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Allen Ginsburg in America
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3, 1926 in Newark, New Jeresy. Louis Ginsberg, Allen’s 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.”
Ginsburg’s 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
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