Allen Ginsberg

1926–1997
Allen Ginsberg
One of the most respected Beat writers and acclaimed American poets of his generation, Allen Ginsberg enjoys a prominent place in post-World War II American culture. He was born in 1926 in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in nearby Paterson. The son of an English teacher and Russian expatriate, Ginsberg’s early life was marked by his mother’s psychological troubles, including a series of nervous breakdowns. In 1943, while studying at Columbia University, Ginsberg befriended William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, and the trio later established themselves as pivotal figures in the Beat Movement. Known for their unconventional views, and frequently rambunctious behavior, Ginsberg and his friends also experimented with drugs. On one occasion, Ginsberg used his college dorm room to store stolen goods acquired by an acquaintance. Faced with prosecution, Ginsberg decided to plead insanity and subsequently spent several months in a mental institution. After graduating from Columbia, Ginsberg remained in New York City and worked various jobs. In 1954, however, he moved to San Francisco, where the Beat Movement was developing through the activities of such poets as Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Ginsberg first came to public attention in 1956 with the publication of Howl and Other Poems.Howl,” a long-lined poem in the tradition of Walt Whitman, is an outcry of rage and despair against a destructive, abusive society. Kevin O'Sullivan, writing in Newsmakers, deemed “Howl” “an angry, sexually explicit poem” and added that it is “considered by many to be a revolutionary event in American poetry.”The poem's raw, honest language and its “Hebraic-Melvillian bardic breath,” as Ginsberg called it, stunned many traditional critics. James Dickey, for instance, referred to “Howl” as “a whipped-up state of excitement” and concluded that “it takes more than this to make poetry.” Other critics responded more positively. Richard Eberhart, for example, called “Howl” “a powerful work, cutting through to dynamic meaning…It is a howl against everything in our mechanistic civilization which kills the spirit…Its positive force and energy come from a redemptive quality of love.” Paul Carroll judged it “one of the milestones of the generation.” Appraising the impact of “Howl,” Paul Zweig noted that it “almost singlehandedly dislocated the traditionalist poetry of the 1950s.”

In addition to stunning critics, Howl stunned the San Francisco Police Department. Because of the graphic sexual language of the poem, they declared the book obscene and arrested the publisher, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The ensuing trial attracted national attention, as prominent literary figures such as Mark Schorer, Kenneth Rexroth, and Walter Van Tilberg Clark spoke in defense of Howl. Schorer testified that “Ginsberg uses the rhythms of ordinary speech and also the diction of ordinary speech. I would say the poem uses necessarily the language of vulgarity.” Clark called Howl “the work of a thoroughly honest poet, who is also a highly competent technician.” The testimony eventually persuaded Judge Clayton W. Horn to rule that Howl was not obscene. The qualities cited in its defense helped make Howl the manifesto of the Beat literary movement. Including such novelists as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs and poets Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Ginsberg, the Beats wrote in the language of the street about previously forbidden and unliterary topics. The ideas and art of the Beats greatly influenced popular culture in America during the 1950s and 1960s.

Ginsberg followed Howl in 1961 with Kaddish and Other Poems.Kaddish,” a poem similar in style and form to “Howl,” is based on the traditional Hebrew prayer for the dead and tells the life story of Ginsberg's mother, Naomi. The poet's complex feelings for his mother, colored by her struggle with mental illness, are at the heart of this long-lined poem. It is considered to be one of Ginsberg's finest: Thomas F. Merrill called it “Ginsberg at his purest and perhaps at his best”; Louis Simpson simply referred to it as “a masterpiece.”

Ginsberg's early poems were greatly influenced by fellow northern New Jersey resident William Carlos Williams. Ginsberg recalled being taught at school that Williams “was some kind of awkward crude provincial from New Jersey,” but upon talking to Williams about his poetry, Ginsberg “suddenly realized [that Williams] was hearing with raw ears. The sound, pure sound and rhythm—as it was spoken around him, and he was trying to adapt his poetry rhythms out of the actual talk-rhythms he heard rather than metronome or sing-song archaic literary rhythms.” Ginsberg acted immediately on his sudden understanding. “I went over my prose writings,” he told an interviewer, “and I took out little four-or-five line fragments that were absolutely accurate to somebody's speak-talk-thinking and rearranged them in lines, according to the breath, according to how you'd break it up if you were actually to talk it out, and then I sent 'em over to Williams. He sent me back a note, almost immediately, and he said 'These are it! Do you have any more of these?'“

Another major influence was Ginsberg's friend Kerouac, who wrote novels in a “spontaneous prose” style that Ginsberg admired and adapted in his own work. Kerouac had written some of his books by putting a roll of white paper into a typewriter and typing continuously in a “stream of consciousness.” Ginsberg began writing poems not, as he states, “by working on it in little pieces and fragments from different times, but remembering an idea in my head and writing it down on the spot and completing it there.” Both Williams and Kerouac emphasized a writer's emotions and natural mode of expression over traditional literary structures. Ginsberg cited as historical precedents for this idea the works of poet Walt Whitman, novelist Herman Melville, and writers Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

A major theme in Ginsberg's life and poetry was politics. Kenneth Rexroth called this aspect of Ginsberg's work “an almost perfect fulfillment of the long, Whitman, Populist, social revolutionary tradition in American poetry.” In a number of poems, Ginsberg refers to the union struggles of the 1930s, popular radical figures, the McCarthy red hunts, and other leftist touchstones. In “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” he attempts to end the Vietnam War through a kind of magical, poetic evocation. In “Plutonian Ode,” a similar feat—ending the dangers of nuclear power through the magic of a poet's breath—is attempted. Other poems, such as “Howl,” although not expressly political in nature, are nonetheless considered by many critics to contain strong social criticism.

Ginsberg's political activities were called strongly libertarian in nature, echoing his poetic preference for individual expression over traditional structure. In the mid-1960s he was closely associated with the counterculture and antiwar movements. He created and advocated “flower power,” a strategy in which antiwar demonstrators would promote positive values like peace and love to dramatize their opposition to the death and destruction caused by the Vietnam War. The use of flowers, bells, smiles, and mantras (sacred chants) became common among demonstrators for some time. In 1967 Ginsberg was an organizer of the “Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In,” an event modeled after the Hindu mela, a religious festival. It was the first of the countercultural festivals and served as an inspiration for hundreds of others. In 1969, when some antiwar activists staged an “exorcism of the Pentagon,” Ginsberg composed the mantra they chanted. He testified for the defense in the Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial, in which antiwar activists were charged with “conspiracy to cross state lines to promote a riot.”

Sometimes Ginsberg's politics prompted reaction from law-enforcement authorities. He was arrested at an antiwar demonstration in New York City in 1967 and tear-gassed at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. In 1972 he was jailed for demonstrating against then-President Richard Nixon at the Republican National Convention in Miami. In 1978 he and long-time companion Peter Orlovsky were arrested for sitting on train tracks in order to stop a trainload of radioactive waste coming from the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant in Colorado.

Ginsberg's political activities caused him problems in other countries as well. In 1965 he visited Cuba as a correspondent for Evergreen Review. After he complained about the treatment of gays at the University of Havana, the government asked Ginsberg to leave the country. In the same year the poet traveled to Czechoslovakia, where he was elected “King of May” by thousands of Czech citizens. The next day the Czech government requested that he leave, ostensibly because he was “sloppy and degenerate.” Ginsberg attributes his expulsion to the Czech secret police being embarrassed by the acclaim given to “a bearded American fairy dope poet.”

Another continuing concern reflected in Ginsberg's poetry was a focus on the spiritual and visionary. His interest in these matters was inspired by a series of visions he had while reading William Blake's poetry. Ginsberg recalled hearing “a very deep earthen grave voice in the room, which I immediately assumed, I didn't think twice, was Blake's voice.” He added that “the peculiar quality of the voice was something unforgettable because it was like God had a human voice, with all the infinite tenderness and anciency and mortal gravity of a living Creator speaking to his son.” Such visions prompted an interest in mysticism that led Ginsberg to experiment, for a time, with various drugs. He claimed that some of his best poetry was written under the influence of drugs: the second part of “Howl” with peyote, “Kaddish” with amphetamines, and “Wales—A Visitation” with LSD. After a journey to India in 1962, however, during which he was introduced to meditation and yoga, Ginsberg changed his attitude towards drugs. He became convinced that meditation and yoga were far superior in raising one's consciousness, while still maintaining that psychedelics could prove helpful in writing poetry. Psychedelics, he said, are “a variant of yoga and [the] exploration of consciousness.”

Ginsberg's study of Eastern religions was spurred on by his discovery of mantras, rhythmic chants used for spiritual effects. Their use of rhythm, breath, and elemental sounds seemed to him a kind of poetry. In a number of poems he incorporated mantras into the body of the text, transforming the work into a kind of poetic prayer. During poetry readings he often began by chanting a mantra in order to set the proper mood. His interest in Eastern religions eventually led him to the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a Buddhist abbot from Tibet who had a strong influence on Ginsberg's writing. The early 1970s found the poet taking classes at Trungpa's Naropa Institute in Colorado as well as teaching poetry classes there. In 1972 Ginsberg took the Refuge and Boddhisattva vows, formally committing himself to the Buddhist faith.

A primary aspect of Trungpa's teaching is a form of meditation called shamatha in which one concentrates on one's own breathing. This meditation, Ginsberg said, “leads first to a calming of the mind, to a quieting of the mechanical production of fantasy and thought-forms; it leads to sharpened awareness of them and to taking an inventory of them.” Ginsberg's book, Mind Breaths, dedicated to Trungpa, contains several poems written with the help of shamatha meditation.

In 1974 Ginsberg and fellow-poet Anne Waldman co-founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics as a branch of Trungpa's Naropa Institute. “The ultimate idea is to found a permanent arts college,” Ginsberg said of the school, “sort of like they have in Tibetan tradition where you have teachers and students living together in a permanent building which would go on for hundreds of years.” Ginsberg attracted such prominent writers as Diane di Prima, Ron Padgett, and William Burroughs to speak and teach at the school. Relating his poetry to his interest in the spiritual, Ginsberg once said: “Writing poetry is a form of discovering who I am, and getting beyond who I am to free awakeness of consciousness, to a self that isn't who I am. It's a form of discovering my own nature, and my own identity, or my own ego, or outlining my own ego, and also seeing what part of me is beyond that.”

Ginsberg lived a kind of literary “rags to riches”—from his early days as the feared, criticized, and “dirty” poet to his later position within what Richard Kostelanetz called “the pantheon of American literature.” He was one of the most influential poets of his generation and, in the words of James F. Mersmann, “a great figure in the history of poetry.” According to Times Literary Supplement contributor James Campbell, “No one has made his poetry speak for the whole man, without inhibition of any kind, more than Ginsberg.” Because of his rise to influence and his staying power as a figure in American art and culture, Ginsberg's work was the object of much scholarly attention throughout his lifetime. A documentary directed by Jerry Aronson, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, was released in 1994. The same year, Stanford University paid Ginsberg a reported one million dollars for his personal archives. New poems and collections of Ginsberg's previous works continued to be published regularly. And his letters, journals, and even his photographs of fellow Beats provided critics and scholars new insights into the life and work of this poet.

In the spring of 1997, while already plagued with diabetes and chronic hepatitis, Ginsberg was diagnosed with liver cancer. After learning of this illness, Ginsberg promptly produced twelve brief poems. The next day he suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. Two days later, he died. In the New York Times, Ginsberg was remembered by William Burroughs as “a great person with worldwide influence.”

Ginsberg's poetry from the last few years of his life was collected in Death and Fame: Poems, 1993-1997. This volume includes those works produced by Ginsberg immediately after he learned of his cancer. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, who acknowledged that “there has never been an American poet as public as Ginsberg,” described Death and Fame as “a perfect capstone to a noble life.” Ray Olson and Jack Helberg, writing in Booklist, found Ginsberg's poetry “polished if not constrained,” and Rochelle Ratner, in a Library Journal assessment, observed that “Ginsberg's tenderness and caring is . . . very much in evidence.”

Another of Ginsberg's posthumous publications, Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995, presents more than one hundred-fifty essays on such subjects as nuclear weapons; the Vietnam War; censorship; poets such as Walt Whitman and Beat figure Gregory Corso; and other cultural luminaries, including musician John Lennon and photographer Robert Frank. A Publishers Weekly critic appraised Deliberate Prose as “sometimes lovely, sometimes slapdash” and added that the book is “sure to appeal to [Ginsberg's] broad contingent of fans.” Booklist reviewer Ray Olson, meanwhile, found Ginsberg's essays “more immediately approachable than much of his verse.”

How would Ginsberg have liked to be remembered? “As someone in the tradition of the oldtime American transcendentalist individualism,” he said, “from that old gnostic tradition…Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman…just carrying it on into the 20th century.” Ginsberg once explained that among human faults he was most tolerant of anger; in his friends he most appreciated tranquility and sexual tenderness; his ideal occupation would be “articulating feelings in company.” “Like it or not, no voice better echoes his times than Mr. Ginsberg's,” concluded a reviewer in the Economist. “He was a bridge between the literary avant-garde and pop culture.”

Career

Writer. Spot welder, Brooklyn Naval Yard, Brooklyn, NY, 1945; dishwasher, Bickford's Cafeteria, New York City, 1945; worked on various cargo ships, 1945-56; literary agent, reporter for New Jersey union newspaper, and copy boy for New York World Telegram, 1946; night porter, May Co., Denver, CO, 1946; book reviewer, Newsweek, New York City, 1950; market research consultant in New York City and San Francisco, 1951-53; instructor, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1963; founder and treasurer, Committee on Poetry Foundation, 1966-97; organizer, Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In, San Francisco, 1967; cofounder, co-director, and teacher, Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Naropa Institute, Boulder, CO, 1974-97. Has given numerous poetry readings at universities, coffee houses, and art galleries in the United States, England, Russia, India, Peru, Chile, Poland, and Czechoslovakia; has addressed numerous conferences, including Group Advancement Psychiatry Conference, 1961, Dialectics of Liberation Conference, 1967, LSD Decade Conference, 1977, and World Conference on Humanity, 1979. Has appeared in numerous films, including Pull My Daisy, 1960; Guns of the Trees, 1962; Couch, 1964; Wholly Communion, Chappaqua, and Allen for Allen, all 1965; Joan of Arc and Galaxie, both 1966; Herostratus, The Mind Alchemists, and Don't Look Back, all 1967; Me and My Brother, 1968; Dynamite Chicken, 1971; Renaldo and Clara, 1978; It Doesn't Pay to Be Honest, 1984; It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, 1987; Heavy Petting, 1988; John Bowles: The Complete Outsider, and Jonas in the Desert, both 1994; and (narrator) Kaddish (TV film), 1977.

Bibliography

POETRY COLLECTIONS
  • Howl and Other Poems, introduction by William Carlos Williams, City Lights (San Francisco), 1956, revised edition, Grabhorn-Hoyem, 1971, 40th anniversary edition, City Lights, 1996.
  • Siesta in Xbalba and Return to the States, privately printed, 1956.
  • Kaddish and Other Poems, 1958-1960, City Lights, 1961.
  • Empty Mirror: Early Poems, Corinth Books (Chevy Chase, MD), 1961, new edition, 1970.
  • A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley, Grabhorn Press, 1963.
  • Reality Sandwiches: 1953-1960, City Lights, 1963.
  • The Change, Writer's Forum, 1963.
  • Kral Majales (title means "King of May"), Oyez (Kensington, CA), 1965.
  • Wichita Vortex Sutra, Housmans (London), 1966, Coyote Books (Brunswick, ME), 1967.
  • TV Baby Poems, Cape Golliard Press, 1967, Grossman, 1968.
  • Airplane Dreams: Compositions from Journals, House of Anansi (Toronto), 1968, City Lights, 1969.
  • (With Alexandra Lawrence) Ankor Wat, Fulcrum Press, 1968.
  • Scrap Leaves, Tasty Scribbles, Poet's Press, 1968.
  • Wales—A Visitation, July 29, 1967, Cape Golliard Press, 1968.
  • The Heart Is a Clock, Gallery Upstairs Press, 1968.
  • Message II, Gallery Upstairs Press, 1968.
  • Planet News, City Lights, 1968.
  • For the Soul of the Planet Is Wakening..., Desert Review Press, 1970.
  • The Moments Return: A Poem, Grabhorn-Hoyem, 1970.
  • Ginsberg's Improvised Poetics, edited by Mark Robison, Anonym Books, 1971.
  • New Year Blues, Phoenix Book Shop (New York, NY), 1972.
  • Open Head, Sun Books (Melbourne), 1972.
  • Bixby Canyon Ocean Path Word Breeze, Gotham Book Mart (New York City), 1972.
  • Iron Horse, Coach House Press (Chicago), 1972.
  • The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971, City Lights, 1973.
  • The Gates of Wrath: Rhymed Poems, 1948-1952, Grey Fox (San Francisco), 1973.
  • Sad Dust Glories: Poems during Work Summer in Woods, 1974, Workingman's Press (Seattle), 1975.
  • First Blues: Rags, Ballads, and Harmonium Songs, 1971-1974, Full Court Press (New York City), 1975.
  • Mind Breaths: Poems, 1972-1977, City Lights, 1978.
  • Poems All over the Place: Mostly Seventies, Cherry Valley (Wheaton, MD), 1978.
  • Mostly Sitting Haiku, From Here Press (Fanwood, NJ), 1978, revised and expanded edition, 1979.
  • Careless Love: Two Rhymes, Red Ozier Press, 1978.
  • (With Peter Orlovsky) Straight Hearts' Delight: Love Poems and Selected Letters, Gay Sunshine Press (San Francisco), 1980.
  • Plutonian Ode: Poems, 1977-1980, City Lights, 1982.
  • Collected Poems, 1947-1980, Harper (New York, NY), 1984, expanded edition published as Collected Poems: 1947-85, Penguin (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Many Loves, Pequod Press, 1984.
  • Old Love Story, Lospecchio Press, 1986.
  • White Shroud, Harper, 1986.
  • Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems, 1986-1992, HarperCollins (New York City), 1994.
  • Illuminated Poems, illustrated by Eric Drooker, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1996.
  • Selected Poems, 1947-1995, HarperCollins, 1996.
  • Death and Fame: Poems, 1993-1997, edited by Bob Rosenthal, Peter Hale, and Bill Morgan, foreword by Robert Creeley, HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1999.
Also author, with Kenneth Koch, of Making It Up: Poetry Composed at St. Mark's Church on May 9, 1979.

OTHER
  • (Author of introduction) Gregory Corso, Gasoline (poems), City Lights, 1958.
  • (With William Burroughs) The Yage Letters (correspondence), City Lights, 1963.
  • (Contributor) David Solomon, editor, The Marijuana Papers(essays), Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Prose Contribution to Cuban Revolution, Artists Workshop Press, 1966.
  • (Translator, with others) Nicanor Parra, Poems and Antipoems, New Directions (Newton, NJ), 1967.
  • (Contributor) Charles Hollander, editor, Background Papers on Student Drug Abuse, U.S. National Student Association, 1967.
  • (Author of introduction) John A. Wood, Orbs: A Portfolio of Nine Poems, Apollyon Press, 1968.
  • (Contributor) Bob Booker and George Foster, editors, Pardon Me, Sir, but Is My Eye Hurting Your Elbow? (plays), Geis, 1968.
  • (Author of introduction) Louis Ginsberg, Morning in Spring(poems), Morrow (New York, NY), 1970.
  • (Compiler) Documents on Police Bureaucracy's Conspiracy against Human Rights of Opiate Addicts and Constitutional Rights of Medical Profession Causing Mass Breakdown of Urban Law and Order, privately printed, 1970.
  • (Contributor of commentary) Jean Genet, May Day Speech, City Lights, 1970.
  • Indian Journals: March 1962-May 1963; Notebooks, Diary, Blank Pages, Writings, City Lights, 1970, Grove Press, 1996.
  • Notes after an Evening with William Carlos Williams, Portents Press, 1970.
  • Declaration of Independence for Dr. Timothy Leary, Hermes Free Press, 1971.
  • (Author of introduction) William Burroughs Jr., Speed (novel), Sphere Books, 1971.
  • (Author of foreword) Ann Charters, Kerouac (biography), Straight Arrow Books, 1973.
  • (Contributor of interview) Donald M. Allen, editor, Robert Creeley, Contexts of Poetry: Interviews 1961-1971, Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco), 1973.
  • The Fall of America Wins a Prize (text of speech), Gotham Book Mart, 1974.
  • Gay Sunshine Interview: Allen Ginsberg with Allen Young, Grey Fox, 1974.
  • The Visions of the Great Rememberer (correspondence), Mulch Press (San Francisco), 1974.
  • Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, and Consciousness, edited by Gordon Ball, McGraw (New York, NY), 1975.
  • Chicago Trial Testimony, City Lights, 1975.
  • The Dream of Tibet, City Moon, 1976.
  • To Eberhart from Ginsberg (correspondence), Penmaen Press (Great Barrington, MA), 1976.
  • Journals: Early Fifties, Early Sixties, edited by Gordon Ball, Grove (New York, NY), 1977.
  • (With others) Madeira and Toasts for Basil Bunting's 75th Birthday, edited by Jonathan Williams, Jargon Society (East Haven, CT), 1977.
  • (With Neal Cassady, and author of afterword) As Ever: Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, Creative Arts, 1977.
  • (Author of introduction) Anne Waldman and Marilyn Webb, editors, Talking Poetics from Naropa Institute: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Volume I, Shambhala (Boulder, CO), 1978.
  • Composed on the Tongue (interviews), edited by Donald Allen, Grey Fox, 1980.
  • (With others) Nuke Chronicles, Contact Two (Bowling Green, NY), 1980.
  • Your Reason and Blake's System, Hanuman Books, 1989.
  • Allen Ginsberg: Photographs, Twelvetrees Press (Pasadena, CA), 1991.
  • (Author of introduction) Ernesto Cardenal, Ergo! The Bumbershoot Literary Magazine, Bumbershoot, 1991.
  • (Author of forward) Anne Waldman, editor, Out of This World: The Poetry Project at the St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, an Anthology, 1966-1991, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.
  • (Author of introduction) Andy Clausen, Without Doubt, Zeitgeist Press, 1991.
  • (Author of introduction) Jack Kerouac, Poems All Sizes, City Lights, 1992.
  • (Author of introduction) Sharkmeat Blue, King Death: And Other Poems, Underground Forest/Selva Editions, 1992.
  • (Author of afterword) Louis Ginsberg, Collected Poems, edited by Michael Fournier, Northern Lights, 1992.
  • Snapshot Poetics: Allen Ginsberg's Photographic Memoir of the Beat Era, introduction by Michael Kohler, Chronicle Books (San Francisco), 1993.
  • (Editor, with Peter Orlovsky) Francesco Clemente: Evening Raga 1992, Rizzoli International (New York, NY), 1993.
  • Honorable Courtship: From the Author's Journals, January 1-15, 1955, edited and illustrated by Dean Bornstein, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis), 1994.
  • (Author of introduction) Edward Leffingwell, Earthly Paradise, Journey Editions, 1994.
  • Journals Mid-Fifties, 1954-1958, edited by Gordon Ball, HarperCollins, 1995.
  • (Contributor and author of foreword) The Beat Book: Poems and Fiction of the Beat Generation, edited by Anne Waldman, Shambhala (Boston), 1996.
  • (Author of foreword) Ko Un, Beyond Self: 108 Korean Zen Poems, Parallax Press (Berkeley, CA), 1997.
  • (Editor, with Eliot Katz and Andy Clausen) Poems for the Nation: A Collection of Contemporary Political Poems, Seven Stories Press (New York City), 1999.
  • Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995, edited by Bill Morgan, HarperCollins, 2000.
  • Spontaneous Minds: Selected Interviews, 1958-1996, edited by David Carter, HarperCollins, 2001.
  • (With Louis Ginsberg) Family Business: Selected Letters Between a Father and Son, edited by Michael Schumacher, Bloomsbury, 2001.
Performer on numerous recordings, including San Francisco Poets, Evergreen Records, 1958; Howl and Other Poems, Fantasy, 1959; and Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems and Songs, 1949-1993, Rhino/Word Beat, 1995. Work appears in numerous anthologies, including The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men, edited by Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg, Citadel Press, 1958; and The New Oxford Book of American Verse, edited by Richard Ellmann, Oxford University Press, 1976. Work represented in anthologies, including The Beat Book: Writings from the Beat Generation, edited by Anne Waldman. Contributor of poetry and articles to periodicals, including Evergreen Review, Journal for the Protection of All Beings, Playboy, Nation, New Age, New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Partisan Review, and Times Literary Supplement. Correspondent, Evergreen Review, 1965; former contributing editor, Black Mountain Review; former advisory guru, Marijuana Review. Ginsberg's papers are housed at Stanford University.

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Carroll, Paul, The Poem in Its Skin, Follett, 1968.
  • Charters, Ann, Scenes along the Road, Gotham Book Mart, 1971.
  • Charters, Ann, Kerouac, Straight Arrow Books, 1973.
  • Charters, Samuel, Some Poems/ Poets: Studies in American Underground Poetry since 1945, Oyez, 1971.
  • Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography: 1941-1968, Gale (Detroit), 1987.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 3, 1975, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 6, 1976, Volume 13, 1980, Volume 36, 1986, Volume 69, 1992.
  • Contemporary Poets, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit), 1996.
  • Cook, Bruce, The Beat Generation, Scribner (New York City), 1971.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, 1980, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, 1983, Volume 169: American Poets since World War II, Fifth Series, 1996.
  • Erlich, J. W., editor, Howl of the Censor, Nourse Publishing, 1961.
  • Faas, Ekbert, editor, Towards a New American Poetics: Essays and Interviews, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Barbara, CA), 1978.
  • Fielder, Leslie A., Waiting for the End, Stein & Day (Briarcliff Manor, NY), 1964.
  • Gay and Lesbian Biography, St. James Press, 1997.
  • Gay and Lesbian Literature, St. James Press, 1994.
  • Gay Sunshine Interview: Allen Ginsberg with Allen Young, Grey Fox Press, 1974.
  • Gross, Theodore L., editor, Representative Men, Free Press (New York City), 1970.
  • Kramer, Jane, Allen Ginsberg in America, Random House (New York City), 1969, new edition, Fromm International Publishing, 1997.
  • Kraus, Michelle P., Allen Ginsberg: An Annotated Bibliography, 1969-1977, Scarecrow (Metuchen, NJ), 1980.
  • Lipton, Lawrence, The Holy Barbarians, Messner (New York, NY), 1959.
  • McNally, Dennis, Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beats, and America, Random House, 1979.
  • Merrill, Thomas F., Allen Ginsberg, Twayne (New York, NY), 1969.
  • Mersmann, James F., Out of the Vietnam Vortex: A Study of Poets and Poetry against the War, University Press of Kansas, 1974.
  • Miles, Barry, Two Lectures on the Work of Allen Ginsberg, Contemporary Research Press (Dallas), 1993.
  • Morgan, Bill, The Works of Allen Ginsberg, 1941-1994: A Descriptive Bibliography, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1995.
  • Morgan, Bill, The Response to Allen Ginsberg, 1926-1994: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources, foreword by Ginsberg, Greenwood Press, 1996.
  • Mottram, Eric, Allen Ginsberg in the Sixties, Unicorn Bookshop, 1972.
  • Parkinson, Thomas F., A Casebook on the Beats, Crowell (New York City), 1961.
  • Poetry Criticism, Volume 4, Gale, 1992.
  • Portuges, Paul, The Visionary Poetics of Allen Ginsberg, Ross-Erikson (Santa Barbara, CA), 1978.
  • Rather, Lois, Bohemians to Hippies: Waves of Rebellion, Rather Press (Oakland, CA), 1977.
  • Reference Guide to American Literature, third edition, St. James Press, 1994.
  • Rexroth, Kenneth, American Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Herder, 1971.
  • Rosenthal, Mocha L. The Modern Poets: A Critical Introduction, Oxford University Press, 1960.
  • Rosenthal, Mocha L., The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II, Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Roszak, Theodore, The Making of a Counter Culture, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1969.
  • Schumacher, Michael, Dharma Lion, St. Martin's (New York City), 1994.
  • Shaw, Robert B., editor, American Poetry since 1960: Some Critical Perspectives, Dufour (Chester Springs, PA), 1974.
  • Simpson, Louis, A Revolution in Taste, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1978.
  • Stepanchev, Stephen, American Poetry since 1945, Harper, 1965.
  • Sutton, Walter, American Free Verse: The Modern Revolution in Poetry, New Directions, 1973.
  • Tyrell, John, Naked Angels, McGraw, 1976.
  • Widmer, Kingsley, The Fifties: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Everett/Edwards (DeLand, FL), 1970.
PERIODICALS
  • Advocate, February 22, 1994.
  • American Poetry Review, September, 1977.
  • Antioch Review, spring, 1994, p. 374.
  • Ariel, October, 1993, pp. 21-32.
  • Atlanta Journal and Constitution, November 19, 1994, p. WL23.
  • Art Press, Number 188, 1994, pp. E24-E26.
  • Best Sellers, December 15, 1974.
  • Black Mountain Review, autumn, 1957.
  • Bloomsbury Review, March, 1993, p. 5.
  • Booklist, April 15, 1994, p. 1503; April 15, 1995, p. 1468; February 1, 1999, Ray Olson and Jack Heilbig, review of Death and Fame: Poems, 1993-1997, p. 959; February 15, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995.
  • Book World, May 25, 1969.
  • Bulletin of Bibliography, December, 1993, pp. 279-293.
  • Carolina Quarterly, spring/summer, 1975.
  • Chicago Review, summer, 1975.
  • Denver Post, July 20, 1975.
  • Detroit News, April 18, 1997.
  • Dionysos, winter, 1993, pp. 30-42.
  • East West Journal, February, 1978.
  • Economist, November 11, 1995, p. 8.
  • Encounter, February, 1970.
  • Entertainment Weekly, October 11, 1996, p. 92.
  • Esquire, April, 1973.
  • Evergreen Review, July/August, 1961.
  • Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 23, 1985.
  • Harper's, October, 1966.
  • Hudson Review, autumn, 1973.
  • Interview, June, 1994, p. 16.
  • Journal of American Culture, fall, 1993, pp. 81-88.
  • Journal of Popular Culture, winter, 1969.
  • Lambda Book Report, July, 1993, p. 42; July, 1994, p. 47; September, 1994, p. 34.
  • Library Journal, June 15, 1958; February 1, 1987; May 1, 1994; August, 1995, p. 79; January, 1999, Rochelle Ratner, review of Death and Fame: Poems, 1993-1997, p. 103; March 15, 2000, William Gorgan, review of Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995.
  • Life, May 27, 1966.
  • Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1985; February 16, 1994, p. F1; February 17, 1994, p. F3.
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 2, 1994, p. 12; May 29, 1994, p. 8; September 3, 1995, p. 4.
  • Michigan Quarterly Review, spring, 1994, pp. 350-359.
  • Nation, February 25, 1957; November 11, 1961; November 12, 1977; May 20, 1991.
  • National Observer, December 9, 1968.
  • National Review, September 12, 1959; May 19, 1997, p. 54; May 22, 2000, James Gartner, "Manic Mensch."
  • National Screw, June, 1977.
  • New Age, April, 1976.
  • New Republic, July 25, 1970; October 12, 1974; October 22, 1977.
  • New Statesman and Society, May 12, 1995, p. 38; October 27, 1995, p. 47.
  • New Times, February 20, 1978.
  • New Yorker, August 17, 1968; August 24, 1968; May 28, 1979.
  • New York Times, February 6, 1972; May 21, 1994, p. A13; September 20, 1994, p. C15; September 25, 1994, sec. 2, p. 34; October 29, 1994, p. A19; September 29, 1995, p. C18.
  • New York Times Book Review, September 2, 1956; May 11, 1969; August 31, 1969; April 15, 1973; March 2, 1975; October 23, 1977; March 19, 1978; May 29, 1994, p. 14; March 26, 2000, David Adox, review of Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995.
  • New York Times Magazine, July 11, 1965.
  • Observer (London), June 11, 1995, p. 16.
  • Parnassus: Poetry in Review, spring/summer, 1974.
  • Partisan Review, number 2, 1959; number 3, 1967; number 3, 1971; number 2, 1974.
  • People, July 3, 1978; November 25, 1996, p. 27.
  • Philadelphia Bulletin, May 19, 1974.
  • Playboy, April, 1969; January, 1995, p. 24.
  • Plays and Players, April, 1972.
  • Poetry, September, 1957; July, 1969; September, 1969.
  • Progressive, May, 1994, p. 48; August, 1994, pp. 34-39.
  • Publishers Weekly, January 25, 1999, review of Death and Fame: Poems, 1993-1997; January 31, 2000, review of Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995.
  • Salmagundi, spring/summer, 1973.
  • San Francisco Oracle, February, 1967.
  • Saturday Review, October 5, 1957.
  • Small Press Review, July/August, 1977.
  • Stand, autumn, 1995, p. 77.
  • Thoth, winter, 1967.
  • Time, February 9, 1959; November 18, 1974; March 5, 1979.
  • Times Literary Supplement, July 7, 1978; September 1, 1995, p. 22.
  • Tribune Books (Chicago), June 11, 1995, p. 5.
  • Unmuzzled Ox, Volume 3, number 2, 1975.
  • USA Today, July, 1995, p. 96.
  • Vanity Fair, March, 1994, p. 186.
  • Village Voice, April 18, 1974.
  • Washington Post, March 17, 1985.
  • Washington Post Book World, March 20, 1994, p. 12.
  • Western American Literature, spring, 1995, pp. 3-28.
  • Whole Earth Review, fall, 1995, p. 90.
  • World Literature Today, winter, 1995, p. 146.
OTHER
  • The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg (film), First Run Features, 1994.
OBITUARIES:
BOOKS
  • Newsmakers, Gale, 1997, p. 493-495.
PERIODICALS
  • Detroit News, April 6, 1997.
  • Economist, April 12, 1997, p. 87.
  • Entertainment Weekly, April 18, 1997, p. 18.
  • Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1997, p. A1.
  • Maclean's, April 14, 1997, p. 11.
  • Nation, April 28, 1997, p. 8.
  • National Review, May 5, 1997.
  • Newsweek, April 14, 1997, p. 60.
  • New York Times, April 7, 1997, pp. A1, A42; April 7, 1997, pp. B1, B3; April 8, 1997, p. B10.
  • Observer, April 6, 1997, p. 4.
  • People, April 21, 1997, p. 169.
  • Progressive, May, 1997, p. 10.
  • Rolling Stone, May 29, 1997, p. 34.
  • Time, April 14, 1997, p. 31.
  • Times (London), April 7, 1997.
  • Washington Post, April 6, 1997, p. B8.

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Articles About ALLEN GINSBERG

Audio & Podcasts

Poetry Off the Shelf Poetry Off the Shelf
  • Listen Wives in the Avocados
    Marjorie Perloff remembers the charm of Allen Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California."
Avant-Garde All the Time
  • Listen Protest Poetry With a Beat
    Hear Allen Ginsberg's hilarious "CIA Dope Calypso" and peak performances by Ezra Pound, Amiri Baraka and Abbie Hoffman.

Poet Categorization

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

LIFE SPAN 1926–1997

Allen Ginsberg

Biography

One of the most respected Beat writers and acclaimed American poets of his generation, Allen Ginsberg enjoys a prominent place in post-World War II American culture. He was born in 1926 in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in nearby Paterson. The son of an English teacher and Russian expatriate, Ginsberg’s early life was marked by his mother’s psychological troubles, including a series of nervous breakdowns. In 1943, while studying . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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