Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born to Louis Ginsberg and Naomi Livergant Ginsberg in the month of June of the year 1926. His father was a high school teacher and a published poet, whereas his mother was a member of the Communist Party. He himself was a poet and wrote and published several poems which addressed different issues affecting the lives of Americans during the 20th century. Besides him being a poet, Allen was a renowned figure in the beat generation of the middle 1950s. He is known to oppose militarism, sexual repression and economic materialism (Leon & Lewis 9). He did not only express his disapproval of these matters in his poems but also in his way of life. Therefore, this paper will present the background of Allen and the issues he addressed in his writing.
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To start with, Ginsberg was born in 1926, and when he was of age taken to Junior High School after his primary studies. He was close to his mother Naomi, who was psychologically ill, and this disturbed Allen a number of times as mentioned in his writings. He was an educated young man who after his Junior High School joined Colombia University, and later, after struggling with education and facing suspension in 1945, managed to graduate in 1948 (Prima & Diane 12).”
In his lifetime, he met several authors and they influenced his life greatly. Ginsberg travelled a lot promoting free speech though his highly controversial writing, the “Howl” which brought him into trouble with a lot of people and friends. It is from his want to address the then-current issues such as Vietnam War and issues that affected the people in his many poems that he became very prominent.
Allen Ginsberg, among many other poems that he wrote, composed the poem “Howl” which was addressing issues people took as taboo and for this reason, many publishers rejected to publish this material. The content of the poem was considered vulgar as it contained “sex talk” and was seen as a form of pornographic material. Allen’s use of words like “cocksuckers” and “cunt” among other vulgar words made his piece of writing gain fame but in the wrong direction. Besides discussing “sex” in his poem The Howl, Ginsberg also handled another taboo of homosexuality in the same piece of writing (Ginsberg 4). Basically, The Howl addressed controversial issues. To make it more interesting, when he was faced with charges concerning the poem, the jury found him not guilty and claimed that he addressed important issues in the society. It was a challenge to the culture and addressed the optimism he had for future of Americans as well.
Also, Ginsberg wrote a 152-line poem to address the issue of challenges faced by victims of Bangladesh War in 1971 (Funk & Wagnalls 1). In this writing, he used literary techniques to bring to the world’s attention the sufferings the War brought to people. He saw a big loophole in government as it allowed its forces destroy lives. Allen was motivated to write this poem when he visited war victims in a refugee camp in course of his normal travels to different places.
As an expression of disapproval for the government’s policies, he participated in a protest of 1978, at Rocky Flats Nuclear facility. He made several trips to communist countries like China to promote freedom of speech, as such countries like China and other many received him warmly because he was anti-capitalism and expressed his dissatisfaction with the American government policies.
Allen lived a contrasting live in 1970s, discussing matters on how the government was relating with drugs dealing countries yet himself being an addict to these drugs. He was more concerned with the heroine, and government deal in opium which was constitutionally illegal. This brought him close to Alfred W. McCoy, who was involved in writings of illegal drugs trafficking in Asia. His involvement in disclosing the government flaws to people by revealing how CIA was involved in illegal acts did not make him any serious to people despite writing articles and poems to criticize the then government.
It was later in 1978 when New York Times acknowledged his writings and took them seriously (Trigilio & Tony 14). Later on he drafted a poem “CIA Dope Calypso” when the issue he was addressing for more than five years was real to the people after the revelations by the New York Times media group which decided to support him. Ginsberg is one of the poets who promoted the “Beat Generation” which rooted from campuses and later on spread everywhere in the nation. He was nicknamed “The Beat” though he was not the only one who participated in the promotion.
Other poets like Corso, Kerouac and Burrough, who he had met, also participated in the promotion. These poets were okay with the name used to refer to them until a time when they read his poem The Howl, when they started dissociating themselves from him. The Beat was derived from the themes mostly used by poets during those years of late 50s and early 60s. Later on, Ginsberg bridged The Beat of 50s and the Hippies movement of 60s (Djos & Matts 3).
In the middle of 1965, Allen travelled to London, and since he was a known poet, he was allowed to present a poem anywhere he wanted. He presented a poem at the Better Books that was referred by Nuttal to as “healing wind on a parched collective mind” and the result of this was a victory for his side over the freedom of speech. Afterwards in his writings, Tom McGrath wrote that the poem by Allen could be a turning point of the poetry in the country and in Europe.
In 1957, he abandoned San Francisco. This came as a surprise to the poetic world. He went to Morocco where after some time left for Paris where he met with Corso, and Orlovsky and Burroughs joined the later on. During this time in Paris, Ginsberg completed his epic poem which he called “Kaddish”. One of his friends composed a poem known as “Bomb and Marriage” while another composed “Naked Lunch” (Harper & Row 3) This period of time was marked by presence of Harold Chapman who was a photographer and took pictures randomly especially in restaurants. After this period, Allen travelled extensively with his friends spreading their poems almost in every corner of the world. Wherever he went, Allen composed a poem to present the present issue in that society.
Allen was involved in chanting Hare Krishna mantra in public which is associated with Krishnaism (Allen & Donald 23). When asked the reason for his involvement, he claimed that it brought a state of ecstasy in his life. As he was perfoming this ritual he had acquired in India in America, he managed to get a few people to join him. This brought conflict with the existing culture of the people he was associated with. However, he managed to incorporate the chanting in the hippie movement and he was very successful in doing so. Subsequently he was allowed to participate in Mantra-Rock Dance concert and in this concert he introduced swami to the hippie community.
Chanting and music were part of the techniques he employed in poetry during his day to day performance. His acquired behavior from Asian culture brought about division among many people. Though some poets disapproved of it, Allen was not worried by him being left by his friends but continued with his new acquired culture and taught much about its use in the poems.
His effort was crowned when he was promoted to be a lecturer at Brooklyn College in 1986 (Leon & Lewis 7). He was a composer and took literature subjects at the graduate level. His teaching was accompanied by a composition of poems which he used to use to teach his students. This was one of the major achievements he had in his time.
The life of Ginsberg was a reflection of issues prevalent in the society during his time, and he did not hesitate at any moment to express himself by use of poems. He could see some flaws in the governance and revealed them to the people. More so, Ginsberg did not care about friends who did not side with him.
He was in love with Lady Elsie Nada though his later life partner became Peter Orlovsky whom he met in San Francisco and this gave people the reason why he promoted homosexuality (Harper & Row 4). Just before the death of his mother, she wrote to her son that she wanted him to become a good son, and to cease from excessive use of drugs. Ginsberg later became sick and was diagnosed with hepatitis. For a period he suffered minor ailments like high blood pressure and later at the beginning of April, he was told he had few days left before his death in April 1997.
Ginsberg lived a controversial life in which he revealed many of the flaws in the government. He used his poems to point out how the government was involved in illegal drugs dealing and the Vietnam War which took many lives of innocent people. He was a communist and was supported by the Asian governments to oppose the policies of the American government. Ginsberg expressed all the flaws he saw through poetry without fear of what the society would think of him as seen in his famous poem “The Howl”.
Though he was controversial, some people appreciated his work and this led him to becoming a lecturer at Brooklyn College. He was the key figure in the “Beat generation” of 1950s and he bridged this with the Hippies of 1960s. As seen, he was homosexual and lived with Peter Orlovsky, who became his life partner. Ginsberg died in New York City in 1997 but left a legacy.
Allen, Donald, ed. The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. Univ of California Press, 1960.
Djos and Matts. “Howl.” Masterplots, Fourth Edition: 1-3. Literary Reference Center. (2010).Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
Funk and Wagnalls.”Beat Generation. “Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia1 p. 1. New World Encyclopedia. (2014).. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
Ginsberg . A”Howl, Parts I &II.” Poets.org. Harper and Row, .(1962). n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
Harper and Row.” Ginsberg, Allen”. Cia Dope Calypso. Online Poems by Allen Ginsberg., n.d. Web. 30 Feb. 2015.
Leon, and Lewis. Critical Survey Of Poetry, Second Revised Edition. “Allen Ginsberg1-10. Literary Reference Center. “. (2002). Web. 10 Feb. 2015.
Prima. D., and Diane.”Knowing Allen Ginsberg.” Paterson Literary Review 35: 13-19. Literary Reference Center (2006). Web. 1 F Apr. 2015.
Trigilio and Tony: “The Beat Goes On — But How?.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum 94.3 12-15. MasterFILE Elite. . (2014) Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
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