The Zen of Allen Ginsberg

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Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born June 3rd, 1926, and died April 5th, 1997.

Today is his 88th birthday.

Ginsberg, along with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, is a preeminent figure in the 1950’s Beat Generation counterculture — i.e. the Beatniks — and if you’ve ever wondered what, precisely, these women and men stood for, it is really just the garden-variety, hippy-dippy, neo-Marxist’s dogma. Indeed, the following and more famous 1960’s hippy movement was a direct outgrowth of the Beats:

They opposed capitalism — or what they called “economic materialism” — sexual repression, military force, and all the other usual suspects.

In 1956, Ginsberg, already semi-famous, was catapulted into the international limelight, when his wildly popular poem “Howl” first appeared.

“Howl” is a long, sprawling, loose, baggy monster, only partly intelligible, in which Ginsberg bemoans, among other things, “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked …”

“Howl” is essentially a protracted denunciation of what Allen Ginsberg saw as the “destructive forces of capitalism” in the good old United States of America.

There is also the undeniable theme of non-conformity running throughout his most famous poem, and, for that matter, his entire oeuvre.

But the Ginsberg line I’ve always enjoyed most — and have quoted it here before — isn’t from “Howl” or any of his other poems. It’s from a 1986 interview he gave to the Newark Review. I trust you will find it as edifying as I do:

“We talk about our assholes, and we talk about our cocks, and we talk about who we fucked last night, or who we’re going to fuck tomorrow, or when we got drunk, or when we stuck a broom in our ass in the Hotel Ambassador in Prague — anybody tell one’s friends about that?”

(Listen to him read this excerpt)

Happy Birthday, Irwin Allen Ginsberg, R.I.P.


  • Dave Zoby

    June 4, 2014

    But I think it’s Ginsberg’s interpretation of Whitman that stands out most for me. His poem “Supermarket in California” introduced a whole generation to the “idea” of Whitman as a permanent force in American poetry. Whitman shows us how to be free. I don’t see “Howl” as “loose” either. I see it as a reaction to the tight confines of American society that was being sold to American youths in the form of corporate T.V popular in the 1950s. The Mickey Mouse show for example, the horrible surfing and beach party movies, the distraught an leaning Westerns complete with “savages.” Watch “Shane” for example, and tell me you don’t want to go to Prague and do some of things Ginsberg is advocating. The sad thing about Ginsberg is that he only wrote a few good poems, early in his career, and just sort of became a celebrity with nothing more to add. Don’t let that happen to you, Ray.

  • Ray

    June 4, 2014

    “Supermarket in California” — I forgot about that one. I kind of liked it. In fact, you were the one who first told me about it. Which sparks another memory: didn’t you also tell me about a poem of his called “Sunflower”? That one was pretty good. And yet, and yet … it’s all a little too phony for my tastes.

    And none of it is any match for that broomstick-up-the-ass business.

    Thank you for dropping by.

    (Micky, do you remember Zoby?)

  • Micky

    June 6, 2014

    No, but I know I should.
    I do however remember a supermarket in California.

  • Ray

    June 10, 2014

    Did it look like this?

  • Micky

    June 13, 2014

    Yeah I remember that one.
    It was in Norwalk about 20 years ago.
    The kind of neighborhood when if a car backfires everyone hits the floor.
    It was around 3:00 am. Jesse and I just got out of the clubs wearing our leathers with the fishnet asses. We’d been up for about three days and finally got hungry and decided on the 1.00 weenies with everything you could put on them.
    The thing is, we frequented this market quite often and for some reason they could never manage to get the fucking minced onions put out along with the rest of the accoutrements. Fucking white people and their mayo and catsup.
    Anyway, we were hungry, tweaked, tired, inebriated, and wearing cloths that made people grab their kids and dogs and the last thing Jesse and I wanted to see was “no fucking onions”.
    Jesse stood there stone faced for about five seconds looking at the empty onion tray and let out this blood curdling scream (he sang for a band, sounds like Ian Astbury ) “NO FUCKING ONIONS” !!!
    All ten people in the store including staff hit the deck as if thinking a bullet laced rivalry was on the way.
    The cashiers all ran to a safe room and everyone else got off the floor and proceeded to grab everything they could and throw it in their cars.
    We watched this shit go down as we walked out with two free hot dogs, sat in the truck and ate them as we watched a bunch of cops tackle people with arm loads of meat.

  • Ray

    June 17, 2014

    Oh, I like that. In particular, I enjoyed the image of you and Jesse, tweaked and inebriated, in fishnet asses eating weenies.

    Very well done.

  • Micky

    June 28, 2014

    The fishnet went well the fish tattoos on our asses.
    Drugs will do that kinda shit to you.

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