Poetry News

Ginsberg Biographer Interviewed at The Awl

By Harriet Staff

Sarah Stodola interviews Ginsberg's former assistant (now biographer) Steve Finbow at The Awl. Finbow's biography, Allen Ginsberg, comes out this week. For a little taste of the interview, here's Finbow describing his first encounter with Ginsberg:

Allen had said to call while I was in the city, so I did. He invited me to his apartment at 437 East 12th Street. I remember it was raining but I walked from Midtown and when I arrived someone buzzed me in.

The door was open. Allen was in the kitchen making tea. He was much taller than I thought he’d be: big wet lips, lazy eye, bearded and in socks. He was very polite and welcoming. Allen introduced me to his manager Bob Rosenthal, plus Vicki Stanbury and Victoria Smart, who all worked for him. Later, we had some beers, something to eat. We talked about punk, poetry and Allen’s visits to the UK. He gave me some books and left an hour later. I stayed and drank and talked some more. I left thinking, ‘Hey, that was cool. Wait until I tell my friends back in England.’

When asked "What was he like?," Finbow describes him thus:

"Generous" is the first word that comes to mind. Generous with his time, contacts, stuff and money. Maybe a little too generous sometimes with money—some people took advantage. Extraordinarily energetic; he wouldn’t stop working even when doctors told him to slow down. Meticulous in his research on causes. Sometimes he acted like a spoiled child, and I did see him stamp his feet and jump up and down on occasion.

Did the biography change your view of Ginsberg in any way?

Yes. I developed a strong dislike of some of the people close to Allen—Neal Cassady in particular—and saw that Allen was more vulnerable than he had seemed when I worked for him. And that his behavior—the episodes of mental instability, his attraction to people who were addicts or (how shall I put it) psychologically challenged, his obsession with being part of the American literature canon (despite being a loose one, ka-boom-ching) and his championing of friends despite their blatant lack of talent—stemmed, to a large extent, from his childhood experiences.

There are many more details to savor at The Awl, including an indexing mishap that makes Ginsberg seem human, all too human!

Originally Published: September 12th, 2012