“It occurs to me that I am America”
–Allen Ginsberg, America
Beat poet, antiwar activist, gay liberationist, free speech devotee, “First Thought, Best Thought” advocate, and cheerful Buddhist, Allen Ginsberg has been a major influence on U.S. counterculture and culture from the mid-1950s and since his death in 1997.
The recent paperback publication of Michael Schumacher’s The Essential Ginsberg collects the variety of Ginsberg’s literary production including poems, journals, essays, letters, photos, and interviews. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, publisher of Ginsberg’s globally influential Howl and Other Poems, describes the book as “An intellectually impeccable selection, distilling Ginsberg as visionary mystic and dark prophet foretelling what people in power didn’t want to hear.”
I first read aloud Ginsberg’s Howl with Bellarmine College friends at the White Castle on Eastern Parkway in Louisville some autumn midnight 1980. I heard him recite antiwar poetry at 1992 huge public gathering while I was a doctoral student in Berkeley. I went on a binge of reading all of his books (poetry and prose) winter spring 1996. While I love many of his poems (Yiddishe Kopf, Cosmopolitan Greetings, White Shroud, Death and Fame, Ego Confession, Why I Meditate, I am a Prisoner of Allen Ginsberg, I Love Old Whitman So), I find his essays and interviews equally illuminating and energizing.
This summer I invite you to join me in reading, discussing, and being answerable to The Essential Ginsberg: We will spend 4 sessions meeting bi-weekly at Cafe Ventana (West Pine Boulevard) from 7:00 to 8:30 on these Mondays: July 20, August 3, 17, and 31. Tuition is $60.
Message or email me (Markjchmiel@gmail.com) if you are interested!
“Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!”
–Allen Ginsberg, Footnote to Howl
The following passages are from Jane Kramer’s Allen Ginsberg in America:
He has been revered by thousands of heady, flower-wielding boys and girls as a combination guru and paterfamilias, and by a generation of students—who consider him a natural ally, if for no other reason than that he terrifies their parents with his elaborate and passionate friendliness—as a kind of ultimate faculty advisor.
“For a guy that ain’t straight at all,” the [Hell’s] Angel apparently said, “he’s the straightest sonofabitch I’ve ever seen. Man, you shoulda been there when he told Sonny he loved him…Sonny didn’t know what the hell to say.”
He enters the name, address, and phone number of anyone he meets who plays, or is apt to play, a part in what he thinks of as the new order—or has information that might be useful to it—in the address book that he always carries in his purple bag, and he goes to considerable trouble putting people he likes in touch with each other and with sympathetic and influential Establishment characters who might be helpful to them.
His friends prefer to think of [Ginsberg} as a sort of latter-day Hebrew prophet, roaming raggedy, exhortative, and penitential among the idol-worshippers. Ginsberg himself apparently never wasted much time wondering why he enjoyed being poor.
He is a funny, eloquent teacher, and an admitted ham. As a reader, he is by rapid turns rapturous, weepy, plaintive, outraged, comical, heartbreaking and then rapturous again.