Irwin Allen Ginsberg was a famous American poet who passionately battled against militarism, materialism and sexual repression. A prominent personality in the “Beat Generation”, his poetry is highly inspired by the epic and free verse style poetry of American poet Walt Whitman. Ginsberg highly raised voice against the promise of American democracy, the central importance of erotic experience, and the spiritual quest for truth of everyday existence through his writings. Ginsberg was inclined towards Buddhism. His popular poem, “Howl” is among the classic poems of this group of writers. In October 1955, he and five other anonymous poets recited free reading at an experimental art gallery in San Francisco. In 1957, "Howl" became the subject of an obscenity trail which eventually attracted lots of eye balls. This is because the poem reflected both heterosexual and homosexual sex during the period when homosexuality was a crime in U.S. But later Judge Clayton W. Horn concluded that it wasn’t obscene. Throughout his life, political activism was consistent with religious beliefs. He also participated enthusiastically in various non-violent political protests. Ginsberg was honored with the National Book Award for poetry in 1974, for his book of poems titled “The Fall of America”.
Allen Ginsberg Biography Childhood & Early Life
Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3, 1926 to Louis Ginsberg and Naomi Livergant Ginsberg. Though born in Newark, New Jersey, he was brought up somewhere near Paterson. His father was a poet and a teacher. His mother suffered from a psychological sickness and was a member of Communist Party. As a teenager, Ginsberg started writing letters to The New York Times based on political issues. During his high school days, he loved to read writings of Walt Whitman. Ginsberg graduated from Eastside High School in 1943. Upon receiving scholarship from “Young Men's Hebrew Association of Paterson”, Ginsberg joined Columbia University. However, due to financial difficulties, he had to work with Merchant Marine to continue his studies. During Ginsberg’s stay at Columbia, he contributed greatly to the Columbia Review literary journal, the Jester humor magazine. He also won the Woodberry Poetry Prize and became president of the Philolexian Society. His mother passed away in 1956. Her death deeply inspired Ginsberg to write “Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg”.
When Ginsberg was new at Columbia, he got acquainted withLucien Carr, a fellow undergraduate, who introduced Ginsberg to many future Beat writers. Their friendship grew as all of them had similar views on American youth. Ginsberg and Carr both discussed enthusiastically over "New Vision" for America as well as literature. In 1948, Ginsberg experienced an auditory hallucination while reading the poetry of William Blake. He first assumed to have heard the voice of God, but later interpreted the voice as that of Blake himself. In New York, he got introduced with Gregory Corso, a famous American poet in the Pony Stable Bar, which was one of the city’s first open lesbian bars. Thereafter, he denoted considerable time in reading poems of Corso and realized that the latter was “spiritually gifted”. Ginsberg later dedicated his most famous poem, “Howl” to his friend Carl Solomon. Before 1955, this poem was also believed to be an autobiography of Ginsberg.
Ginsberg was introduced to Peter Orlovsky, an American poet in San Francisco in the year 1954. He also met several members of the San Francisco Renaissance. All the poets he met during this period, later became members of the “Beat Generation”. Ginsberg also founded “Beatitude”, a poetry magazine, in 1959, along with other founders such as John Kelly, Bob Kaufman, A. D. Winans, and William Margolis. In 1955, Wally Hedrick, a painter and co-founder of the Six Gallery invited Ginsberg to organize poetry reading at the gallery. Initially the proposal was rejected by Ginsberg but later after finalizing the rough draft of “Howl”, he changed his mind. On 7 October, 1955, one of the most crucial events in Beat legends called as “The Six Gallery Reading” took place as this event gathered both East and West Coast networks of the Beat Generation. Also, the event had first ever recitation of Ginsberg poem, “Howl”. A taped recording of this poem reading was given to Reed College. But the soon after its publication by San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore in 1956, the poem was banned blaming it obscene. Later, Judge Clayton W. Horn declared the poem artistically rich.
In 1957, Ginsberg left San Francisco. After spending sometime in Morocco, headed to Paris with Peter Orlovsky and joined Gregory Corso there. Shortly, Burroughs and others too joined them. The time came out to be very productive and creative for all of them as Ginsberg completed his epic, “Kaddish” and others too did prominent works. They also came out with “Naked Lunch”. During 1962-63, Ginsberg and Orlovsky traveled all around India, residing mainly in Banaras and Calcutta. During this tour, Ginsberg became friends with some eminent Bengali poets like Shakti Chattopadhyay and Sunil Gangopadhyay. Also, he got highly involved in Buddhism and Krishnaism. In May 1965, Ginsberg shifted to London wherein he proposed to read free. He performed reading at Better Books.
They soon commenced planning for the “International Poetry Incarnation”, which took place at the Royal Albert Hall in London on June 11, 1965. The event came out to be really huge with 7000 audience hearing poems live. Ginsberg also recited his poems in the same. Also, questions were raised on the name of the “Beat Generation” and Ginsberg was believed to be the leader of the same. Later, he formed a line between the beat movement, 1950s and the hippies, 1960s. Ginsberg won the National Book Award for his book “The Fall of America” in 1974. In 1993, he awarded with the medal of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture. Ginsberg gave his last reading at the book store, The Booksmith in San Francisco on December 16, 1996. He accepted the invitation to be the special guest’s appearance at the NYU Poetry Slam on February 20, 1997. He wrote his last poem “Things I'll Not Do (Nostalgias)” on March 30, 1997, just a few days before his death.
Initially, Ginsberg was romantically involved with Elise Nada Cowen. He met her through Alex Greer, a philosophy professor at Barnard College. But later when he acquainted with Peter Orlovsky in San Francisco, he fell in love with him. Ginsberg and Orlovsky remained partners all through life.
Ginsberg died on April 5, 1997 of liver cancer complicated by hepatitis at the age of 70. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by his family members and friends.