Ginsberg vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism and sexual repression
The Beat Poet and free thinker Allen Ginsberg was born on this day in 1926
Born into a Jewish family on June 3, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey, U.S, Irwin Allen Ginsberg it’s one of the most influential modern poets and writers, with a body of work that not only covered the literary fields but also music. Ginsberg came to prominence as one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation (that included also Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs) during the 1950’s and the 1960’s counterculture that soon followed. Through his work and actions, he vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism and sexual repression and was known as embodying various aspects of this counterculture, such as his views on drugs, hostility to bureaucracy and openness to Eastern religions. He first came to prominence after he published his poem “Howl”, also known as “Howl for Carl Solomon”, in his 1956 collection “Howl and Other Poems”. On the poem he denounced what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States. In 1957, it attracted widespread publicity when it became the subject of an obscenity trial, as it described heterosexual and homosexual sex at a time when sodomy laws made homosexual acts a crime in every U.S. state. “Howl” reflected Ginsberg’s own homosexuality and his relationships with a number of men, including Peter Orlovsky, his lifelong partner. Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that “Howl” was not obscene, adding, “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemisms?” One contribution that is often considered his most significant and most controversial was his openness about homosexuality. Ginsberg was an early proponent of freedom for gay people. In 1943, he discovered within himself “mountains of homosexuality.” He expressed this desire openly and graphically in his poetry. He also struck a note for gay marriage by listing Peter Orlovsky, his lifelong companion, as his spouse in his Who’s Who entry. Subsequent gay writers saw his frank talk about homosexuality as an opening to speak more openly and honestly about something often before only hinted at or spoken of in metaphor. A practicing Buddhist who studied Eastern religious disciplines extensively, Ginsberg opted to live his life modestly, buying his clothing in second-hand stores and residing in downscale apartments in New York’s East Village. Ginsberg worked with, drew inspiration from, and inspired artists such as, Bob Dylan, The Clash, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison and John Lennon. He worked with Bob Dylan on various projects and maintained a friendship over many years. In 1996, he also recorded a song co-written with Paul McCartney and Philip Glass, “The Ballad of the Skeletons” Allen Ginsberg gave what is thought to be his last reading at The Booksmith in San Francisco on December 16, 1996. After returning home from the hospital, where he had been unsuccessfully treated for congestive heart failure, Ginsberg continued making phone calls to say goodbye to nearly everyone in his address book. Some of the phone calls, including one with Johnny Depp, were sad and interrupted by crying, and other were joyous and optimistic. Ginsberg continued to write through his final illness, with his last poem, “Things I’ll Not Do (Nostalgias)”, written on March 30. He died on April 5, 1997 surrounded by family and friends in his East Village loft in New York City, succumbing to liver cancer via complications of hepatitis at age 70.
Listen to Allen Ginsberg reading his masterpiece “Howl” in 1956
Also watch this episode of USA Poetry featuring Allen Ginsberg
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