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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Allen Ginsberg - Birthday

Photo taken San Francisco  1970s I think.

Allen Ginsberg was born this day in Newark, New Jersey -1926. His father, Louis, was a poet and high school teacher; his mother, Naomi, was a communist and a paranoid schizophrenic. Naomi and Allen were very close; when she was in the grip of her delusions, he was the only one she trusted, and he often accompanied her to her therapy appointments. She spent much of his childhood institutionalized. Ginsberg spent eight months in a mental institution himself in the late 1940s, when he was arrested for harboring stolen goods; he chose to plead insanity.

He went to Columbia University, first intending to study law, but during his freshman year he met Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and William S. Burroughs. He later said, “I think it was when I ran into Kerouac and Burroughs — when I was 17 — that I realized I was talking through an empty skull … I wasn’t thinking my own thoughts or saying my own thoughts.” Ginsberg left Columbia in 1948, traveled, and worked some odd jobs, and in 1954, he moved to San Francisco. He met poet Peter Orlovsky there; they fell in love and were partners until Ginsberg’s death. In October 1955, Ginsberg read his poem “Howl” at the Six Gallery. The next day, bookstore owner and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti sent him a telegram quoting Emerson’s letter to Whitman: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” “Howl,” which was written to be read aloud, revived oral poetry. Ginsberg said that it, along with the rest of his work, was autobiographical, and that at its core was his pain at dealing with his mother’s schizophrenia.

He said, “Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”

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