Poetry News

Forward Recounts That Time When Bernie Sanders Walked Out of an Allen Ginsberg Reading

By Harriet Staff

Don't worry! Sanders's abrupt exit was most likely due to foul language. Allan M. Jalon reports at Forward:

When did Allen Ginsberg and Bernie Sanders first meet? What were the circumstances? Even people close to Sanders and Ginsberg do not agree on that history, explored in a recent piece in the Forward. But a photo that surfaced after the story went to shows the poet, whose outlook reflected socialist ideas and the socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont together in Sanders’s office.

The 1983 photo, which prompts new questions about meetings between the two men, was taken by Phyllis Segura, at the time a freelance photographer on assignment for Yoga Journal. She was following Ginsberg and others with him on a tour of Vermont, reading poetry and singing. The image shows an intense-looking Sanders and a more relaxed (and more formally dressed) Ginsberg engaged in what seems like serious talk across Sanders’s desk. What has them so engaged? “I don’t recall what they were talking about,” Segura told the Forward, from her home in upstate New York. “I wish I could remember what they talked about. Another person who I think was in the room at the time was Steven Taylor, a musician who played with Allen.”

Steven X. Taylor traveled extensively with Ginsberg between 1976 and 1996, a guitarist and multifaceted musical collaborator. Reached in Brooklyn, he said he remembered the encounter, says it was a “very pleasant, cordial” discussion, but the years have eclipsed just what was said. Then, Taylor recalled a public incident between Sanders and Ginsberg that seems like it was not particularly pleasant for Sanders, as Taylor describes it. He says it may have happened on the 1983 tour, but isn’t sure, and Phyllis Segura says she’s certain it did not, “because I went where Allen went on that tour and I never experienced that.”

Taylor said that on one visit to Burlington, Sanders introduced Ginsberg at the start of a reading-performance for which Taylor was on stage with his guitar. “What happened was we gave a show in some big municipal building…and Bernie got up and introduced Allen.” Sanders, he said, sat down in the front row. “Bernie was proud to present Allen. And Allen was then in the habit, if he had a new poem, he’d try it out on people…and he had a very graphic poem about anal sex. He had this kind of dirty streak, and he liked to talk dirty in public. It was partly gay activism and it was also something he did.”

Continue at Forward. It's instructive to recall that time Ginsy wrote a poem for Bernie, which you can read all about at Forward as well.