The dazzling linguistic invention, the heart-cheering spiritual generosity, the seriousness of political purpose and the endearing wry self-conscious humor that marked Allen Ginsberg’s work from the publication of his landmark poem HOWL in 1956 are still present in his latest collection of poetry. Issued on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his historic meeting with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, COSMOPOLITAN GREETINGS shows Ginsberg faithful to his visionary goals for humankind while writing from the perspective of a man who sees himself now (in “Personals Ad”) as a “Poet professor in autumn years.”
The great themes and primary concerns of Ginsberg’s life continue to form the substance of his poetic inquiry, but now, the inescapable consequences of time’s passage have added a dimension of rueful reflection to the exuberant physicality and sexual candor that have been a part of Ginsberg’s groundbreaking personal voice and style. As the shape of American literary history now clearly indicates the importance of the best writers of the Beat Generation, Ginsberg’s own reflections on his fellow artists and friends have taken on the added interest of a significant commentary by an energetic advocate for the work he supported and taught.
The deep feeling for longtime friends and the awareness of loss as his contemporaries seem to merge in his mind with prominent older historical personages has not led to a diminution of the surging rhythmic energy that Ginsberg made into his signature in HOWL. Using what he has called his “Hebraic-Melvillian bardic breath” to develop long, momentum-building line structures, Ginsberg brought a stir of excitement to his readings that was instrumental in the mid-century shift from an academic poetry of the parlor to a kind of poetry accessible to a wider audience. In COSMOPOLITAN GREETINGS, while there is no real equivalent of the epiclike “Witchita Vortex Sutra,” the sustained power of poems like “Improvisation in Beijing” which works on the trope, “I write poetry because . . . ;” the wide-ranging, probing, seeking eye of the poet in “On Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa, Vidyadhara,” expressed in the repeated “I noticed . . . ;” or the staccato jabs of “Get It?” show how effective Ginsberg’s careful repetition of phrases with variations still is.
Consistent with the lyric, evocative poetry Ginsberg has written since his tribute to Walt Whitman, “A Supermarket in California,” poems such as the tender “London Dream Doors,” the warmly appreciative “To Jacob Rabinowitz,” or the poignant lament for a friend with AIDS entitled “John,” are an indication of Ginsberg’s ability to handle quieter, softer modes with the same craft he brought to the high-energy constructs. While this book is unlikely to convert readers who do not already admire Ginsberg’s work, it is likely to be indispensable for his devotees.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XC, April 15, 1994, p. 1503.
Library Journal. CXIX, May 1, 1994, p. 107.
The Progressive. LVIII, May, 1994, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, March 28, 1994, p. 87.
The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXX, Autumn, 1994, p. 134.
Since Allen Ginsberg is in his seventh decade, a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center and a member of the American Institute of Arts and Letters, it would not be surprising if his important work as a poet were behind him, if he had essentially retired from the field to enjoy the radical shift in literary sensibility that has moved the work of his fellow artists from the outer banks to the strongest currents of American literature. Yet in a volume that collects the poems he has placed in a very wide variety of periodicals and pamphlets since the publication of White Shroud in 1986, Ginsberg’s immediately recognizable, distinctive voice retains the high energy and linguistic invention that has marked his writing since the groundbreaking “Howl ” of 1956. This new...
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