ALLEN GINSBERG Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1926, to a Jewish Russian immigrant family. His father, Louis, was a published poet, a high school teacher and a moderate Jewish Socialist. His mother, Naomi, was a radical Communist who went insane and got institutionalized in early adulthood. While dealing with his mother’s problems, he was struggling with his own budding homosexuality. In the 1940’s, Ginsberg entered Columbia University as a pre-law student, but late changed to his true love, literature. During this time, he began close friendships with a group of wild souls: William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Jack Kerouac, all of whom later became key figures of the Beat movement. In 1954, Ginsberg moved to San Francisco.
He was the first Beat writer to gain popular notice when he delivered a thundering performance of his highly controversial poem, Howl. Howl, had to overcome censorship trials and became one of the most widely read poems of the century, translated into more than twenty-two languages. In the early sixties, Ginsberg threw himself into the hippie scene, experimented with drugs, and took place in protests against the Vietnam War. In 1965 he coined a famous phrase of the sixties, “Flower Power.” Also his willingness to state his controversial views in public was an important factor in the development of the revolutionary state of mind that America developed during the 1960’s. In the1960’s and ’70’s, Ginsberg studied under gurus and Zen masters.
He went on to co-found and direct the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Colorado. During the 70’s and 80’s, Ginsberg recorded and occasionally toured with Bob Dylan and the Clash. In his later years he became a Distinguished Professor at Brooklyn College, and carried and active social schedule until his death. He died in his East Village apartment on April 5, 1997 surrounded by friends and loved ones. Now I am going to tell you a little bit about the Beat Movement, Allen Ginsberg’s role in it, and some criticism. The “Beats” were members of a literary protest that was and artistic movement in the mid 1950’s. During this period, a small clique of writers declared themselves, “disaffected nonconformists and were elevated by the media to the status of antiheroes,” (Layman 34).
They wanted to close the gap between life and art. To try to achieve their aspirations, they began by searching for “raw experiences.” They saw, learned and wrote, for themselves, their own feelings of what the country was. Individualism was the characteristic held in the highest regard by all of the Beats. It was their belief that everyone should patronize their own ability and freedom to find the truest part of themselves and then to be that person. Among the initiators of the Beat Generation genre, Allen Ginsberg was considered the only genuine beatnik,” and was the only one to deal with the psychology of the Vietnam War in real life as will as in his writing. “Stylistically, he was the connection between Kerouac’s guts, Burrough’s brains, the one-man band before Dylan, and the Gay Movement announcing street prophet,” (“Jack Kerouac . . .” 3). Ginsberg presents his life’s works as a personal epic of consciousness, a life-long poem including history, wherein things are symbols of themselves. His journals are the seedbed of his writing.
Most of his poems are lifted from them. In the journals his characteristic lines fill up the page from margin to margin, but the line is whenever the mind breaks, and therefore can be one work or a long paragraph. His poems spill over into prose under the impact of powerful emotion. (Lee) Ginsberg was trying, with very little success, to find a way of making poems from the kind of experiences he, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs shared. His experiences and travel were the main inspiration for most of his life works. Ginsberg presents not only the personal tragedies and persecutions of his generation of seekers but alludes back to an earlier generation. “Ginsberg is preeminently and elegiac poet many of his great works are poems of loss, involving not anger but grief or sorrow and a composed acceptance,” Foster 94). “Although Ginsberg said that it was probably Williams rather than Kerouac ‘from whom I get the first touch of a natural prose poetry style,’ Kerouac’s spontaneous method was eventually the greater influence,” (Foster 98).
A critic Stephenson was quoted as saying, “Ginsberg’s use of myth, rhythm, and prophetic vision, are the resolution of the problems associated with transcendence and the embodiment in verse of a new syncretic mode of spiritual awareness, a new social consciousness (58). Ginsberg’s enthusiasm for such dissimilar poets as Walt Whitman and William Blake may be explained in part by the fact that both insisted on politics as am extension of the self, rather than as matters of compromise and concession or as something imposed from without. His enthusiasm for Whitman may have been strengthened by the fact of their sharing homosexuality. As a homosexual, Ginsberg was in a position to know very well how oppressive a society could be if one did not conform to “accepted” behavior. In Ginsbergs works we find explicit imitations of Whitman and Blake’s styles. “For Ginsberg, invoking Whitman is more than a performative act of respect; it links Ginsberg with human presence in an impersonal commercial world.
” Ginsberg connects with Whitman on levels of poetics, sexuality, and ideology, and invoking him and his style in his own poetry. (Stephenson) Although his work is deeply spiritual, one of his greatest attributes as a poet has been his ability to arouse and inspire young people. His nonviolent protests at demonstrations and rallies were instrumental in raising America’s consciousness above its predilection for war-mongering and environmental destruction. “Ginsberg is often called the father of the Beat Generation with good reason,” (Kherdian 135). In conclusion, is a quote by Edward Foster: At the very least, the Beats constitute an essential link in that specifically American literary tradition, traceable to Emerson and Thoreau, which insists that the individual is superior to any consensus and that poetry and fiction, on so far as they testify to this, constitute a sacred task.