Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg is probably one of the best known contemporary poets in recent history. He was born in 1926 in Newark, NJ and recieved his B.A. from Columbia University in 1948.

Like many other artists, Ginsberg held a variety of odd jobs before becoming an established writer. His employment history includes work on various cargo ships, a spot welder, a dishwasher and he also worked as a night porter in Denver. He has partcipated in numerous poetry readings, including the famous Six Gallery event that occured in San Francisco.

In 1954, San Francisco painter Robert LaVigne introduced his model and companion, Peter Orlovsky to Ginsberg. Soon after this first meeting, Orlovsky and Ginsberg became lovers and moved in together, defining their relationship as a marriage. Despite periods of separation, this arrangement remained intact until Ginsberg’s death in April 1997.

Ginsberg was the recipient of numerous honors and awards during his lifetime including: the Woodbury Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, the National Book Award for Poetry, NEA grants and a Lifetime Ahievement Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.

In addition to the almost epic poem Howl, Ginsberg has authored numerous books, too voluminous to mention here. Many of his writings were interpreted as contrevertial and even obscene. The reading of Howl resulted in the arrest of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the owner of City Lights Books, on obscenity charges. The authorities objected to Ginsberg’s openess concerning his homosexuality as well as the graphic sexual language. Many of his other writings deal with subjects such as narcotics and the experiences on has while under their influence.

However, many other prominent writers, including Jack Keroauc, William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Rexroth, realized Ginsbergs importance. Ginsberg was greatly influenced by Keroauc’s spontaneous and carefree style and often worked in a “stream of consciousness” manner until he completed a work. Ginsberg also once, influenced by Williams, arranged some of his poems “according to how you’d break it up if you actually to talk it out” and the latter was greatly impressed by the feat.

Like many of the writers of his period, Ginsberg had a desire to attain the mystical. The metaphysical poets of the nineteenth century, including William Blake, were perhaps his greatest influence. It was the desire to expand the mind and reach the spiritual that inspired Ginsberg to experment with substances such as marijuana and Benzedrine. He claimed that many of his writings, including Howl were written while he was under the influence of drugs.

Ginsberg’s theme of politics was once described by Rexroth as “an almost perfect fulfillment of the long, Whitman, Populist, social revolutionary tradition in American poetry”. Many of his writings contain a war motiff: subjects such as the Nazi gas chambers and Viet Nam are the topic of many of his poems.

Ginsberg is perhaps one of the most respected and revered Beat writer’s. His work is definitely worth a glance even if the writers of this period are of little interest to certain readers. After his recent death, City Lights had a celebration of his work which included the playing of some of his taped readings.

Ginsberg’s writing has been compared to Thoreau, Emerson and Whitman and has been said to contain “that old gnostic tradition”.


America

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for
murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
from Russia.

I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they’re all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1935 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have
been a spy.
America you don’re really want to go to war.
America it’s them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

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