Allen Ginsberg

by Zackary from Mission Viejo

"Fortunately art is a community effort - a small but select community living in a spiritualized world endeavoring to interpret the wars and the solitudes of the flesh." -Allen Ginsberg
Young Allen Ginsberg (boppin.com)
Young Allen Ginsberg (boppin.com)

Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3, 1926 to a Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey. His father was a published poet and a high school teacher. After graduating high school Ginsberg attended Columbia University, where he met a collective group of social-radicals that would later be known as "The Beat Generation." This included names such as Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs. Kerouac would later go on to write the seminal novel On the Road, which was a piece that centered around the enigmatic Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) and helped define the elusive "Beat Generation." Allen Ginsberg himself appeared in Kerouac's novel as the character Carlo Marx. The Beat Generation captured the lifestyle of the post-World War Two youth - a fast-paced and radical group that would later move to the forefront of society as great writers and philosophers and artists.

Allen Ginsberg's main contribution to "The Beat Generation" - which is, unfortunately, a term he eschewed due to the fact that it could be perceived as a label or a stereotype - was his groundbreaking poem Howl (1954). This poem skewed contemporary conventions and maintained a distinct voice that would be mimicked and improved upon by poets for years and years. The inspiration for a poem came from Carl Solomon - a man whom Ginsberg came to know during a brief stint in a mental institution due to Ginsberg's own homosexuality. Ginsberg gave voice to his own struggles with conformity and the overall hopelessness of his depraved generation though the poem. Near the end of the poem Ginsberg alludes to something he terms "Moloch" - an all-consuming, godlike figure that he envisioned during a hallucination in New York. Overall, Ginsberg's impact on the literary world of the 1950's was tremendous, but the obscenity trial the followed Howl's publication carries just as much importance as the poem itself. Due to the poem's use of common vulgarities it was seized by the government as an inappropriate work of literature. Ginsberg maintained that in order to depict the generation he was talking about it was necessary to use the language of the generation itself. Though Ginsberg himself never attended the trial, the eventual allowing for the poem's publication was a huge step forward for the protection of civil liberties.

 (pen.org)
(pen.org)

Ginsberg also aligned himself as a Gay Rights activist. As a long-time homosexual, Ginsberg believed in concepts such as Free Love and Gender Equality. He references these in many of his poems, and often depicts the battle between his societal conditioning and his inherent sexual preferences. This theme is continuous throughout his body of work. Ginsberg was also active in promoting freedom of speech, the demystification of psychedelic substances, general political open-mindedness (Ginsberg himself was an advocate of Communist; a political system that he understood to be misunderstood by the majority of the American populace during and after the Red Scare), as well as defending freedom of expression with programs such as NAMBLA. As he neared his death he became a staunch practitioner of Zen Buddhism as well as Hinduism in the hope of attaining final spiritual enlightenment. Allen Ginsberg passed away on April 5, 1997 at 70 years of age.

Page created on 2/15/2013 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 2/15/2013 12:00:00 AM

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Zackary from Mission Viejo