Allen Ginsberg

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Irwin Allen Ginsberg (3 June 19265 April 1997) was an American Beat poet born in Newark, New Jersey. He was a central figure among Beat Generation writers. Ginsberg is best known for "Howl", a long poem about consumer society's negative human values.


America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.
1. You can't win. 2. You can't break even. 3. You can't even get out of the game.
  • The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That's what poetry does. By poetry I mean the imagining of what has been lost and what can be found—the imagining of who we are and the slow realization of it.
    • As quoted in C. F. Main & Peter J. Seng, Poems (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1973), p. 3

Howl (1956)[edit]

  • I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
    dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix
    angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.

America (1956)[edit]

  • America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.
  • America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.

Hadda be Playin' on a Jukebox[edit]

  • The CIA and the Mafia are in cahoots
    • Hadda be Playin' on a Jukebox (1975).

Journals: Early Fifties Early Sixties[edit]

  • I could issue manifestos summoning seraphim to revolt against the Heavenly State we're in, or trumpets to summon American mankind to rebellion against the Authority which has frozen all skulls in the cold war, That is, I could, make sense, invoke politics and try organize a union of opinion about what to do to Cuba, China, Russia, Bolivia, New Jersey, etc. However since in America the folks are convinced their heaven is all right, those manifestos make no dent except in giving authority & courage to the small band of hipsters who are disaffected like gentle socialists. Meanwhile the masses the proletariat the people are smug and the source of the great Wrong. So the means then is to communicate to the grand majority- and say I or anybody did write a balanced documented account not only of the lives of America but the basic theoretical split from the human body as Reich has done- But the people are so entrenched in their present livelihood that all the facts in the world-such as that China will be 1/4 of world pop makes no impression at all as a national political fact that intelligent people can take counsel on and deal with humorously & with magnificence. So that my task as a politician is to dynamite the emotional rockbed of inertia and spiritual deadness that hangs over the cities and makes everybody unconsciously afraid of the cops- To enter the Soul on a personal level and shake the emotion with the Image of some giant reality-of any kind however irrelevant to transient political issue- to touch & wake the soul again- That soul which is asleep or hidden in armor or unable to manifest itself as free life of God on earth- To remind by chord of deep groan of the Unknown to most Soul- then further politics will take place when people seize power over their universe and end the long dependence on an external authority or rhetorical set sociable emotions-so fixed they don't admit basic personal life changes-like not being afraid of jails and penury, while wandering thru gardens in high civilization.
    • Gordon Ball (1977), Journals: Early Fifties Early Sixties, Grove Press NY

Great Poets Howl[edit]

  • Nobody knows whether we were catalysts or invented something, or just the froth riding on a wave of its own. We were all three, I suppose.
    • Glen Burns (1983), Great Poets Howl: A Study of Allen Ginsberg's Poetry, 1943-1955, Peter Lang GmbH, ISBN 3-8204-7761-6.

Family Business[edit]

  • You assume we are all sexually stable; while on the other hand, as I have become acquainted with people, I find that they are all perverted sinners, one way or another, that the whole society is corrupt and rotten and repressed and unconscious that it exhibits its repression in various forms of social sadism.
    • Family Business: Selected Letters Between a Father and Son, Allen and Louis Ginsberg (1944-1976), Michael Schumacher (ed.) (2001), Bloomsbury Publishing NY, ISBN 1582341079, p. 21.


Ginsberg's theorem[edit]

About Ginsberg[edit]

  • Of the Beat triumvirate, Kerouac was probably both the most pathetic and least noxious. Psychologically, he was a mess—as indeed were Ginsberg and Burroughs. But, unlike them, Kerouac lacked the knack of sanctifying his pathologies and inducing others to bow down in obeisance.
    • Roger Kimball, "A gospel of emancipation", The New Criterion, October 1997
  • Allen Ginsberg, born in 1926, was closer in age to Lowell than he was to the students of 1968. But Ginsberg, even in his forties, balding and a bit paunchy, with his thick beard and wreath of wild dark hair, had both the personal spirit and literary style that characterized the sixties. He was really a fifties figure, a central figure of the beat generation. But by 1968 many of the beats had faded. Jack Kerouac was dissipated from alcohol and did not approve of the antiwar movement. He accused his old friend Ginsberg of being unpatriotic. Neal Cassady died in Mexico in early 1968 while undertaking a fifteen-mile hike following a railroad line. He said he would pass the time counting railroad ties. But along the way he managed to get himself invited to a wedding party, where he spent hours drinking and taking Seconal. He was found the next day along the railroad tracks where he had spent the rainy night. Suffering from overexposure, he soon died, exiting in that free and offbeat style that had made his group famous. According to legend, his last words were, “Sixty-four thousand nine hundred and twenty-eight.” Despite losing many friends to alcohol and drugs, Ginsberg was a passionate believer in certain drugs, especially marijuana, psilocybin, and LSD. In fact, although he was a determined adversary of the Vietnam War and the American military and industrial war machine, there were three other topics that he seemed to bring up on most occasions. One was fair treatment for homosexuals. Always extremely candid in his poetry, some said graphic, about his own sexual preference, he was a gay rights activist before the term was invented. And he always championed his theories on the beneficial uses of narcotics as well as the unfair persecution of users. He was also a persistent believer in the value of Buddhist chants. By 1968, when Eastern religion had become a trend, it was easy to forget that Ginsberg had been very serious about his Buddhism for a number of years. Hinduism was also in vogue, especially having a guru, a new enough word in 1968 for the press to usually offer the pronunciation (goo-roo).

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