A freakish yet brilliant poet with a wide mouth and a solemn stare once walked the streets of downtown Manhattan. His name was Allen Ginsberg.
Allen Ginsberg was at the heart of a major movement called the “Beat Generation,” which influenced the East Village a great deal in the 1950s. It was composed of a group of authors who pushed against societal norms and idealized new ways of thinking by exploring a number of both sexual and spiritual expeditions.
He was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1926. His mother, originally a refugee from Russia who came to America when she was 8 years old, who suffered from severe paranoia. He was also influenced by a strong political background at an early age by his mother who was a communist.
Ginsberg didn’t plan on pursuing poetry. He was just gifted with words. Originally in high school his plans were to pursue a career in government or legal work, which he listed in his yearbook.
This career path drastically changed when he was admitted to Columbia University on a scholarship. He was very influenced by both his professors and friends, more so his friends, to embrace his wiring talent. Neal Cassady greatly influenced a number of his works including the first chapter of his book On the Road and a heartbreaking and entirely sensual poem of his: Many Loves in which he pours out his love in intricate and beautiful prose.
The beat movement was made up of strong and radically intellectual people, all of whom Ginsberg met at Columbia University. Many of them went on to be famous writers including Lucien Carr, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Herbart Hunke, John Clellon Holmes and Neal Cassady. Together they made history and helped to create the “beats.”
In the 1950’s, Greenwich village a place with frequent slums and low income housing, became a very artsy hangout, and was populated with a great deal of writers who mingled together and created work congregating in smoke filled bars for a breathe of inspiration in which writers would share work at various poetry readings. Later on, this phase would shift into the more “bohemian,” movement which occurred in the 1960’s.
Ginsberg was a wild, imaginative eccentric man who experimented with marijuana and nitrous oxide; a colorless gas used for anesthesia. He used these drugs to bring an exotic feel to his poetry while also being more in tune with himself in order to feed his vision. He states that this brought him an “exalted state of mind.”
His most famous piece was Kaddish, (a mourning or a blessing prayer in Judaism), which is an autobiographical poem. During this time period he was experimenting with a number of psychedelic drugs. The poem was written after the passing of his mother.
In an BBC interview in 1994 Ginsberg states, “There is no real permanence of self.” He was a man that was composed of many things.
-by Samantha Rice