I recently finished reading Bill Morgan’s Biography of Allen Ginsberg I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg.
Everyone called Jack Kerouac the “King of the Beats,” but really it was Allen. None of it would have been possible without Allen Ginsberg. It was he who tireless fought to have his fellow writers published. Without his constant insistence, Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and others would very likely never have been published, or at least not in such a way as a movement formed around them and Ginsberg.
Ginsberg was at the forefront of so many ideas that came to shape the culture in the decades ahead of his creative critical mass Howl.
Ginsberg fought to have drug use decriminalized, he was among the first to bring Eastern ideas like yoga, meditation and chant from India to the popular culture in a prominent way, he was involved in anti-censorship campaigns and created and funded a foundation dedicated to supporting writers fighting censorship, he was involved in the earliest protests against the escalation of the Vietnam conflict, he work was among the inspiration that ignited other artists of the 60’s like Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. Using chant he helped to quell a potential riot during the violent conflicts surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention, he participated in the first “summer of love” event, and the list goes on. He was a seminal figure in American letters.
The Allen Ginsberg Project maintains an online archive of his writing along with lots of photography.
Allen researched and a report titled Smoking typewriters on FBI harassment of the underground press during the 1960s and 1970s published as part of City Lights The Campaign Against the Underground Press: Unamerican Activities. Ginsberg spent years researching his suspicion that the CIA “was deeply involved in drug smuggling and dope dealing.” He tried to convince the New York times to investigate, but they didn’t believe him. Eventually in 1978 Ginsberg received a letter of apology from NYT publisher C.L. Sulzberger when It was exposed that the CIA had indeed been involved.
Photo ©Lisa Law
Allen had been writing poetry for thirty-five years in the belief that
“only art could serve mankind, only art could justify the sufferings and thoughts of a lifetime. Not Business, not comforts of the body, not construction of skyscrapers, not physical architecture—but only creations of the spectral mind transmitted generation after generation, century after century to ennoble the efforts of the human body.”
“He spoke to all people as if they were future Buddhas, honestly and openly, heart to heart. …in fact, Ginsberg’s conversational ability was perhaps his most remarkable quality, aside from his literary talent.”
“…many well known figures sat at Allen’s kitchen table at one time or another. Every day Allen Scrubbed the table and used it to display his most recent books or his newest photographs. Then he would prepare soup for his guests or wash dishes and talk with friends over a cup of tea.“
“Poets are Damned… but See with the Eyes of Angels.”—Allen Ginsberg