Allen Ginsberg

The Student, The Poet, The Personality, The Man


1926 - 1997


Dickenstein recalls his first encounter with the Beats and how it "moved" and overwhelmed" him enough for him to follow Ginsberg readings of poetry and literature even several decades after the Beats had diminished.

Ginsberg's performances on stage and the emotion he gave off during these readings, was similar to the way in which he saw Trilling and Van Doren conduct their lectures to the class. Both delivered their "performances" with emotion, dedication, a genuine love for what they were doing. As we have previously discussed in class, professors such as Trilling and Van Doren had an overwhelming influence in the lives of many of their students. Trillings "insistence that the political and literary minds had much to teach each other which turned into the notion that they were fundamentally inimical," was later proven when Gisnberg brought the two together in his poetry.

Both had been like father figures to Ginsberg and came to his rescue in times of trouble and despair. The relationship Ginsberg had with Trilling is almost unheard of in the academic world today. Student-teacher relationships are strictly in the classroom. On this note Ginsberg followed in Van Doren and Trilling's footsteps as he became an "elder statesmen, the wise and worldly Lord of the Revels, a live link with the germinal protest culture of the fifties." He was in essence the "emblem of the whole cultural period."

Ginsberg however took his performances to another, higher degree in that he didn't just try to enlighten the audience with his beliefs/thoughts/opinions in literary form but attempted to "convert" his listeners to them. He is described almost like a preacher, trying to salvage man from the brink of disaster. As Dickenstein later states "young people... were looking for something in literature..., not just looking at it." Ginsberg recognized this and in the process appealed to many of his generation by raising consciousness.

What I took out of his reading was that everything has its roots planted in something else. The roots for the social and cultural upheavel that took place in the late 1950's and 1960's was in the 1920's and 1930's. In this same fashion Ginsberg's roots for his "theatrical performances" came from his professors and to a smaller degree the culture surrounding the era in which he wrote.

Lynette Erbe


Through Wakefield, Ginsberg comes across as the wisest yet youngest of the Beats. Wakefield recalls his first encounter with Ginsberg..."To my great surprise and relief, I found Ginsberg friendly, businesslike, and helpful. He gave me information from his own experience and from his files...He was a practical saint who sheltered and fed the floating population who passed through his pad..."

Ginsberg was a living walking juxtaposition---he was part of the youthful rebellious counterculture a original creator of the Beats, but at the same time according to Wakefield, he was friendly to outsiders (unlike Kerouac) neat and organized with his files and research material, and unlike many of his times actually worried or was concerned particularly with his friends and their needs for food and shelter.

As we can see from the above characteristics he was a mix of both counterculture and mainstream society. This accomodation of character is Wakefield's reasoning to "why things turned out differently for Allen Ginsberg." Why he lived to an age "that would have seemed inconceivable for a man whose name, work, and image symbolized youthful rebellion..." The majority of the original Beats either drank their troubles and themselves away as is the case with Kerouac or committed suicide or overdosed. Ginsberg's balance of character allowed him to not only live but thrive as a figure or mentor among coming generations and finally as an accomplished poet according to literary establishments.

Ginsberg has been accepted as a "peculair national treasure of sorts" and the "most famous living poet on earth." Somehow trhough it all Ginsberg still has been able to remain levelheaded according to Wakefield, shrugging off praise and instead of discussing his own feats and accomplishments prefers to discuss his mentors (Kerouac and Burroughs) and their wisdom. Kerouac could not handle his success gained with "On the Road" and as previously noted drank himself to his death.

Lynette Erbe


"Howl", according to Wakefield, was responsible for making Ginsberg "famous (infamous, to many people) within a year or so after it's publication." Wakefield contextualizes the year in which "Howl" was released in terms of Eisenhower's reelection, or what he refers to as "the capstone of America's complacency" and explains Ginsberg's poem as a "lack of rhyme and reverence....shocking to the sensibility of the times." "Howl" Wakefield tells us silmultaneously foreshadowed and helped to propogate the values of the youth culture of the sixties. Nothing could seem more out of tunes with the times than the poetic shriek of pain and rebellion " within the language and ideas of "Howl".

Wakefield goes further into detail on the themes and context of the poem saying "it lays bare the nerves of suffering and spiritual struggle. Its positive force and energy come from a redemptive quality of love, although it destructively catalogues evils of our time from physical deprivation to madness." These very ideas, evils and violence, are what led critics to label Ginsberg as "the poet of the new violence".

This reference to violence immediately triggered my thoughts to not only Conrad's text "After Dark" but also reminded me of numerous other art forms we have examined including dance and film which also incorporate violence and evil into it's prose.

We see Ginsberg then as the catalyst who in the late 50's fueled the fire for the avante garde culture and it's movements of the 60's. While Ginsberg was harshly criticized for this inclusion we come to see in the years to come (beginning in the 1960's) violence as an accepted part of society.

Lynette Erbe


Allen Ginsberg's style of writing has been described as "Jewish language." In the recorded poem that we heard in class, Ginsberg talks about such ideas as holiness, teraphim, and Solomon.

The word holy is often used in Judaism. The Jewish homeland of Israel is called the "Holy Land" and the Bible is termed the "Holy Scriptures". Ginsberg uses the word teraphim - a biblical term used in the bible for "idols" or other G-ds. What did Ginsberg mean when he wrote, "Fuck the Jews" - was he angry at their "holier than thou" attitude and their monotheistic vision of "their G-d". Is he saying that teraphim are holy? Or by mentioning King Solomon, the son of David, who attempted to destroy all cultic sites and idols by centralizing Judaism in Jerusalem - is Ginsberg saying that teraphim are no longer holy.

"Jewish language" could be seen in Ginsberg's poem. However, just because Ginsberg is Jewish does not mean that he has a certain type of language. Langston Hughes once proclaimed that he "want(ed) to be known as a poet, not a Negro poet." Assumptions of artist's work are often made because he/she is often labeled by who they physically are.

Amy Eichenwald


Statements made by Allan Ginsberg concerning his controversial poem, Howl.

"Howl is an 'affirmation' of individual experience of God, sex, drugs, absurdity etc." --Allen Ginsberg in a letter to Richard Eberhart. (May 18, 1956)

"Howl is the first discovery as far as communication of feeling and truth, that I made. It begins with a catalogue sympathetically and humanely describing excesses of feeling and idealization."

"The title notwithstanding, the poem itself is an act of sympathy, not rejection. In it I am leaping out of a preconceived notion of social "values," following my own hearts instincts--allowing myself to follow my own heart's instincts, overturning any notion of propriety, moral "value," superficial "maturity," Trilling-esque sense of "civilization," and exposing my true feelings--of sympathy and identification with the rejected, mystical, individual even "mad."

Sarah Doran


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