. "Blowing cool" is pretty much the same thing, but would indicate a more relaxed style.

  • Also, the content of Ginsberg's poetry (at least his most famous work, Howl ) evinced an angry, frustrated mood; I don't know about the content of Gary Snyder's poetry. IMHO anyone who recites Howl would have to speak it passionately, animatedly, to do it justice. May 14, 2015 at 12:03
  • +1 I'd just add that the Beats grew up with the 'hot' jazz of the 20s-40s and were supportive audiences for its evolution into bebop and the 'cool' jazz of the 50s and 60s, when the heat took up residence in raw rock and roll. May 14, 2015 at 13:39
  • @BrianHitchcock Ginsberg was not much of a reader, but he was certainly passionate. :) May 14, 2015 at 13:42

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