Ginsberg, Allen (Vol. 109)
Allen Ginsberg 1926–1997
American poet, essayist, playwright, and nonfiction writer.
For further information on Ginsberg's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 13, 36, and 69.
A founder of the Beat movement, Allen Ginsberg is one of the most noted and popular poets of post-war America. His most famous poem, "Howl" (1956), is a post-modern classic. Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1926, Ginsberg grew up in the same neighborhood as poet William Carlos Williams, who would later write the introduction to "Howl." Ginsberg's father, Louis, taught high school literature and published lyrical poetry. His mother, Naomi, a Russian immigrant committed to the Communist cause, suffered from mental illness. Ginsberg attended Columbia University where he met Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady, with whom he would later form the Beat movement. Ginsberg's social dissent began at this time and continued throughout his lifetime. In the 1950s he moved to San Francisco to take part in the counter-culture movement. In October 1955 Ginsberg gave a public recital of "Howl," impressing critics and establishing himself as a noteworthy voice of his generation. The poem became a success with the public after the government charged that it was pornographic; a judge ruled in favor of Ginsberg. In "Howl," Ginsberg established the traits which he would continue to develop throughout his lifetime: his candor, his focus on sexuality, particularly homosexuality, and his non-traditional writing style. One of Ginsberg's most famous poems, "Kaddish" (1958), centers on his mother's life and mental illness. Loosely patterned on a traditional Jewish prayer, the poem established Ginsberg as a Jewish writer. Critics often compare Ginsberg to Walt Whitman, largely because both poets emphasized the interdependency of political and sexual freedom. While some critics praised Ginsberg's unstructured form and controversial subject matter, others considered his skill overestimated, arguing that Ginsberg won his fame through his behavior, such as political protests, the advocacy of drug use and homosexuality, poetry readings, and collaboration with rock bands. Ginsberg continued to write until his death on April 5, 1997, in New York City.
∗Howl and Other Poems (poetry) 1956
Siesta in Xbalva and Return to the States (poetry) 1956
Kaddish and Other Poems, (poetry) 1958–1960
Empty Mirror: Early Poems (poetry) 1961
The Change (poetry) 1963
Reality Sandwiches: 1953–1960 (poetry) 1963
The Yage Letters [with William Burroughs] (letters) 1963
Kral Majales (poetry) 1965
Wichita Vortex Sutra (poetry) 1966
TV Baby Poems (poetry) 1967
Airplane Dreams: Compositions from Journals (poetry) 1968
Ankor Wat (poetry) 1968
The Heat is a Clock (poetry) 1968
Message II (poetry) 1968
Planet News (poetry) 1968
Scrap Leaves, Tasty Scribbles (poetry) 1968
Wales—A Visitation, July 29, 1967 (poetry) 1968
For the Soul of the Planet is Wakening … (poetry) 1970
Indian Journals: March 1962—May 1963; Notebooks, Diary, Blank Pages, Writings (journals and diary) 1970
Notes after an Evening with William Carlos Williams (nonfiction) 1970
The Moments Return: A Poem (poetry) 1970
Ginsberg's Improvised Poetics (poetry) 1971
Bisxby Canyon Ocean Path Word Breeze (poetry) 1972
Iron Horse (poetry) 1972
Kaddish (play) 1972
New Year Blues (poetry) 1972
Open Head (poetry) 1972
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Allen Ginsberg with Matthew Rothschild (interview date August 1994)
SOURCE: "Allen Ginsberg: 'I'm Banned from the Main Marketplace of Ideas in My Own Country.'," in The Progressive, Vol. 58, No. 8, August, 1994, pp. 34-39.
[In the following interview, Ginsberg discusses censorship of his works, politics, and his reaction to fame.]
I arrived at Allen Ginsberg's apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan at noon on April 15, two months before his sixty-eighth birthday. The Beat poet, icon of the 1960s counterculture, gay pioneer, had just published a new book of poetry, Cosmopolitan Greetings, almost forty years since he shattered the poetry scene with "Howl." I wanted to talk to him about his latest work and his current political views.
The narrow passageway leading into Ginsberg's small living room was clogged with equipment from a WGBH/BBC crew that was there to interview Ginsberg for a film on the history of rock-'n'-roll. I'd been told ahead of time that he'd be doing other interviews that afternoon, so I sat on a small squishy futon under the sole window and looked around. A framed and illustrated copy of Blake's "The Tyger" was at the entranceway. A large bookshelf stood against one wall, with an oversized volume about Lenin lurking on top. Poetry filled the top two shelves, and then nonfiction, including Citizen Cohn, and J. Edgar...
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Wilborn Hampton (obituary date 6 April 1997)
SOURCE: An obituary for Allen Ginsberg, in New York Times, April 6, 1997, pp. A1, A42.
[In the following obituary, Hampton eulogizes Ginsberg, providing a review of his life and work.]
Allen Ginsberg, the poet laureate of the Beat Generation whose "Howl!" became a manifesto for the sexual revolution and a cause célèbre for free speech in the 1950's, eventually earning its author a place in America's literary pantheon, died early yesterday. He was 70 and lived in Manhattan.
He died of liver cancer, Bill Morgan, a friend and the poet's archivist, said.
Mr. Morgan said that Mr. Ginsberg wrote right to the end. "He's working on a lot of poems, talking to old friends," Mr. Morgan said on Friday. "He's in very good spirits. He wants to write poetry and finish his life's work."
William S. Burroughs, one of Mr. Ginsberg's lifelong friends and a fellow Beat, said that Mr. Ginsberg's death was "a great loss to me and to everybody."
"We were friends for more than 50 years," Mr. Burroughs said. "Allen was a great person with worldwide influence. He was a pioneer of openness and a lifelong model of candor. He stood for freedom of expression and for coming out of all the closets long before others did. He has influence because he said what he believed. I will miss him."...
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Allen Grossman (essay date Fall 1962)
SOURCE: "Allen Ginsberg: The Jew as an American Poet," in Judaism, Vol. 11, No. 4, Fall, 1962, pp. 303-08.
[In the following essay, Grossman discusses Ginsberg's contribution to Jewish poetry, focusing particularly on Kaddish.]
The Jew, like the Irishman, presents himself as a type of the sufferer in history. At a mysterious moment near the end of the nineteenth century the Irish produced a literature of international importance without having previously contributed a single significant poem in English. The Jewish poet in America today resembles the Irishman in England during the 1890's. From a literary point of view, he is emerging from parochialism into the mainstream of writing in English, and he is bringing with him a cultural mystery arising out of his centrality in history as a sufferer, and also out of his relation to a vast body of literature in another language. The Irish at the end of the nineteenth century discovered rather suddenly that their political experience had a symbolic relation to modern history as a whole, and that their ancient literature provided an inexhaustible resource of mythology by which to interpret that history. The Jewish poet in America at this time is engaged in the attempt to express the meaning of his own historical centrality, and he too possesses a vast body of literature in another language—the...
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Bawer, Bruce. "The Phenomenon of Allen Ginsberg." In his Prophets & Professors: Essays on the Lives and Works of Modern Poets, pp. 193-214. Brownsville, Oregon: Story Line Press, 1995.
Reviews Ginsberg's career and concludes that his poetry is banal and his fame is the result of his flamboyant lifestyle.
Beam, Jeffrey. Review of Cosmopolitan Greetings, by Allen Ginsberg. Lambda Book Report 4, No. 6 (September/October 1994): 34-5.
Reviews Cosmopolitan Greetings favorably.
Berkson, Bill. Review of Planet News, by Allen Ginsberg. Poetry 114, No. 4 (July 1969): 251-56.
Argues that Planet News marks an improvement in Ginsberg's writing.
Everett, Nicholas. "Pushing Seventy." Times Literary Supplement (10 February 1995): 22.
Argues that while Ginsberg's form has not changed, he is tackling new subjects in Cosmopolitan Greetings.
Goldberg, Danny. "Allen Ginsberg Remembered." Tikkun 12, No. 3 (1997): 78-80.
Presents anecdotes from Ginsberg's life.
Haines, John. "Poetry Chronicle." The Hudson...
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