Irwin Allen Ginsberg
was born on 3 June 1926 in
His father Louis was a school teacher and poet, known for his word play. "Is life worth living? It depends on the liver" and "I've got no axiom to grind" were two remembered examples. His mother was a radical
communist who idolized
Stalin. Throughout her life she was in and out of mental institutions. He later stated that his "mother made up bedtime stories that all went something like: "The good king rode forth from his castle, saw the suffering workers and healed them."
At age 15, writes letter to New York Times
about political issues such as WWII
and the plight of the workers. About those he saw as guilty parties he writes: "One can gather infinite consolation by speculation as to what will happen to those Congressmen when they go to Hell."
Prays to save the Working Class of America if he is admitted to
He is, and attends, with the assistance of a stipend from the Y.M.H.A., intending to study pre-Law.
In December of 1943, meets Lucien Carr
at Columbia University. Carr introduces him to David Kammerer,
William S. Burroughs
and Jack Kerouac.
A literary movement begins to slouch towards its
Gives up the study of Law to pursue that of Literature, excels as a student with teachers such as Mark Van Doren and Lionel Trilling.
Profoundly influenced by the visionary poetics of
the American exuberance of Walt Whitman,
and the modern sensibilities of
William Carlos Williams.
Edits the humor magazine, The Jester, is on the debate team, and helps run the literary society.
Ginsberg is suspended from Columbia in the Spring of 1945 for allowing a distraught Kerouac to sleep in his room, and for writing "Butler has no Balls" (for the president of Columbia, Nicholas Butler) on his window. Ginsberg the "A" student
becomes disillusioned with the academic establishment.
That July, Ginsberg begins training to become a merchant seaman.
However, on the 6th and 9th of August 1945, the US drop the bombs
Nagasaki, effectively ending the war and forever
changing human history. The merchant seaman training center is closed.
Ginsberg begins experimenting with drugs, primarily
hanging out in Times Square with Burroughs and Kerouac,
attempting to realize the lived poetry of a "New Vision".
Early in 1947, meets Neal Cassady,
begins intense intellectual and, somewhat unreciprocated, physical
relationship with him. They travel to
to visit Burroughs
and Herbert Huncke.
In the summer of 1948, Ginsberg has a profound vision while reading
Blake, claims to have found God. He makes the bizarre attempt to "go straight," enters into psychoanalysis, dates a woman, finds a job as a marketing researcher.
Ginsberg is arrested in April of 1949 while riding in a car stolen
by some of Huncke's friends. Allen pleads insanity, ends up going to
the Columbia Psychiatric Institute for eight months. It is there that he meets
to whom he later dedicates
Is graduated from Columbia in 1949 with a BA.
August 1951, drives with Lucien Carr to Mexico City to visit the Burroughs'. Impressed with the richness of the culture, his
perspective on the US shifts.
Moves to San Francisco, takes an apartment in North Beach, meets
who impresses Ginsberg with his balance of social activism and poetry. He is also introduced to
who encourages Ginsberg to break away from the influence of Williams,
supports his enthusiasm with Kerouac's "spontaneous poetics".
He resumes his attempts at normalcy, working for another market research firm. In December of 1954 he meets
they become lovers, forming a lifelong relationship. Ginsberg shakes off the chains of social conformity, quits job as market researcher, moves in with Orlovsky.
In the summer of 1955, Ginsberg begins what will eventually become "Howl:" "I saw the best mind angel-headed hipster damned."
On the 13th of October 1955, at the Six Gallery, Ginsberg delivers a mythic reading of "Howl". Kerouac MCs, punctuates reading with slaps on a jug of wine and shouts of "GO!"
Obscenity charges leveled against "Howl", further assuring its success
and significance. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Howl and Other Poems
Ginsberg's mother dies in 1956. Two days before she died, he received a letter from her that said: "The key is in the window, the key is in the sunlight in the window - I have the key - get married Allen don't take drugs... Love, your mother."
Ginsberg and Orlovsky go to visit Burroughs in Tangiers in 1957, assist in helping Burroughs to organize
The Naked Lunch.
In December of 1960, Ginsberg meets Timothy Leary,
who initiates him into the
Harvard Psilocybin Project
with nine psilocybin pills. Tries to call Kerouac as God, wants to go out in the street, stark, hysterical and naked to preach peace and love.
He is everywhere in the 60's, preaching the psychedelic gospel; traveling to
getting kicked out of
standing in alley in film of Bob Dylan's 1965 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'; taking a part in the
with Ken Kesey;
leading the crowd in chanting
at the Be-in in
San Francisco in 1967 with Gary Snyder and
Protesting the war at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968;
testifying at the trial of the
building an impressive
In reference to a discussion of Ginsberg's FBI file, Herbert Mitgang writes:
In a memorandum from J. Edgar Hoover
to the Secret Service in 1965, Ginsberg was cited as an "Internal Security--Cuba" case, and a potential threat to the president of the United States. On the document, stamped 'Secret', Ginsberg was listed as "potentially dangerous" and a "subversive," with "evidence of emotional instability (including unstable residence and employment record) or irrational or suicidal behavior," as having made "expressions of strong or violent anti U.S. sentiment," and as having "a propensity for violence and antipathy toward good order and government." All such items were checked on a form in his file.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
in 1970, whom he accepts as his guru. With
helps to found the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at Trungpa's Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
The Fall of America
wins the National Book Award in 1972.
Tours with Bob Dylan
In the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1977.
Tours and reads tirelessly through the 80's, ever deepening his commitment to Buddhism, keeping the Beat flame alive.
In 1993, he is awarded the medal of Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Minister of Culture
Dies of liver cancer on April 5th, 1997 in the East Village, New York City. Ginsberg reportedly composed a handful of short poems the day before his death, including one titled "On Fame and Death." In this poem, which ran in the
the week following his demise, he imagines the big crowds at his funeral and hopes that one of them would testify: "He gave great head."
Howl and Other Poems, 1956
Siesta in Xbalba and Return to the States, 1956
Kaddish and Other Poems, 1958-1960, 1961
Empty Mirror: Early Poems, 1961
A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley, 1963
Reality Sandwiches: 1953-1960, 1963
The Change, 1963
Kral Majales (King of May), 1965
Wichita Vortex Sutra, 1966
TV Baby Poems, 1967
Airplane Dreams: Compositions From Journals, 1968
Scrap Leaves, Hasty Scribbles, 1968
Wales - A Visitation, July 29, 1967, 1968
The Heart is a Clock, 1968
Message II, 1968
Planet News, 1968
For the Soul of the Planet is Wakening..., 1970
The Moments Return: A Poem, 1970
New Year Blues, 1972
Open Head, 1972
Bixby Canyon Ocean Path Word Breeze, 1972
Iron Horse, 1972
The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971, 1973
The Gates of Wrath: Rhymed Poems 1948-1952, 1973
Sad Dust Glories: Poems during Work Summer in Woods, 1974
First Blues: Rags, Ballads and Harmonium Songs, 1971-1974, 1975
Mind Breaths: Poems, 1972-1977, 1978
Poems All Over the Place: Mostly Seventies, 1978
Mostly Sitting Haiku, 1978
Careless Love: Two Rhymes, 1978
Plutonian Ode and Other Poems, 1977-1980, 1982
Many Loves, 1984
Collected Poems, 1947-1980, 1984
Old Love Story, 1986
White Shroud: Poems, 1980-1985, 1986
Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems, 1986-1992, 1994
Notes after an Evening with William Carlos Williams, 1970
Declaration of Independence for Dr. Timothy Leary, 1971
The Fall of America Wins a Prize, 1974
The Visions of the Great Rememberer, 1974
Chicago Trial Testimony, 1975
The Dream of Tibet, 1976
Your Reason and Blake's System, 1989
The Yage Letters (with William Burroughs), 1963
To Eberhart from Ginsberg: A Letter about Howl, 1976
As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, 1977
Straight Hearts' Delight: Love Poems and Selected Letters with Peter Orlovsky (edited by Winston Leyland), 1980
Scenes Along the Road (with
Allen Ginsberg, Fotografier, 1947-87, 1987
Allen Ginsberg Photographs, 1990
Snapshot Poetics, 1993.
Ginsberg: A Biography by Barry Miles, 1989
Dharma Lion: A Biography of Allen Ginsberg by Michael, Schumacher, 1992