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Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3, 1926 in
Newark, New Jeresy. Louis Ginsberg, Allens dad,
was a published poet, a high school teacher and a
Jewish Socialist. His wife, Naomi, was a radical
Communist and nudist who went tragically insane in
early adulthood. A shy and complicated child
growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, Allen’s home
life was dominated by his mother’s bizarre and
frightening episodes. A severe paranoid, she
trusted Allen when she was convinced the rest of
the family and the world was plotting against her.
As Allen tried to understand what was happening
with his mother, he also had to struggle to
comprehend what was happening inside him, because
he was consumed by lust for other boys his age. He
discovered the poetry of Walt Whitman (the
original Beatnik) in high school, despite his
interest in poetry he followed his father’s advice
and planned on a career as a lawyer.

This was what
he had in mind when he began his freshman year at
Columbia University, but what he ended up doing
was running around with a bunch of poets and the
like, including fellow students Lucien Carr and
Jack Kerouac and friends William S. Burroughs and
Neal Cassady. These delinquent young philosophers,
you might say were equally obsessed with drugs,
crime, sex and literature. Eventually, Allen got
suspended from Columbia for various small
offenses. He began hanging around with Times
Square junkies and thieves (mostly friends of
Burroughs), experimenting with Benzedrine and
marijuana, and cruising gay bars in Greenwich
Village. At this point in Ginsberg life he and
Kerouac thought they were working towards some
kind of great poetic vision, which they called the
New Vision.

Ginsburgs friends acted crazy in a
sort of joyfull way, that coupled with the real
craziness of his mother, whose condition continued
to worsen until she was hospitalized for life and
finally lobotomized. Some people deal with
insanity in the family by becoming exaggeratedly
normal, but Ginsberg went in the opposite
direction. Knowing himself to be sane, he used
bizarreness as a style of life, as if seeking to
find the edge his mother had fallen over. In 1948,
the 26-year-old Allen Ginsberg had a mad vision
reading William Blake in which Blake came to him
in person. This was a great moment of his life,
and he told his family and friends that he had
found God. Ginsberg had a change of values once
when several of Ginsberg’s friends (such as
Burroughs and Herbert Huncke) resulted in the
arrest and imprisonment of Allen.

Ginsberg entered
a ‘straight’ phase: he recounced Burroughs,
immersed himself in psychoanalytic treatment, and
began dating a woman named Helen Parker. He then
proclaimed to be a heterosexual, found a job as a
marketing researcher. In an office in the Empire
State Building, he develop an advertising campaign
for Ipana Toothpaste. This phase was not meant to
last. He met Carl Solomon in the waiting room of a
psychiatric hospital. The important New Jersey
poet William Carlos Williams, whose poem about the
town of Paterson had impressed Ginsberg greatly.
Bearing a letter of introduction from the poet
Williams, Ginsberg traveled to San Francisco and
met Kenneth Rexroth, leader of an emerging local
poetry movement, which Ginsberg became a part of
almost instantly.

At the age of 29, Ginsberg had
wrote a lot of poetry but published almost none.
He worked hard to promote the works of Kerouac and
Burroughs to publishers, but never his own. But he
was the first Beat writer to gain notice when he
gave a performance of his new poem ‘Howl’ at the
legendary Six Gallery poetry reading in October
1955. This poem, which brought about an obscenity
charge that made Allen a worldwide symbol of
sexual depravity (as homosexuality was then
veiwed). Ginsberg followed ‘Howl’ with several
other new poems, such as ‘Sunflower Sutra.’ At a
critical stage in his career, he somehow was able
to avoid the ‘fame burnout’ that Kerouac fell pray
too. Ginsberg mellowed considerably during this
period, after travelling the world, discovering
Buddhism and falling in love with Peter Orlovsky,
who would remain a constant companion (though
their relationship was not monogamous) for thirty
years. Perhaps to rid himself of something
Ginsberg wrote ‘Kaddish,’ a poem about his
mother’s insanity and death.

His celebrity grew as
the ‘Beat’ concept evolved from an idea into a
movement and then into a cliche. In the early
sixties, Ginsberg threw himself into the hippie
scene. He and Timothy Leary worked together on
Leary’s new discovery, the psychedelic drug LSD.
As a famous American poet, Ginsberg was able to
hold audiences with important political figures
all over the world, and during the 60’s he took
advantage of this repeatedly. He mainly just
pissed off one important official after another,
getting kicked out of Cuba and Prague, and
annoying American conservatives. He was a familiar
figure at protests against the Vietnam War, this
coupled with the fact he was so open with his
views helped put America in a mood which was
against the war. The list of 60’s events that
Ginsberg played an important part in.

He
participated in Ken Kesey’s Acid Test Festivals in
San Francisco, and helped Kesey relieve tension
between the San Francisco hippies and the Hell’s
Angels. In the summer of 1965 Ginsberg made a trip
to London with several other Beat figures. Their
reading at the Royal Albert Hall is what started
the London underground scene, which helped spark a
new breed from which bands like Pink Floyd and The
Soft Machine would come about. Bob Dylan often
cited Ginsberg as one of the few literary figures
he could stand. Ginsberg can be seen standing in
the alley in the background of Dylan’s 1965
‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ video, and later
played a part in Dylan’s 1977 film ‘Renaldo and
Clara.’ Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure
led the crowd in chanting OM at the San Fransisco
Be-In in 1967. In 1970 Ginsberg met with Tibetan
guru Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Ginsberg soon
accepted Trungpa as his personal guru. He and poet
Anne Waldman joined to create a poetry school, The
Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at
Trungpa’s Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
In the early eighties Ginsberg joined the punk
rock movement, appearing on the Clash’s ‘Combat
Rock’ album and performing with them on stage.
Ginsberg carried on an active social schedule
until his death in April 1997. He never moved away
from his apartment in the streets of New York
City’s Lower East Side, and would constantly be
seen at local readings and gatherings, either on a
stage or in a crowd. I think this book opened my
mind not only to a great poet but also a whole
generation of people. It gave me insight on to
what was happening at that time. With the whole
anti-war movement, and the discrimination of
homosexuals.

Both of which Ginsberg spoke and
wrote about. Ginsberg was not just a poet from the
sixties, he was an embodiment of what a lot of
youth of that generation were thinking but couldnt
say. Ginsberg gave them that voice. Overall I got
what I expected out of the book. An overview of
Allen Ginsberg. I wish it had gone more in depth
on his poems though.

It only once brought an
excerpt of the Howl and that was to show what
Ginsberg was meaning to tell. I wish it had done
more of this, and with more then just the Howl. If
I were to read another book about Ginsberg it
would have to be a review of his poetry, and maybe
an interpretation of them. Im glad the book cut
right to Ginsbergs later years, because I think
those were his most interesting years. The book
didnt go into that much depth on his 20s and so,
mainly after he left New Jersey for San Fransico.
The 60s is what it pretty much went in depth on.
His time around San Fransico and his life with his
lover Peter Orlovsky, and his experiments with
Timothy Leary. I also wish the book had maybe
helped us get an idea of what his mother did to
young Allen.

I think this would maybe help us
understand him as a person and his poetry. I think
a mothers insanity would help mold your life in
very traumatic ways. Other then that I thought the
book was excelently written and Im glad I read it.
The book interested me so much, I went out and
bought a book of Ginsbergs poems, it also helped
me find other beat-poets to study, like Jack
Kerouac, William Carlos Williams, and William S.
Burroughs. I also did some research on the author
Jane Kramer, just wanting to know what her
credentials were on writing a book about Allen. It
all stemmed from the whole credibility lecture you
gave. I wanted to know if her view of Allen was
maybe biased in some way.

I guess she interview
Allen a lot and was allowed to review journal
entries Allen had been keeping. The book was
written while Allen was still alive and so I think
this was also helpful. It would be interesting to
find a book written after his death though, just
to compare the points of view on Allens
accomplishments. I would have to say overall
though that Im very pleased with the subject I
choose and the book I read I think gave as a clear
un-biased view of Allen Ginsberg as could be
written. Bibliography:.

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