Poetry News

Holy Psilocybin! NYPL Purchases Timothy Leary Papers

By Harriet Staff

The New York Public Library has purchased the papers of Timothy Leary, reports The New York Times. Among the 335 boxes of papers, videotapes, photographs and more is correspondence from "Ginsberg, Aldous Huxley, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Charles Mingus, Maynard Ferguson, Arthur Koestler, G. Gordon Liddy and even Cary Grant—an enthusiastic LSD user." Archibald Leash, we hardly knew ye. Though the archive won't be available to the public or scholars for 18 to 24 months, previews suggest that the stuff is extraordinary, revealing the lives of many significant cultural figures. And Leary himself: "The material documents the evolution of the tweedy middle-aged academic into a drug guru, international outlaw, gubernatorial candidate, computer software designer and progenitor of the Me Decade’s self-absorbed interest in self-help." And after meeting Allen Ginsberg in 1960--providing the poet with his first hallucinogenic mushroom trip--Leary, as the "credentialed purveyor of hallucinatory drugs," was "suddenly invited into the center of the artistic, social and sexual avant-garde. It was Ginsberg who helped convince Leary that he should bring the psychedelic revolution to the masses, rather than keep it among an elite group. Filling out one of Leary’s research questionnaires in May 1962 the poet Charles Olson wrote that psilocybin 'creates the love feast,' and 'should be available to anyone.'"

Thomas Lannon, the library’s assistant curator for manuscripts and archives, explained that at the time these substances were not regulated by the government, and that Leary and his group did not consider them drugs but aids to reaching self-awareness.

Leary kept meticulous records at many points during his life. There are comprehensive research files, legal briefs, and budgets and memos about the many institutes and organizations he founded, but there are also notes and documents from when he was on the run after escaping from a California prison with help from the Weather Underground. A folder labeled as notes from his “C.I.A. kidnapping” in 1973 is full of cryptic jottings recounting the details of his arrest in Afghanistan, at an airport in Kabul, after he fled the United States.

Read the full article and view a slideshow of the papers here.

And here's a little taste, taken from New York magazine:

Charles Olson, Poet: “About twenty minutes after taking [mushrooms], I felt slightly nauseated and began to notice visual effects … Feeling sick, I moved to a nearby couch and lay down. At this time I noticed the floor under my feet was alive with patterns of color … I felt tricked!”

Allen Ginsberg, Poet: “After an hour … I withdrew into visual introspection … I lay down on a large comfortable couch next to my companion Peter Orlovsky and drifted off into a reverie about the origin of the universe which involved the visualization of a sort of octipus [sic] of darkness breaking through out of the primal void … [I] envisaged various people I knew … as Seraphs or Fiendish Angels with fangs of Judgement rushing thru the void over Atlantic Blakean Spaces to make meet with each other to take Conference over the future of Life.”

Jack Kerouac, Novelist: “I saw you, Leary, as a Jesuit Father … I saw Allen [Ginsberg] as Sariputra (the Indian saint). My old idea of St. Peter (about Peter Orlov­sky) was strengthened … Pearl became a Lotus of indescribably [sic] beauty sitting there in the form of a Buddha woman Bhikkushini … Mainly I felt like a floating Khan on a magic carpet with my interesting lieutenants and gods.”

Originally Published: June 17th, 2011