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M.Phil Dissertation on Beat Literature.

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    ALLEN GINSBERG AND THE SOCIO-POLITICAL CULTURAL CRITIQUE OF AMERICA: FOCUSSING ON SELECTED POEMS WITH ANNOTATIONS ARITRA DAS Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of MPhil Degree Department of English, Faculty of Arts Rabindra Bharati University Kolkata - 700050
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    ALLEN GINSBERG AND THE SOCIO-POLITICAL CULTURAL CRITIQUE OF AMERICA: FOCUSSING ON SELECTED POEMS WITH ANNOTATIONS ARITRA DAS Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of MPhil Degree Department of English, Faculty of Arts Rabindra Bharati University Kolkata - 700050 Roll: RAB/MENG - 07 No.: 0001 Registration No. - 1046 of 2003-2004
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    Acknowledgements This research actually began many years ago when I was pursuing my post-graduate studies in English from Rabindra Bharati University. I first got to know about the Beat Generation and the Beatniks when an inspirational, bespectacled teacher began his classes on a cold December afternoon in 2004. Later on, he played a greater role in my life when he agreed to guide me through this Dissertation. He is Professor Amitava Roy, Shakespeare Professor of English, co-founder of the Shakespeare Society of Eastern India and presently, Director of the Shakespeare Centre for Advanced Research, Rabindra Bharati University. I must also mention the name of Dr. Arundhati Chatterjee, Reader and Head, Dept. of English, Banwarilal Bhalotia College, Asansol, who encouraged me to carry on studying during a most turbulent period of my life and rendered all possible support to me in that regard. Similarly, Ms. Papia Dasgupta (nee Roy), 'Papiadi' in short, constantly nagged me to finish this work on time. Dr. Debasish Lahiri, Guest-Lecturer, Dept. of English, Rabindra Bharati University also chipped in with some valuable on-line materials that were needed to complete the research. I sincerely thank all the staff-members of the Central Libraries of both Rabindra Bharati University and The University of Burdwan, as well as those of the National Library, Kolkata. Lat but not the least, I must also acknowledge the help rendered by 'Lopadi' Departmental Librarian at R. B. U. i our
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    Introduction This dissertation is an attempt to situate Beat poetry, especially Allen Ginsberg's poetry, in the socio-economic-political and cultural milieu of mid-century American (and beyond) from which the poetry emerged and also formed a critique of the culture of the USA. The dissertation begins by exploring the cultural ethos of America and each chapter includes a much anthologised and significant shorter text (held to be among his best works by general critical consensus) that is explored through annotations, explanatory references and highlighting of important allusions (both literary and socio-political) and a detailed critical commentary. The dissertation explores the various controversies associated with beat writers and Ginsberg and is finally an attempt to map out the terrain inhabited by the Beats and their unique, revolutionary and striking responses to the materialistic and imperialistic culture of America from the 1950s onwards. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. The breakdown of the chapters is as follows: THE TERM 'BEAT' AND ITS RESONANCES THE INFLUENCE OF SAN FRANCISCO ON THE BEATS AND ON AMERICA ITSELF: THE MAJOR BEAT WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS OTHER INFLUENCES ON THE BEATS: THE FORMATION OF 'SUBJECTIVITY' IN THEIR WORKS ALLEN GINSBERG: THE SUBJECTIVE BEAT: BIOGRAPHICAL, POLITICAL AND LITERARY CONTEXTS GINSBERG AND 'HOWL' IN A SUPERMARKET IN CALIFORNIA AND ITS LONG-TERM SOCIAL AND POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS li
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    ALLEN GINSBERG AND THE SOCIO-POLITICAL CULTURAL CRITIOUE OF AMERICA: FOCUSSING ON SELECTED POEMS WITH ANNOTATIONS 1 THE TERM 'BEAT' AND ITS RESONANCES The term 'Beat' was coined by Jack Kerouac a novelist of the Beat Movement, from the term 'Beatitude', meaning 'a state of utmost bliss', in the article The Origin of the Beat Generation' and it has three connotations: firstly and primarily, it implies 'being beaten down' as is the condition of the street-dwellers — the victims of an aggressively capitalistic society who are the central figures of all types of Beat literature; secondly, the term implies 'beatification', which means that there is some degree of divinity in all human beings and this conforms with the religious beliefs of the Orient, where it is believed that all human beings are an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the preserver and an integral member of the Hindu trinity; lastly, the term implies 'rhythm because Beat poetry has a lyrical quality of its own which enables it to be sung in accompaniment to 'j azz' music. The Beat Movement had a very significant social impact because its members vehemently disapproved of the course followed by the American society, especially in the post-World War Il scenario, when the country was trying to overcome the ravages of the war by a consumerist outlook, which would enable it to forget the horrors of the war. This consumerism is symbolised by the automobile which represents power, wealth, status and a rapidly developing economy. It also signified the breakdown of the basic human characteristics of pity, sympathy and tolerance. This was the very situation, against which the Beats revolted. However, their rebellion had a new dimension: the Beats never got themselves organised because that would mean adhering to an ideology 1
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    and having political aims and aspirations. They rather preferred to protest individually through their writings. However, it would be wrong to believe that they harboured no political views because they expressed quite strong opinions about the Vietnam War and the Cold War between U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. in poems such as A Poem on America, New York to San Fran, Angkor-Wat and Returning North of Vortex (all by Ginsberg). In fact, the Beats were opposed to both of these super-powers because, to them, both were representatives of industrialisation that resulted in the erosion of human values. In their denunciation of industrialisation, the Beats resembled the intellectuals of Victorian England. This protest actually began at the City Lights Bookstore owned by the Italian- American publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Since their writings served as a new platform of protest for the poor and downtrodden, it was felt necessary that the characters and their dialogues should be true to life; thus all the protagonists in their works are from the lower-strata of society and use filthy and obscene language. Hailing from such backgrounds, it is improbable that they would use refined language. Another reason for such kind of language in their works may be because of the fact that most of the Beats themselves rose from such dubious backgrounds: William Burroughs had 'accidentally' killed his wife; Neal Cassady had been a homosexual prostitute and a car thief; Ginsberg had been imprisoned for drug- pushing; Lucian Carr was a murderer; Herbert Hunck was a thief and heroine-addict; and Gregory Corso had been in trouble with the authorities for murder and robberyl. REFERENCES: 1. Roberts, Neil: A Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry; Blackwell Publishers, United Kingdom, 2003; pp 183-184. 2
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    11 THE INFLUENCE OF SAN FRANCISCO ON THE BEATS AND ON AMERICA ITSELF: THE MAJOR BEAT WRITERS AND THEIR WORKS San Francisco was the haven for all the new and young rebellious poets who were trying to flee the poet-professor mould and were seeking a relief from the orthodox pieties. Kenneth Rexroth, the anti-formalist, welcomed the young poets to California and declared them his heirs; however, they soon outgrew his patronage and launched a cult of absolute freedom in both their life-styles and their poetics. These young poets did not start any movement by themselves but gradually got themselves enmeshed with the Beats and enriched that movement with its blend of Leftist politics, oriental mysticism, the worship of sex and orgasm, and the affectation of childhood simplicity. Allen Ginsberg was the most important poet to have emerged from this San Francisco renaissance. Others included Gary Snyder, William Everson, James Broughton, Jack Spicer, Gregory Corso, Richard Brautigan, Robert Duncan (a former Black Mountain poet) and Diane di Prima (the only woman among them). However, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the owner of the City Lights Bookstore and Press (he had founded the bookstore along with Peter Martin)l was a sort of father-figure for them who not only provided a platform to these young poets but also whose bookstore was renowned for its avant-garde poetry readings and the distinguished audiences that they drew as well as his Pocket Poet series of publications which not only published the poems of Robert Duncan, Philip Lamantia, Denise Levertov, and Gregory Corso, but also Ginsberg's 'Howl' that resulted in Ferlinghetti's trial in 1957 for publishing obscene literature. This Italian American himself wrote some poems in conformation to the Beat aesthetics, though it is less important to literary 3
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    history than the patronage he provided. His most successful collection is A Coney Island of the Mind (1958). There is a harsher and a less engaging note in his other volumes which have been dominated by political and societal passions. Otherwise, "The poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti has an easy, natural grace and humour. His idiom is completely accessible. In his later poems the anecdote the poem tells, or the extended metaphor it constructs, may open a range of suggested meanings. Many of his poems attack contemporary American civilisation, either in outright denunciation or, more effectively, by focussing on case histories, as in the amusing and deadly accurate Lost Parents. He also writes love lyrics of a traditional kind. Perhaps his most remarkable poem is The Great Chinese Dragon. 'Howl' served as the gospel of the Beats - a long, agonised outcry against a nation that subverted the "holy" impulses of its young men and drove them to excesses like drug addiction, alcoholism and sex and throughout the poem he develops a catalogue of examples that shock and horrify the readers3. This poem is pre-eminently, an oral declamation and, although it has obvious antecedents in Whitman and the populist revolutionism of an earlier day, it strongly evokes a Hebraic tradition of denunciation and prophecy. Ginsberg and his fellow Beats restored poetry to bardic madness and the stage from an essentially written and scholarly art. However, Ginsberg's masterpiece is the title poem of Kaddish and other Poems (1961), written in memory of his mother Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956). There is an interweaving of oblique fragments of Hebrew prayer and expression's of the poet's own feelings with terrible recollections of his mother's psychotic paranoia, confinement in a mental hospital, cancer and ultimate death. "The 4
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    emotional stratification of the poem, its composite horror and tenderness, justifies Ginsberg's rant to a degree unequalled in his other works. Indeed, the poems in Reality Sandwiches (1963), Planet News (1968), The Fall of America: Poems of these States (1972) and Mind Breaths (1978) represent a lessening of the hallucinatory grandeur and almost unbearably affecting tension of 'Howl' and 'Kaddish ' "4 Perhaps Gary Snyder is the only one of the Beat poets who approaches Ginsberg's stature, although his interests range beyond the San Francisco scene and also the fact that he has had a variety of experiences in his life writer, teacher, physical labourer, as a concerned environmentalist5, as a scholar of Oriental languages, as well as a student of Zen Buddhism at the University of California at Berkeley6. The contemplative inwardness and an imagistic diction provide a Haiku-like aura to his poems. There is also a passion for ecological balance in the High Sierras and the Arizona desert and this is manifest in his first collection of poems, Riprap (1959) and Myths and Texts (1960). The latter is a long complex poem that places the texts of civilised society in opposition to the myths of primitive cultures. Snyder's later works like Turtle Island (1974) and Mountains and Rivers Without End are more polemical in tone, yet they display a self-confidence and maturity. He is a very sophisticated poet, in spite of the romantic primitivism that is evident in his works. In his essay, San Francisco Letter (1957), Kenneth Rexroth heralded the Beat poets as a vibrant new voice in the land and drew attention to William Everson as perhaps the most profoundly moving and durable of the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance". Everson was a lay brother of the Dominican Order who published his 5
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    works by the name of Brother Antoninus7. Through the efforts of Rexroth, Everson gained a larger and more sophisticated audience. Thereafter, he quickly abandoned his religiously-influenced verse for a more spiritually laced autobiography. His unease as a monk is felt in such poems as The Hazards of Holiness (1962) and The Rose of Solitude (1967); and his break with the Dominican order in 1969 is represented through such poems as Man-Fate (1974) and The Masks of Drought (1979). His lack of competence as a craftsman is made up through emotional and rhetorical excesses. James Broughton is known more for his experimental film-making than his poetry; however, in the latter, he has earned quite a reputation for his lyrical celebration of the self. According to him, a poet should "ignite a revolution of insight in the soul' and he practices what he preaches with his fabulistic imaginations, Mother Goose stylistics and a pristine belief in love. His works include Musical Chairs (1950), sub- titled, "Songs for Anxious Children", Ballad of Mad Jenny (1949), An Almanac for Amorists (1955) and Tidings (1965). However, his most impressive work is True and False Unicorn (1957), a long poem in four parts, structured for a unicorn's search to discover whether he is 'fantasy' or 'flesh' and whether his passions are 'mock or real' The fabulous animal's slow progress from self-doubt to self-affirmation is an adroit vehicle for Broughton's celebration of unreason, individuality, and the liberating force of the imagination.' Jack Spicer, the student of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, was troubled by the disjunction between language and its referents and came to believe that a poet' s task was to minimise it by a cultivation of an extreme passivity in the 6
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    creative process. "He greatly admired Yeats, whose influence can be seen in his early poetry. Learned in linguistics, semiotics and modern philosophy, Spicer had a strong sense of the difference between 'reality' and anything that can be expressed in language, and in his mature verse he strove to overcome this difference by developing open, serial forms. Emotionally, Spicer was self-thwarting and wounded; many of his poems quarrel with god and many others with lovers or with love. Because of their intellectuality and bitterness, his poems are rebarbative."9 In his poems, he was dictated by 'voices', as Blake and Yeats had been, and post-mid-1950s, his goal was to collapse his individual authorship into a spiritual authorship. In pursuit, he abandoned rhyme, the first-person pronoun and ultimately, the purpose and the cognitive sense altogether. This was noticed first in After Lorca (1957), a collection of poems which was introduced by the dead Garcia Lorca himself. His other important works include Billy the Kid (1959), The Heads of the Town up to the Aether (1962), The Holy Grail (1964), and Language (1965). Gregory Corso's poetry had little merit in itself, but its endorsement by the other Beats like Ginsberg, Kerouac and Ferlinghetti is proof enough that he was the messianic of the movement — a naif, but street-wise veteran of the criminal courts. His seer-poet is opposed to the American technocrats, industrialists and warmongers. The messianic vision is amply demonstrated in Gasoline (1958), The Happy Birthday of Death (1960), Long Live Man (1962) and Elegiac Feelings American (1970). "Crudely structured, stylistically gauche, alternately sententious and banal, they shriek their impassioned confusions and impoverished faiths. They are perhaps the most extreme example of the Beat reluctance to let raw potential mature into art. 7
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    The poetry of Richard Brautigan is as naive as that of Corso's but it has a sophistication of its own which is the reason behind its success. His "method is to maintain his stylistics at such an elementary level that his pared sentences seem logically incontrovertible, his bald analogies inexplicably luminous."[lbid.] His trade mark is the 'faux naive conceit' and is amply suggested by the titles such as The Galilee Hitch-Hiker (1958), Lay the Marble Tea (1959), The Octopus Frontier (1960), All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (1967), Rommel Drives Deep into Egypt (1970), Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork (1976) and June 30th, June 30th (1978). The last mentioned, there are some overt autobiographical elements. Philip Whalen, born in 1923, was Gary Snyder's friend as well as a Zen Buddhist priest. "His poems juxtapose fragments of simple speech, and sometimes reflect the style Pound created for his translations from Chinese in Cathay" 11 Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) was probably the finest among these poets. He presided at the famous San Francisco reading where Allen Ginsberg first recited Howl (it is said that Ginsberg occasionally took off his clothes during poetry readings12). In the early phase of his career, he dedicated poems to William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky, studied Gertrude Stein and adapted techniques from the songs of Hottentots and Eskimos. In Requiem for the Spanish Dead, persons slain in the Spanish Civil War merge in his mind with a child killed in San Francisco by a truck, and the voice of the parents mourning for their child joins a dirge rising from earth into the cosmos. Some of his later poems are so simple and quiet that one must read them in the spirit of Zen in order to get much out of them. A line taken from The Heart 's Garden The Garden Heart 13 (1967), "The mind rests in the clear void," more or less expresses the reader's feeling 8
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    Michael McClure (b. 1932) is superficially a different poet because if one can ignore his Surrealist and pop verses, four-letter-word outspokenness, bathos as a would- be guru and aggressive anti-intellectuality, one can appreciate his gift for fresh simple 14 lyric. He is basically a minor talent choked by pretentiousness Lastly, there is Diane de Prima, a resident of Greenwich Village till 1968 and after that she relocated to the West Coast. In the 1960s, she was co-editor of a New York City-based monthly, entitled, Floating Bear which served as a platform for the poets of San Francisco. Her own poems echo a parallelism with the San Franciscans' and such an attachment suggests that the Bay Area served as a Mecca for experimentalists and encouraged a counter-cultural state of mind. Her works include New Handbook of Heaven (1963) and Revolutionary Letters (1971). REFERENCES: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Perkins, David; A History of Modern Poetry — Modernism and After; Harvard University Press, U. S. A., 1987; p 537. Ibid; p 538. Kiernan, Robert F.; American Writing Since 1945: A Critical Survey; Fredric Unger Publishing co., New York, 1983; pp. 129-130. Ibid. MacGowan, Christopher; Twentieth Century American Poetry; Publishing; United Kingdom, 2004; p 146. Loc. Cit, David Perkins; p 537. 9 Blackwell
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    Loc. Cit, Robert F. Kiernan; pp. 131-132. 7. 8. Ibid; p. 132. 9. Loc. Cit, David Perkins; p 538. 10. Loc. Cit, Robert F. Kiernan; p. 132. 11. Loc. Cit, David Perkins; p 538. 12. Ibid; p 543. 13. Ibid; pp 538-540. 14. Ibid; p 537. 10
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    111 OTHER INFLUENCES ON THE BEATS: THE FORMATION OF 'SUBJECTIVITY' IN THEIR WORKS The literature of the Beat generation was a revolt against the doctrinaire philosophies of T. S. Eliot and his fellow literatures. In his essay, Hamlet and His Problems, Eliot formulated the term 'Objective Correlative' By this, he means to say that for any particular emotion to be expressed there has to be some proper background or reason behind it. In Shakespeare's play of the same name, the protagonist feigns madness in order to arouse the suspicions of the king, his uncle Claudius, which is rather unconvincing. Moreover, Shakespeare had also failed to impose the motive of the mother's guilt upon the son, successfully. Thus, there was no 'Obj ective Correlative' in this case and therefore the play has been termed as 'an artistic failure'. But, the Beats revolted from such an approach which sought to negate the importance of the 'self'; for them, like the Romantics and like the Buddha, the 'self" was of utmost importance. Probably this is one of the reasons for the Beats' fascination with Zen Buddhism and William Blake. This 'self is the fountainhead of their creativity. The importance of the 'self' increased greatly in the post-World War Il scenario, because, aware of his destructive capabilities, man was thrown into a new surrounding which was completely different from the ordered world of yore. This world was full of new morals and social values which gave a new dimension to human relationships. In his Introduction to a selection of Beat Poets, Gene Baro has rightly commented that the modern inhabitants of the war-ravaged nation could comprehend neither the isolation of the '30s nor the economic and social promises of Franklin Roosevelt's first 11
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    two terms nor the reason for Pearl Harbour and America's subsequent involvement with the War. About the subjectivity in their poetry, Baro has commented that the Beats have always shown their consciousness regarding their feelings of isolation in this topsy-turvy world. For them, the Romantics are an epitome of subjectivity because the latter have always tried to depict the outward appearance of things in a beautiful manner. However, the concept of beauty among the Romantics depended upon the individual and not on a collective consciousness. The subjectivity of Blake's poems lay in the documentation of a passing mood or a personal problem and in case of Wordsworth, this subjectivity was often developed into autobiographical elements. Keats's subjectivity was the outward manifestation of beauty. Thus, Baro opines, Beat poetry "is involved in the uninhabited exposure of personal feelings and is therefore often embarrassingly sentimental or pathetic by common standards of taste.' For the Beats, like that of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, truth had a very deep and significant connotation. Truth, for them, meant giving voice to the most intense and inward feelings of the individual. The rationalist would attempt to suppress guilt, fear, dread and cares because they are the marks of weakness, but the Beats exploited these very emotions. For them, Keats's words ring true: "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty. ' So, Ginsberg exploited his most intense emotions masturbation, sodomy, drug- addiction and erotic dreams — in an aggressively explicit street language. For him, and other Beat writers, this shamelessness serves as the very denial of shame itself — a 12
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    manifestation of the fact that nothing human or personal can be degraded. This has been more aptly displayed by Gregory Corso, a Beat poet who had been criticised as "a misfit, self-invented, rebellious and blessed by the Muse"l. Sometimes his poems are nostalgic about he past and at other times they are nothing more than precise descriptions as is seen in the poem In the Fleeting Hand of Time. Italian Extravaganza reveals the darker side of Corso's subj ectivity and Marriage ponders on a personal question. Ferlinghetti, who completed his doctoral dissertation at the Sorbonne on The City as Symbol in Modern Poetry: In Search of a Metropolitan Tradition, is reminiscent of Wordsworth's The Prelude in his long poem Autobiography. Here the poem enters the realm of 'egotistic sublime' or 'the self. Similarly, Dog, which appeared in the anthology, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), is of a subjective nature because it describes the activities of the poet's pet dog, Homer, who was entrusted with the job of Publicity and Public Relations at the City Lights Book Store. In this poem, Ferlinghetti has immortalised Homer for 'peeing' on a policeman's leg.2 Another celebrated poem of Ferlinghetti, worth mentioning, is One Thousand Fearful Words of Fidel Castro, written just after his visit to Cuba in 1964. This poem voices the poet's support for and faith in Castro's revolution and is an example of the subjectivity that we have been discussing here. The same feeling of subjectivity can also be traced in the works of other Beat poets such as Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, Lew Welch and others. However, Allen Ginsberg must have been the most subjective poet among them all and his subjectivity was a result of the advice given to him by the Anarchist, Kenneth Rexroth 13
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    when the latter told the young poet to do away with poetic forms and to write in order to please himself. Consequently, we can identify the fusion of two subjective feelings in his poem, A Supermarket in California — that of his love and admiration of Walt Whitman, as well as his earlier experiences as a market surveyor. An interesting thing about these two subjective experiences is that they are in direct conflict with each other. Ginsberg laments the path the country is treading on because of its eagerness to provide the citizens with a successful democracy and a stable economy; he also depicts the sickness of society in its pursuit of money and power. The condition of the individual in this case recalls to our minds the statement made by W. H. Auden in his poem The Unknown Citizen, where the individual is considered by the poet as happy and satisfied because he has in his possession all the things that are needed for such a life. Whitman had dreamt of an America that would be a country of freedom but, unfortunately, they have been enslaved heart and soul, by materialism. Its inhabitants have no use for such idealists as him and this is why literary figures such as Gabriel Garcia Lorca are forgotten and shown scant respect by throwing their works among food items and other consumer goods. This is a highly regrettable state of affairs. Ginsberg himself visits the supermarket not because he is drawn by its attractive features, but because he is 'shopping for images' in that fast-paced world. This makes him move among the rows of objects so that he may observe at a distance, the plethora of unconcerned humanity'. He is also aware of the store-keeper who is keeping a watchful eye on him because of his unkempt and shabby appearance. This is a typical consumerist attitude because it is taken for granted that the shabby person is a shoplifter and therefore 14
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    should be watched closely. The subjectivity in the poem Aunt Rose, not only reveal to us the poet's deep sense of loss that he feels upon seeing the old woman suffer, but also his first oedipal experience because the aunt is a mother-figure. Thus, he vividly describes her appearance at the time of her suffering in the hospital before her death, and then ruminates upon her sexual frustration because of being a spinster. He remembers the day when he stood naked on the toilet seat, while she powdered the region around his genitals so as to rid the effects of the poison-ivy. At that time he felt ashamed of the first curled pubic hair that had sprouted and wondered about the feelings of his aunt in finding him to be a man already. Maybe she had felt glad secretly3. In Sunflower Sutra, Ginsberg's subjective experience arises from his revulsion at the scene of the dock-yard; it is contrary to the title reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh's classic painting. He laments at the destruction to nature brought about by human activities: the beauty of the setting sun's reflection on the waters of the sea is spoiled by the scum that floats on its surface as well as the oil that has leaked out of the huge iron vessels. This not only destroys the aestheticism of the surroundings but also is harmful for the marine life because of such non-biodegradable substances such as plastic. The fishes that are affected are either directly or indirectly consumed by us human beings and so, we too get infected with numerous diseases. This recalls to our mind the devastation caused by the outbreak of 'minamata disease' among the inhabitants of Japan after consuming fish infected with mercury. There is a constant repetition of such symbolic objects such as 'rusty iron pole', 'tincans' and 'dead sunflower', which signify the stagnation of our material progress. This sense of being 'lost' is not felt by Ginsberg 15
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    alone but also by his companion, Jack Kerouac as well. In the poem America, Ginsberg's subjectivism lies in his rendering of the socio- political condition of America. He takes the government to task for his nuclear programme and its deep-rooted abhorrence for communism. Ginsberg makes it a point to explain that being a communist does not mean going against the interests of the country, because, being born as an American, Ginsberg has a deep and sincere love for his motherland.4 He once said in an interview, "Everything I write is in one way or the other, autobiographical or present consciousness at the time of writing. "5 REFERENCES: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Editor's Note to Gregory Corso, The Portable Beat Reader; ed. Ann Charters; Viking, U.S.A., 1992; p 171. DasGupta, Partha Pratim; Beat Poetry as an Expression of Direct Self- Experience: Mother-Son Relationship in Allen Ginsberg's 'Kaddish'; p 13 (Unpublished MPhil Dissertation, Dept. of English, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata). Ibid; p 17 Ibid; p 19 11th July, 1965; New York Times. 16
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    ALLEN GINSBERG: THE SUBJECTIVE BEAT: BIOGRAPHICAL, POLITICAL AND LITERARY CONTEXTS Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born on 3rd June 1926 at Newark, New Jersey in the United States of America to a Jewish family. However, he grew up at nearby Paterson. His father Louis Ginsberg was a poet and a high school teacherl. Louis was locally well- known and he wrote in a formal vein, but had associated with the avant-garde New York school of the 1920s; he wrote three books on poetry and his Collected Poems (1992) runs to over four hundred pages2. Ginsberg's mother, Naomi Livergant Ginsberg, an emigrant from Czarist Russia, whose family fled in 1905 to avoid a pogrom3 and who was affected by epileptic seizures and mental illnesses such as paranoia, which have been well documented in Kaddish4, was an active member of the Communist Party and often took Ginsberg and his brother Eugene to party meetings. Ginsberg later said 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 As a teenager, Ginsberg began to write letters to The New York Times about political issues such as World War Il and workers' rights6. When he was in junior high school, he accompanied his mother by bus to her therapist. The trip disturbed Ginsberg he mentioned it and other moments from his childhood in his long autobiographical poem "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956)"7. While in high school, Ginsberg began reading Walt Whitman; he said he was inspired by his teacher's passion in reading. In 1943, Ginsberg graduated from Eastside High School and briefly attended Montclair State University before entering Columbia University on a scholarship from 17
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    the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Paterson in 1949, to study Economics because he planned to a career in the labour movement8. However, his first experience at Columbia (he had enrolled himself for the first time in 1943 at the age of seventeen) was rather unpleasant as, at the age of nineteen, in 1945 he was expelled from the university for "allegedly scrawling anti-Semitic obscenity on a classroom window and for making uncomplimentary remarks about the university president"9. It is also said that the expulsion may have been 'the result of allowing Kerouac to spend the night in his dormitory room' 10. While at Columbia, Ginsberg contributed to the Columbia Review literary journal, the Jester humor magazine, won the Woodberry Poetry Prize and served as president of the Philolexian Society, the campus literary and debate group. At that time, Ginsberg was rather influenced by the academic styles of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Lucien Carr, who introduced him to a number of future Beat writers including Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs (who was responsible in introducing him to the use of morphine and the drifters of the drug 'scene' 12), and John Clellon Holmes. They bonded because they saw in one another excitement about the potential of the youth of America, a potential which existed outside the strict conformist confines of post-WWII McCarthy- era America. Ginsberg and Carr talked excitedly about a "New Vision" (a phrase adapted from Arthur Rimbaud) for literature and America. Carr also introduced Ginsberg to Neal Cassady, for whom Ginsberg had a long infatuation. Kerouac later described the meeting between Ginsberg and Cassady in the first chapter of his 1957 novel On the Road. Kerouac saw them then as the dark (Ginsberg) and light (Cassady) side of their "New Vision." Kerouac's perception had to do partly with Ginsberg's association with 18
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    Communism (though Ginsberg himself was never a Communist); Kerouac called Ginsberg "Carlo Marx" in On the Road. This was a source of strain in their relationship since Kerouac grew increasingly distrustful of Communism. In 1948 in an apartment in Harlem, Ginsberg had an auditory hallucination of William Blake reading his poems "Ah, Sunflower", "The Sick Rose ", and "Little Girl Lost' (later referred to as his "Blake vision"). Ginsberg was reading these poems at the time, and he said he was very familiar with them; at one point he claimed he heard them being read by what sounded like the voice of God but what he interpreted as the voice of Blake. He had at that moment pivotal revelations that defined his understanding of the universe. He believed that he witnessed then the interconnectedness of the universe. He looked at lattice work on the fire escape and realized some hand had crafted that; he then looked at the sky and intuited that some hand had crafted that also, or rather that the sky was the hand that crafted itself. He explained that this hallucination was not inspired by drug use, but said he sought to recapture that feeling later with various drugs. However, he had to spend eight months at that time, in a mental hospital, undergoing psychiatric therapy. For some time in 1950, Ginsberg worked as a book-reviewer for Newsweek magazine and then took up a job as a market research consultant13 In 1949, Ginsberg became accessory to the thefts committed by a drug-addict, whom he had given shelter. Upon being arrested, he pleaded psychological disability to avoid a jail-term and was thereafter sent to the Columbia Psychiatric Institute, where he was lodged for several months. On his release, he went and settled at Paterson with his father and soon cultivated the acquaintance of William Carlos Williams, who later on wrote the introduction to Howl. He was taken in by the senior poet' s belief that poetry 19
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    must reflect contemporary social reality, present images rather than ideas, and base its 14 idiom on immediate speech rather than the poetic tradition After graduating from Columbia University, Ginsberg worked as a local journalist, joined the merchant marine for some time, visited Mexico and also worked as a market researcher for a few months in 1955, before his company winded off15. Also in New York, Ginsberg met Gregory Corso in the Pony Stable Bar, one of New York's first openly lesbian bars. Corso, recently released from prison, was supported by the Pony Stable patrons and was writing poetry there the night of their meeting. Ginsberg claims he was immediately attracted to Corso, who was straight but understanding of homosexuality after three years in prison. Ginsberg was even more struck by reading Corso's poems, realizing Corso was "spiritually gifted." Ginsberg introduced Corso to the rest of his inner circle. In their first meeting at the Pony Stable, Corso showed Ginsberg a poem about a woman who lived across the street from him, and sunbathed naked in the window. Amazingly, the woman just happened to be Ginsberg's girlfriend during one of his forays into heterosexuality. Ginsberg and Corso remained life-long friends and collaborators. It was also during this period that Ginsberg was romantically involved with Elise Cowen. In 1954 in San Francisco, Ginsberg met Peter Orlovsky, with whom he fell in love and who remained his life-long lover, and with whom he eventually shared his interest in Tibetan Buddhism. In San Francisco again, Ginsberg met members of the San Francisco Renaissance and other poets who would later be associated with the Beat Generation in a broader sense. Ginsberg's mentor William Carlos Williams wrote an introductory letter to San Francisco Renaissance figurehead Kenneth Rexroth, who then introduced Ginsberg into 20
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    the San Francisco poetry scene. There, Ginsberg also met three budding poets and Zen enthusiasts who were friends at Reed College: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Lew Welch. Wally Hedrick a painter and co-founder of the Six Gallery approached Ginsberg in the summer of 1955 and asked him to organize a poetry reading at the Six Gallery. At first, Ginsberg refused, but once he'd written a rough draft of Howl, he changed his "fucking mind," as he put it. Ginsberg advertised the event as "Six Poets at the Six Gallery." One of the most important events in Beat mythos, known simply as "The Six Gallery reading" took place on October 7, 195516. The event, in essence, brought together the East and West Coast factions of the Beat Generation. Of more personal significance to Ginsberg that night, was the first public reading of "Howl," a poem that brought worldwide fame to Ginsberg and to many of the poets associated with him. An account of that night can be found in Kerouac's novel The Dharma Bums, describing how change was collected from audience members to buy jugs of wine, and Ginsberg reading passionately, drunken, with arms outstretched. A taped recording of the reading of 'Howl' that Ginsberg gave at Reed College has recently been rediscovered. Ginsberg's principal work, "Howl", is well-known for its opening line: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...." "Howl" was considered scandalous at the time of its publication, because of the rawness of its language, which is frequently explicit. Shortly after its 1956 publication by San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore, it was banned for obscenity. The ban became a cause cél&bre among defenders of the First Amendment, and was later lifted after Judge Clayton W. Horn declared the poem to possess redeeming social importance. The 21
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    American Civil Liberties Union had a major role to play in this17. Ferlinghetti published it as number in his Pocket poet Series and the poem is characterised by the combination of the long Whitmanesque line, Blake's visionary intensity and the emphasis on concrete 18 detail and contemporary focus under the influence of William Carlos Williams Ginsberg claimed at one point that all of his work was an extended biography (like Kerouac's Duluoz Legend). Howl is not only a biography of Ginsberg's experiences before 1955, but a history of the Beat Generation. Ginsberg also later claimed that at the core of Howl were his unresolved emotions about his schizophrenic mother. Though Kaddish deals more explicitly with his mother (so explicitly that a line-by-line analysis would be simultaneously overly-exhaustive and relatively unrevealing), Howl in many ways is driven by the same emotions. Though references in most of his poetry reveal much about his biography, his relationship to other members of the Beat Generation, and his own political views, "Howl", his most famous poem, is still perhaps the best place to start. In 1957, Ginsberg surprised the literary world by abandoning San Francisco. After a spell in Morocco, he and Peter Orlovsky joined Gregory Corso in Paris. Corso introduced them to a shabby lodging-house above a bar at 9 rue Git-le-Coeur that was to become known as the Beat Hotel. They were soon joined by William Burroughs and others. It was a productive, creative time for all of them. There, Ginsberg finished his epic poem "Kaddish," Corso composed "Bomb" and "Marriage," and Burroughs (with help from Ginsberg and Corso) put together Naked Lunch, from previous writings. This period was documented by the photographer Harold Chapman, who moved in at about the same time, and took pictures constantly of the residents of the "hotel" until it closed 22
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    in 1963. Ginsberg's spiritual journey began early on with his spontaneous visions, and continued with an early trip to India and a chance encounter on a New York City street with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (they both tried to catch the same cab), a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master of the Vajrayana school, who became his friend and life-long teacher. Ginsberg and Anne Waldman19 helped Trungpa in founding the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Ginsberg was also involved with Krishnaism. He befriended A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement in the Western world, a relationship that is documented by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami in his biographical account 'Srila Prabhupada Lilamria '. Ginsberg donated money, materials, and his reputation to help the Swami establish the first temple, and toured with him to promote his cause. Ginsberg also claimed to be the first person on the North American continent to chant the Hare Krishna mantra. Music and chanting were both important parts of Ginsberg's live delivery during poetry readings. He often accompanied himself on a harmonium, and was often accompanied by a guitarist. Attendance to his poetry readings was generally standing room only for most of his career, no matter where in the world he appeared. Allen Ginsberg came in touch with the Hungryalist poets of Bengal, especially Malay Roy Choudhury, who introduced Ginsberg to the three fishes with one head of Indian emperor Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar. The three fishes symbolised coexistence of all thought, philosophy and religion. Ginsberg's willingness to talk about taboo subjects is what made him a controversial figure in the conservative 1950s and a significant figure in the 1960s. But 23
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    Ginsberg continued to broach controversial subjects throughout the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. When explaining how he approached controversial topics, he often pointed to Herbert Huncke: he said that when he first got to know Huncke in the 1940s, Ginsberg saw that he was sick from his heroin addiction, but at the time heroin was a taboo subject and Huncke was left nowhere to go for help. Likewise, he continuously attempted to force the world into a dialogue about controversial subjects because he thought that no change could be made in polite silence. "His environmental concerns and anti-nuclear activities are represented in the poems of his Plutonian Ode (1982). His characterisation of the title poem, on the volume's back cover, is that it: 'combines scientific info on 24000-year cycle of the Great Year compared with equal half-life of Plutonium waste, accounting Homeric formula for appeasing underground millionaire Pluto lord of Death, jack in the gnostic box of Aeons, and Adamantine Truth of ordinary mind inspiration, unhexing Nuclear ministry of fear Ginsberg also played a key role in ensuring that a 1965 protest of the Vietnam war, which took place at the Oakland-Berkeley city line and drew several thousand marchers, was not violently interrupted by the California chapter of the notorious motorcycle gang, the Hells Angels, and their leader, Sonny Barger. The day prior to the scheduled march, the Hell's Angels attacked the front line of a smaller scale protest where a confrontation between police and demonstrators was brewing. The Hell's Angels came in on motorcycles and slashed banners while yelling "Go back to Russia, you fucking communists!" at the protesters. The Hell's Angels then vowed to disrupt the larger protest the next day. 24
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    Ginsberg traveled to Barger's home in Oakland to talk the situation through. It is rumored that he offered Barger and other members of the Hell's Angels LSD as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. In the end, Barger and the other Hell's Angels that were present came away deeply impressed by the courage of Ginsberg and his companion Ken Kesey. They vowed not to attack the next day's protest march and furthermore deemed Ginsberg a man who was worth helping out. It was shortly after the Tompkins Square Park riots that he was involved in a fracas with the Mentofreeist group and was assaulted by its leader, V argus Pike, who was arrested. He was later released when Ginsberg, sporting a black eye, refused to press charges. He talked openly about his connections with Communism and his admiration for past heroes of Communism and the labor movement at a time in America when the Red Scare and McCarthyism were recent memories. Later he travelled to several Communist countries to promote free speech. He claimed Communist countries; China for example, welcomed him in because they thought he was an enemy of Capitalism but often turned against him when they saw him as a trouble maker. In his poem "America," written on 17 January 1956 in Berkeley, a line reads "America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I'm not sorry... " followed directly by "I smoke marijuana every chance I get In 1965 Ginsberg was deported from Cuba for publicly protesting against Cuba's anti-marijuana stance; ironically Ginsberg admired Castro along with many other quasi- Marxist figures from the 20th century. The Cubans sent him to Czechoslovakia, where one week after being named the King of a May Day parade, Ginsberg was labeled an "immoral menace" by the Czech government because of his free expression of radical ideas, and was then deported. Many important figures from Communist Bloc countries 25
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    such as Vaclav Havel point to Ginsberg as an important inspiration to strive for freedom. According to biographer Jonah Raskin, despite his often stark opposition to communist orthodoxy Ginsberg held "his own idiosyncratic version of communism" [Raskin, 170]. In addition, the character of Ginsberg in Jack Kerouac's On the Road is named Carlo Marx, a possible reference to his early beliefs. 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 men who loved other men, having already in 1943 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. Later homosexual 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. Also, in writing about sexuality in graphic detail and in his frequent use of language seen as indecent he challenged and ultimately changed obscenity laws. He was a staunch supporter of others whose expression challenged obscenity laws (William S. Burroughs and Lenny Bruce, for example). Ginsberg also spoke out in defense of the freedom of expression of NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association]. Ginsberg stated "I joined NAMBLA in defense of free speech..." In "Thoughts on NAMBLA," published in Deliberate Prose, Ginsberg elaborated on these thoughts, stating "NAMBLA's a forum for reform of those laws on youthful sexuality which members deem oppressive, (it is) a discussion society not a sex club." Ginsberg expressed the opinion that the appreciation of youthful bodies and "the 26
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    human form divine" has been a common theme throughout the history of culture, "from Rome's Vatican, to Florence's Uffizi galleries, to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, " and that laws regarding the issue needed to be more openly discussed. Ginsberg also talked often about drug use. "Because it is condemned by the bourgeoisie world, the use of marijuana, peyote, LSD and other drugs dramatised defiance and freedom, and drugs were valued as symbols. Because they alter consciousness, they were said by their advocates to help decondition the psyche, ridding it of repressions, routines and norms that were internalised within the middle-class world in which one was reared. Drugs, the argument continued, overthrow rational processes of thought which alienate us from reality, and they liberate intuition and vision. At the same time, however, they could leave a residue of guilt. For even if there was nothing wrong with taking drugs as such, as a way to truth, drugs could seem dubiously easy. Throughout the 1960s he took an active role in the demystification of LSD and with Timothy Leary worked to promote its common use. He was also for many decades an advocate of marijuana legalization, and at the same time warned his audiences against the hazards of tobacco in his Put Down Your Cigarette Rag (Don't Smoke): "Don't Smoke Don't Smoke Nicotine Nicotine No / No don't smoke the official Dope Smoke Dope Dope." While writing Kaddish, Ginsberg had experimented with heroin, liquid Methadrine and Dexedrine tablets22 Though early on he had intentions to be a labor lawyer, Ginsberg wrote poetry for most of his life. Most of his very early poetry was written in formal rhyme and meter like his father or like his idol William Blake. His admiration for the writing of Jack Kerouac inspired him to take poetry more seriously. Though he took odd jobs to support himself, 27
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    1955, upon the advice of a psychiatrist, Ginsberg dropped out of the working world to devote his entire life to poetry. Soon after, he wrote "Howl," the poem that brought him and his friends much fame and allowed him to live as a professional poet for the rest of his life. GINSBERG AND 'HOWL' Since Ginsberg's poetry is intensely personal, and since much of the vitality of those associated with the beat generation comes from mutual inspiration, much credit for style, inspiration, and content can be given to Ginsberg's friends. Ginsberg claimed throughout his life that his biggest inspiration was Kerouac's concept of "spontaneous prose". He believed literature should come from the soul without conscious restrictions. However, Ginsberg was much more prone to revise than Kerouac. For example, when Kerouac saw the first draft of "Howl" he disliked the fact that Ginsberg had made editorial changes in pencil (transposing "negro" and "angry" in the first line, for example). Kerouac only wrote out his concepts of Spontaneous Prose at Ginsberg's insistence because Ginsberg wanted to learn how to apply the technique to his poetry. An important figure when considering inspiration for "Howl" is Carl Solomon. The full title is "Howl for Carl Solomon. " Solomon was a Dada and Surrealism enthusiast (he introduced Ginsberg to Artaud) who suffered bouts of depression. Solomon wanted to commit suicide, but he thought a form of suicide appropriate to Dadaism would be to go to a mental institution and demand a lobotomy. The institution refused, giving him many forms of therapy, including electroshock therapy. Much of the final section of the first part of "Howl" is a description of this. Ginsberg used Solomon as an example of all those 28
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    ground down by the machine of "Moloch." Moloch, to whom the second section is addressed, is a Levantine god to whom children were sacrificed. Ginsberg may have gotten the name from the Kenneth Rexroth poem "Thou Shalt Not Kill," a poem about the death of one of Ginsberg's heroes, Dylan Thomas. But Moloch is mentioned a few times in the Torah and references to Ginsberg's Jewish background are not infrequent in his work. Ginsberg said the image of Moloch was inspired by peyote visions he had of the Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco which appeared to him as a skull; he took it as a symbol of the city (not specifically San Francisco, but all cities). Ginsberg later acknowledged in various publications and interviews that behind the visions of the Francis Drake Hotel were memories of the Moloch of Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1927) and of the woodcut novels of Lynd Ward23. Moloch has subsequently been interpreted as any system of control, including the conformist society of post-World War Il America focused on material gain, which Ginsberg frequently blamed for the destruction of all those outside of societal norms. He also made sure to emphasize that Moloch is a part of all of us: the decision to defy socially created systems of control and therefore go against Moloch is a form of self-destruction. Many of the characters Ginsberg referred to in "Howl," such as Neal Cassady and Herbert Huncke, destroyed themselves through excessive substance-abuse or a generally wild lifestyle. The personal aspects of "Howl" are perhaps as important as the political aspects. Carl Solomon, the prime example of a "best mind" destroyed by defying society, is associated with Ginsberg's schizophrenic mother: the line "with comes after a long section about Carl Solomon, and in Part Ill, mother finally Ginsberg says "I'm with you in Rockland where you imitate the shade of my mother. " 29
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    Ginsberg later admitted that the drive to write "Howl" was fueled by sympathy for his ailing mother, an issue which he was not yet ready to deal with directly. He dealt with it directly with in "Kaddish" (1959). Ginsberg's poetry was strongly influenced by Modernism (specifically Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, and most importantly William Carlos Williams), Romanticism (specifically Percy Shelley and John Keats), the beat and cadence of jazz (specifically that of bop [a dance to pop music, short for 'bebop'] musicians such as Charlie Parker), and his Kagyu Buddhist24 practice and Jewish background. He considered himself to have inherited the visionary poetic mantle handed down from the English poet and artist William Blake, and the American poet Walt Whitman. The power of Ginsberg's verse, its searching, probing focus, its long and lilting lines, as well as its New World exuberance, all echo the continuity of inspiration that he claimed. He studied poetry under William Carlos Williams, who was then in the middle of writing his epic poem Paterson about the industrial city near his home. Ginsberg, after attending a reading by Williams, sent the older poet several of his poems and wrote an introductory letter. Most of these early poems were rhymed and metered and included archaic pronouns like "thee." Williams hated the poems. He told Ginsberg later, "In this mode perfection is basic, and these poems are not perfect." Though he hated the early poems, Williams loved the exuberance in Ginsberg's letter. He included the letter in a later part of "Paterson." He taught Ginsberg not to emulate the old masters but to speak with his own voice and the voice of the common American. Williams taught him to focus on strong visual images, in line with Williams' own motto "No ideas but in things." His time studying under Williams led to a tremendous shift from the early formalist work to 30
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    the brilliance of his later work. Early breakthrough poems include "Bricklayer's Lunch Hour" and "Dream Record. " Carl Solomon introduced him to Antonin Artaud ("To Have Done with the Judgment of God" and "Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society"), and Jean Genet (Our Lady of the Flowers). Philip Lamantia introduced him to other Surrealists and Surrealism continued to be an influence (for example, sections of Kaddish were inspired by Andre Breton's "Free Union "). Ginsberg claimed that the anaphoric repetition of "Howl" and other poems was inspired by Christopher Smart in such poems as "Jubilate Agno." Ginsberg claims other more traditional influences, such as: Franz Kafka, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Edgar Allan Poe, and even Emily Dickinson. Ginsberg also made an intense study of haiku and the paintings of Paul Cezanne, from which he adapted a concept important to his work, which he called the "Eyeball Kick." He noticed in viewing Cezanne's paintings that when the eye moved from one color to a contrasting color, the eye would spasm, or "kick. " Likewise, he discovered that the contrast of two seeming opposites was a common feature in haiku. Ginsberg used this technique in his poetry, putting together two starkly dissimilar images: something weak with something strong, an artifact of high culture with an artifact of low culture, something holy with something unholy. The example Ginsberg most often used was "hydrogen jukebox" (which later became the title of an opera he wrote with Philip Glass). Another example is Ginsberg's observation on Bob Dylan during his hectic and intense 1966 electric tour, fuelled by a cocktail of amphetamines, opiates, alcohol, and psychedelics, as a "Dexedrine Clown." The phrases "eyeball kick" and "hydrogen jukebox" both show up in "Howl," as well as a direct quote from Cezanne: "Pater 31
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    Omnipotens Aeterna Deus. " From the study of his idols and mentors and the inspiration of his friends not to mention his own experiments Ginsberg developed an individualistic style that's easily identified as Ginsbergian. Howl came out against a potentially hostile literary environment less welcoming to poetry outside of tradition; there was a renewed focus on form and structure among academic poets and critics partly inspired by New Criticism. Consequently, Ginsberg often had to defend his choice to break away from traditional poetic structure, often citing Williams, Pound, and Whitman as precursors. Ginsberg's style may have seemed to critics chaotic or unpoetic, but to Ginsberg it was an open, ecstatic expression of thoughts and feelings that were naturally poetic. He believed strongly that traditional formalist considerations were archaic and didn't apply to reality. Though some, Diana Trilling for example, have pointed to Ginsberg's occasional use of meter (for example the anapest of "who came back to Denver and waited in vain"), Ginsberg denied any intention toward meter and claimed instead that meter follows the natural poetic voice, not the other way around; he said, as he learned from Williams, that natural speech is occasionally dactylic, so poetry that imitates natural speech will sometimes fall into a dactylic structure but only ever accidentally. Like Williams, Ginsberg's line breaks were often determined by breath: one line in "Howl," for example, should be read in one breath. Ginsberg claimed he developed such a long line because he had long breaths (saying perhaps it was because he talked fast, or he did yoga, or he was Jewish). The long line could also be traced back to his study of Walt Whitman; Ginsberg claimed Whitman's long line was a dynamic technique few other poets had ventured to develop further. Whitman is often compared to Ginsberg because their poetry sexualized 32
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    aspects of the male form though there is no direct evidence Whitman was homosexual. They had very different politics, Whitman being a nationalist and Ginsberg demonstratively anti-nationalist. Many of his early long line experiments contain some sort of anaphoric repetition, or repetition of a "fixed base" (for example "who" in "Howl", "America" in "America "), and this has become a recognizable feature of Ginsberg's style. However, he said later this was a crutch because he lacked confidence in his style; he didn't yet trust "free flight." In the 60s, after employing it in some sections of Kaddish ("caw" for example) he, for the most part, abandoned the anaphoric repetition. Several of his earlier experiments with methods for formatting poems as a whole become regular aspects of his style in later poems. In the original draft of "Howl ", each line is in a "stepped triadic" format reminiscent of Williams (see "Ivy Leaves for example). He abandoned the "stepped triadic" when he developed his long line, but the stepped lines showed up later, most significantly in the travelogues of The Fall of America. "Howl" and "Kaddish ", arguably his two most important poems, are both organized as an inverted pyramid, with larger sections leading to smaller sections. In "America ", he experimented with a mix of longer and shorter lines. The poems of "Howl" have been characterised by Ginsberg's followers as prophetic in the same sense that much of the Bible is prophetic, denouncing evil and pointing the way out ... ." Ginsberg has declared that his poetry was "adapted from prose according to ideas of measure of American speech picked seeds, journals, scratchings up from W. C. Williams' imagist preoccupations." It exhibits Whitmanesque incantations and cataloguing and is packed with stray thoughts and reflections on orgies and ecstasies. 33
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    Although he is pacific in his social and political postures, he is militant in his wailing rhetoric. His poetry is uneven and effusive, and such volumes as Empty Mirrors (1960), Kaddish (1960), Reality Sandwiches (1963) and The Fall of America (1973) are flooded with folly, rant and spleen. But they are intense expressions of ideas passionately held and they have made Ginsberg a pop hero and a cult leader of great popularity. A poster of Ginsberg, posed in an Uncle Sam suit, has become one of the best sellers of all time. His stature as a poet is still subject to debate, but that he exemplifies a real tradition in American poetry is beyond dispute. And both his detractors and adherents can agree that his free verse and his intensity of expression clearly qualify him as the great unbuttoned "sidewalk bard of America REFERENCES: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Hampton, Wilborn. "Allen Ginsberg, Master Poet of Beat Generation, Dies at 70" New York Times, April 6, 1997. Retrieved on 2008-04-14 from Wikipedia. MacGowan, Christopher; Twentieth Century American Poetry; Blackwell Publishing; Maldon, MA, 2004; p 120. Ibid; Charters, Ann. Allen Ginsberg's Life; Modern American Poetry website. Retrieved on 2005-10-20 from wikipedia. Jones, Bonesy; Biographical Notes on Allen Ginsberg; Biography Project. Retrieved on 2005-10-20 from wikipedia. Ibid; 34
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    7. 8. 9. Loc. Cit.; Ann Charters Perkins, David; A History of Modern Poetry — Modernism and After; Harvard University Press, U. S. A., 2006; p 546. McMichael George; Concise Anthology of American Literature, Second Ed: McMillan Publishing Company, New York, 1993; p 1946. 10. Loc. Cit.; Christopher MacGowan; p 120. 11. Ibid; p 121. 12. Loc. Cit.; David Perkins; p 547. 13. Loc. Cit.; George McMichae1•, p 1946. 14. Loc. Cit.; David Perkins; p 547. 15. Loc. Cit.; Christopher MacGowan; p 121. 16. Siegel, Robert; Birth of the Beat Generation: 50 Years of 'Howl'; Retrieved on 2006-10-02 from wikipedia. 17. Loc. Cit.; Christopher MacGowan; p 122. 18. Ibid; p 121. 19. Ibid; p 123. 20. Loc. Cit.; Christopher MacGowan; p 123. 21. Loc. Cit.; David Perkins; p 545. 22. Loc. Cit.; Christopher MacGowan; p 123. 23. Allen Ginsberg; Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, ed., Barry Miles; Harper, New York, 1986; 139-140. Ward also illustrated a later broadside version of "Howl". 35
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    24. The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni. The most important source for the specific practices that characterize the Kagyu order is the great Indian yogi Tilopa (988-1069), one of the 84 mahasiddhas of India, who first developed the spontaneous insight of enlightened realization. He gained this realization through the methods that were taught by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni to his closest students, methods that continued to be practiced during the time of Tilopa. In turn, the realization of these masters was passed down to their disciples through the great forefathers of the lineage: Indian mahasiddha Naropa, Marpa-the great translator, Milarepa-the greatest yogi of Tibet, and then to Gampopa-whose coming was prophesied by the Buddha. The lineage of the Kagyu emphasizes the continuity of oral instructions passed on from master to student, from whence the name "Kagyu" is derived; courtesy: http://www.kagyuoffice.org/kagyulineage.html; 5th September, 2009. 25. Loc. Cit.; George McMichae1•, p 1946. 36
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    AMERICAN CONSUMERIST OUTLOOK IN A SUPERMARKET IN CALIFORNIA AND ITS LONG-TERM SOCIAL AND POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS A SUPERMARKET IN CALIFORNIA What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the side streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon. In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations ! What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocadosl, babies in the tomatoes! — and you, Garcia Lorca2, what were you doing down by the watermelons? I saw you Walt Whitman, childless, lonely and grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys. I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Ange13? I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective. We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier. Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight? 37
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    (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.) Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely. Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage? Ah, dear father, greybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe? 4 [McMichael George; Concise Anthology of American Literature, McMillan Publishing Company, New York, 1993; pp. 1954-55]. Annotations and Notes: Second Ed. 1. A pear-shaped fruit with a tough skin, smooth, oily edible flesh, and a large stone. 2. Garcia Lorca: Spanish poet and dramatist (1898-1936) who was shot dead during the Spanish Civil War, by the Fascist soldiers of General Franco. 3. Angel: An American coin of a very small denomination. 4. Lethe: In classical mythology, the River of Forgetfulness in Hades. This poem is not only a critique of the cultural and socio-political condition of modern day America but is also a tribute to Walt Whitman, the 'guru' of all modern American poets. Written in Berkeley, California, in 1955, A Supermarket in California mourns the recent fate of the great poetic vision Walt Whitman had pronounced one hundred years earlier in Song of Myself. Whitman had dreamt of a country that would 38
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    stand for the spirit of freedom, but the rapid technological and economic development of the country was leading to its inhabitants becoming enslaved to a consumerist outlook. In such a society, social status and respect are gauged by the automobile, America's identity. There is no place for any sentiment or ideal such as honesty and patriotism. Whitman's 'dream' regarding the future of America has been totally displaced by the Great American Dream' initiated by Horatio Alger which emphasised that Americans of all generations could achieve more material success in comparison to their immediately preceding generation by dint of sheer hard-work and native intelligence. Though it brought about a radical change in the outlook towards life, on the flip side, it also caused the society to be more lax in the morality quotient because there was a mad scramble for making money. A heedless continuation in the same direction would lead to its spiritual death. Ginsberg has visited the supermarket, on a clear, fill moon night and is accompanied by the spirit of Walt Whitman. As the dead and living poets walk together under the trees of the side-walk, Ginsberg's head begins to ache from the constant glare of the bright light from the street-lamps. These street-lamps, which are a symbol of America's prosperity, tend to outshine the moon. Thus, they also symbolise man's desire to outshine Nature in all its aspects because he wants to lighten up even the darker places of the earth in opposition to Nature's dictum. Ginsberg walks into the neon-lit supermarket 'shopping for images' from the great mass of humanity, which would not only serve as food for his intellectual hunger but also enable him to forget his physical hunger and tiredness. The living poet marvels at the sheer variety of images that can be perceived: the peaches, avocadoes, tomatoes, meat 39
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    watermelons, pork-chops and bananas; the shadows of the consumer goods as well as people constantly on the move. There is a busy atmosphere all around because all the members of the family are on the lookout for the best bargains. Yet, none of them seem to be satisfied. Their condition recalls to the mind the famous last lines of W. H Auden's poem, The Unknown Citizen, where the poet concludes by asking two very pertinent questions: "Was he free? Was he happy?" However, none of them spares even a little thought about Gabriel Garcia Lorca, the famous anti-Fascist poet and dramatist, whose book is shown scant respect because it is forgotten among the watermelons. Thus it seems that all that Garcia had laid down his life for have been wasted. The materialism presented through this imagery reveals not only their greed but also their unhealthy life-style. Ginsberg wonders what Whitman would have felt if he were alive and seen these things with his own eyes. Would he then go about examining all the durables and the eatables and look for the right bargain? While this ponderous question crosses his mind, Ginsberg is aware of the store-detective keeping a close watch on him because of his shabby appearance as well as the fact that he seems to be suspiciously loitering about the store without ever passing by the counter. Feeling totally out-of—place, Ginsberg prefers to follow his spiritual 'guru' into a solitary and lonely corner. He cannot afford to buy artichokes and so he is content with only visualising them. These images will be enough for him to create. Suddenly, he is aware of the closing time and wonders in which direction Whitman would like to move. However, he soon realises it to be an absurd question and this realisation comes to him when he touches the book of Whitman that he is carrying with himself. Whitman would have surely walked towards the lonely and deserted streets, darkened by the shadows of 40
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    the trees as well as the fact that all the households have put out their lights for the day. He feels that Whitman would surely lament the lost dream that he had of America, while walking past the blue automobiles in the driveways. Towards the conclusion of the poem, Ginsberg imagines himself to be standing on the banks of the Lethe (the River of Forgetfulness in the Hades), watching as Charon ferries Whitman to the land of the dead. The vision is soon lost because of the smoke that enshrouds the banks. This imagery has a number of implications: firstly it implies that Whitman's view of the present condition of his country is blocked which would cause him to feel grief even in death because of the shattering of his 'dream'; secondly, it implies that, this blanketing or enshrouding is symbolic of the modern day American's getting oblivious about him.; and thirdly, it also implies that the smoke acts as a blind- shield which prevents people from witnessing Nature's beauty. The smoke is also symbolic of the environmental hazards presented through the increasing number of automobiles and the huge mass of waste material generated due to man's consumerist outlook. The last question and line of the poem, which directly addresses Whitman as a wise and aged figure, requires readers to take a deep breath and sigh along with Ginsberg: "Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?" In Greek mythology, Charon was the aged boatman charged with the responsibility of ferrying the souls of the deceased to Hades, the god of death. By allowing Whitman to get out of Charon's boat, Ginsberg 41
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    places him in an unresolved state. The boat disappears on the Lethe, the underworld's river of forgetfulness. Greek mythology provides that the spirits of the dead would drink from its waters to forget the sorrows of their earthly existence before entering Elysium, a land of perfect peace and happiness. Myth, however, also provides that when Aeneas, the Trojan prince, visited the underworld, he saw many such souls wandering on the banks of the Lethe because before the spirits could live in the world above, they must drink from the river to forget the happiness of Elysium. Whitman is left standing on the bank filled with the sorrow of the world and not yet partaking in the bliss of Elysium, which has long been regarded as the place where the souls of dead poets go to rest as a reward for their virtuousness in life. Readers are left with an impression that Whitman is watching the world around him literally going to hell"2 The very title of the poem is significant in the sense that human greed has attained such a level that he cannot be satisfied with merely a small market, he need a supermarket so that he can fulfill his needs. REFERENCES: 1. 2. Tyrus Miller, in an essay for Poetry for Students; Gale Research, Detroit; 1999. Marisa Anne Pagnattaro, in an essay for Poetry for Students; Gale Research, Detroit, 1999. 42
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    FILTH AND SQUALOR IN SUNFLOWER SUTRA SUNFLOWER SUTRA I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry. Jack Kerouacl sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees and machinery. The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily. Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust -- I rushed up enchanted it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake Harlem my visions and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black tredless tires forgotten and untreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor sharp artefacts passing into the past and the gray sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly, bleak and dusty with the smut2 and smog3 and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out 43
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    of its face, soon-to-be toothless mouths of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb, leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear, Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then! The grime was no man' s grime but death and human locomotives, all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis'ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than- dirt -- industrial — modern — all that civilisation spotting your crazy golden crown and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cocked cigar, the counts of wheel barrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses of chairs and sphincters of dynamos — all these entangled in your mummied roots — and you were standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form! A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze! How many flies buzzed around you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul? 44
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    Poor dead flower! when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the spectre and shade of a once powerful; mad American locomotive? You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower! And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not! So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a sceptre, and deliver my sermon to my soul, and jack's soul too and anyone who'll listen, We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dead black dusty imageless locomotive, we're all beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're blessed by our own seed and golden hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision. [McMichael George; Concise Anthology of American Literature, McMillan Publishing Company, New York, 1993; pp 1955-56]. Annotations and Notes: 1. American writer (1922-1969), sometimes called the "King of Beasts". 2. A small flake of soot or dirt. 3. Fog or haze, intensified with smoke or other atmospheric pollutants. Second Ed., Sunflower Sutra is a poem which not only is a tribute to that great pre-Romantic dreamer whom the world knows as William Blake, but it is also a poem which addresses our 45
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    environmental concerns in a rapidly changing world. In fact, the poem reveals the nasty side of the progress of human civilisation. Gone are the days when the earth was full with its pristine glory. And beauty: the red colour of the setting sun in the far-off mountains, the fishes swimming playfully in the flowing waters of the river, the sunflower blooming in all its glory. Now, the earth seems to be stained with iron, oil, coal, plastic, dust, smoke and smog. All these are proofs of man's material progress and they are also proofs of the havoc that we are wrecking on our environment and hoe other plants and animals are being affected by our greed for more and more material wealth. The poet and his companion, Jack Kerouac are at the dock-site and the scene is 'tincans and banana skins. The two are sitting on rusted reeking of filth and garbage - iron poles, their souls bleak and their eyes sad and watery. Their sadness is a result of the carelessness of humans regarding the preservation of the earth's pristine beauty. While sitting there, they see the sunflower, dead and shrivelled, floating by in the water along with other items of garbage such as condoms, baby's clothes, Joe's Greasy sandwiches, razors, pots and steel knives, with flies buzzing all around them. The water itself is oily because of the leakage from the huge iron locomotives that sail down to the Pacific Ocean. Such a sight is really pathetic because Ginsberg finds it hard to believe that the sunflower was the same flower that inspired William Blake to write his tremendously mystique Ah! Sunflower, the text of which is given below:- Ah Sunflower Ah Sunflower, weary of time, Who countest the steps of the sun; 46
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    Seeking after that sweet golden clime Where the traveller's journey is done; Where the Youth pined away with desire, And the pale virgin shrouded in snow, Arise from their graves, and aspire Where my Sunflower wishes to go! In a pristine world, Ginsberg would have sought inspiration from the scenic beauty described above because the sunflower would then have the full scope to display its beauty and it would have fitted the landscape aptly. But now, he has to make do with whatever is near at hand for him. Therefore he tries to experience the same mysticism that his literary guru had experienced. The description of the ugly sight by the poet recalls to our minds the defence made by James Joyce when someone claimed that his novels and short-stories are full of the descriptions of garbage dumps and cess-pools. Joyce defended himself by saying that his aim was to seek beauty in everything he saw, irrespective of whether it was natural or artificial. But, Ginsberg does not romanticise abut such things. He, rather, points out man's failure in shouldering his responsibilities towards nature and also towards his fellow creatures. There is a constant repetition of the metal imagery in the form of 'tincans', 'rusty iron pole' and 'steel knives'. Iron, which is the most useful of all metals because of its
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    strength and durability, is the heart and soul of industrialisation because all machines are built with it. Though iron is useful, yet it is the main cause of the destruction that man is bringing upon himself. Another substance that has been referred to is the plastic (condom). This substance is non-bio-degradable and consequently wrecks havoc. It blocks the drainage system and causes them to be flooded with dirty water. In the seas and rivers it suffocates the fishes and other aquatic and marine creatures. So, this is the price that nature has to pay to provide for the comforts and luxuries of its most intelligent creature and what a price it is ! Ginsberg's references to Blake and Harlem are also very significant. William Blake, the mystic, pre-Romantic poet exerted a great deal of influence on the Beats because of his powerful imaginative faculties. As regards Harlem, this city has an important role to play in the literary development of America because it was the Harlem Renaissance that made the world sit-up and take note of the immense possibility and richness of the American literary scenario. Thus, both Blake and Harlem stand for that aesthetic experience into which Ginsberg wants to lose himself, but is unable to do so. 48
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    Vll THE LOST WORLD OF AMERICA AMERICA America I've given you all and now I'm nothing America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956. I can't stand my own mind. America when will we end the human war? Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb. I don't feel good don't bother me. I won't write my poem till I am in my right mind. America when will you be angelic? When will you take off your clothes? When will you look at yourself through the grave? When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites? I America why are your libraries full of tears? America when will you send your eggs to India? I'm sick of your insane demands. When can I go to the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks? America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world. Your machinery is too much for me. You made me want to be a saint. There must be some other way to settle this argument. Burroughs2 is in Tangiers3 1 don't think he'll come back its sinister. 49
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    Are you being sinister or is this some form of a practical joke? I'm trying to come to the point. I refuse to give up my obsession America stop pushing I know what I'm doing. America the plum blossoms are falling. I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder. America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.4 America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I'm not sorry. I smoke marijuana every chance I get. I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet. When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid. My mind is made up there's going to be trouble. You should have seen me reading Marx.5 My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right. I won't say the Lords Prayer. I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations. America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia. I'm addressing you. Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine? I'm obsessed by Time Magazine. I read it every week. 50
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    Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore. I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library. It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me. It occurs to me that I am America. I am talking to myself again. Asia is rising against me. I haven't got a chinaman's chance. I'd better consider my national resources. My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublished private literature that goes 1400 miles an hour and twenty-five thousand mental institutions. I say nothing about the prisons for the millions of underprivileged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns. I have abolished the warehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go. My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic. America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood? I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they're all different sexes. America I will sell you strophes $ 2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe America free Tom Moony 6 51
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    7 America save the Spanish Loyalists America Sacco and Vanzetti 8 must not die. 9 America I am the Scottsboro boys. America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us 10 a handful per ticket a ticket cost a nickel and the speeches were free garbanzos everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the part was in 1935 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch 11 Mother Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter 12 plain. Everybody must have been a spy. America you don't really want to go to war. America its them bad Russians Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians. The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take our cars from our garages. Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest. Her wants our autoplants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations. That no good. Ugh. Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help. America this is quite serious. America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set. America is this correct? I'd better get right down to the job. It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I'm 52
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    nearsighted and psychopathic anyway. America I am putting my queer shoulder to the wheel. [McMichael George; Concise Anthology of American Literature, McMillan Publishing Company, New York, 1993; pp. 1956-58]. Annotations and Notes: 1: Followers of the Russian Communist leader Leon Trotsky (1877-1940) 2: William Burroughs (1914- ), American Beat writer. 3: A pleasure resort in Morocco. Second Ed.; 4: Nickname for the members of the industrial workers of the world, organisation of unions, established in 1905. a radical 5: Karl Marx, father of Communism and writer of Das Kapital and co-writer of Communist Manifesto. 6: American labour leader imprisoned for murder in 1916 and eventually pardoned in 1939. 7: Supporters of the Spanish government against the insurgent armies of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). 8: It refers to a famous trial involving robbery and murder on April 15th, 1920. Nicola Sacco (1891-1927) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888-1927) were accused and executed for the robbery and murder of the pay-master and the guard of a Massachusetts shoe company. The case had generated much controversy with the constant flip-flop in the allegations and investigations. 53
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    9: The case of the Scottsboro Boys was a cause cél&bre concerning nine black men who were charged with the rape of two white girls on a freight train in Alabama. In the first trial at Scottsboro (1931), eight of them were sentenced to death, but after much campaigning and also the recantation of one of the girls, the U.S. Supreme Court awarded four of them to life imprisonment and the rape charges were also dropped. 10: Spanish term for chickpeas. 11: A person of integrity and honour. 12: Scott Nearing (1883-1983), Ella "Mother" Bioor (1862-1951), and Israel Amter (1881-1954), American Socialist and Communist leaders. The Beat Movement was not only a literary movement against the principles and doctrines established by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, but was also a socio-political critique of America and the world at large. However, the Beatniks, always preferred to avoid making any direct political statements; neither did they prefer to get themselves organised because that would imply having a political ideology and acquiring power as a result, which would ultimately corrupt their minds. Therefore the path chosen by them was to register individual protests by means of literature and also by disregarding the norms of society. But this does not mean that they completely avoided politics and political activity. In fact, there are many works of the Beats on grave issues such as the Vietnam War, Nuclearisation etc. the present poem is one such example of the political interest of the Beats, where Ginsberg has taken the American establishment to task for its internal as well as its foreign policies. He talked openly about his connections with Communism and his admiration for the past heroes of the Communist and Labour movements at a time in 54
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    America when the Red Scare and McCarthyism were recent memories. Later, he travelled to many Communist countries to promote free speech. He claimed that Communist countries, China for example, welcomed him because they thought that he was an enemy of Capitalism, but often turned against him when they saw him as a trouble-maker. In this poem, there is a line which reads "America I used to be a Communist when I was a kid I am not sorry ... " followed directly by "I smoke marijuana every chance I get it is a reference to his visits to Communist party meetings with his mother, when he was a child, as well as to Communist China that is a hub for trade in banned narcotics like opium and marijuana. In 1965, Ginsberg was deported from Cuba for publicly protesting against the country's anti-marijuana stance; ironically, Ginsberg admired Castro and many other quasi-Marxist figures of the 20th century. The Cubans sent him to Czechoslovakia where, one week after being named the King of a May Day parade, he was labelled as an "immoral menace" by the Czech government because of the free expression of his radical ideas, and thereafter deported. On the flip side, many important figures from Communist Bloc countries such as Vaclav Havel point to Ginsberg as an important source of inspiration for striving for freedom. According to the biographer Jonah Raskin, despite his often stark opposition to Communist orthodoxy, Ginsberg held "his own idiosyncratic version of communism" [Raskin, 170]. In addition, the character of Ginsberg in Jack Kerouac' s On the Road is named Carlo Marx, a possible reference to his early beliefs. However, in spite of the influence of Communism on their lives and works, the Beats were not die-hard idolisers of the Left. They criticised Communist Russia in the same breath as they criticised Capitalist America. This is because, like the Capitalists, the 55
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    Communists too were harbingers of industrialisation and materialism although they were opposed to the idea of wealth being concentrated in the hands of only a few. And this industrialisation, the Beats felt, was the root cause of so many evils that would not only despoil nature but would also lead to the breakdown of the social fabric. Written on 17th January, 1956, America is an apt example of such an ambivalent political outlook. In the very opening lines of the poem, hits out at those things he considers to be improper. He has sacrificed all that he ever could, in terms of honesty and patriotism for the country and now he has nothing more to sacrifice. But, the most unfortunate thing to have happened to such a person is to find his freedom curbed and his rights withheld because he fails to toe the government's line on the Cold War and associates himself with Communism. He, who is happy enough to survive with the meagre amount of two dollars and twenty-seven cents, may find himself to be imprisoned just because he harbours anti- government ideas. Ginsberg takes to task the powers that be for their imperialistic attitudes. In its almost fanatical zeal to wipe out Communism from the face of the earth, the American government has pursued an aggressive foreign policy; the USA has not only armed itself militarily, citing threats to its internal security, but has also clandestinely provided logistic support to all those forces that have been fighting against Communism from Latin America to Asia and Europe. This was quite evident in the American involvement in the restive regions like Guatemala, El Salvadore, Cuba, Korea and Vietnam. Thus, the primary agenda has been to establish America as a military super-power. The poet wonders as to when America would adopt a softer and more humane stance towards the rest of the world, by ceasing to think only about her own political and 56
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    economic interests; he wonders when the country would shed-off its veil of sophistication and expose herself to the nakedness of the basic human needs; he wonders how the souls of the country's forefathers would feel if they were to peep out of their graves and view the present condition of their beloved country which is at present almost devoid of any type of humanity because of the constant cat-and-dog race to earn more and more dollars; he wonders when the government would sit down to consider the plight of the numerous factory workers and farm labourers whose cause have been so vociferously voiced by such great Communist leaders like Leon Trotsky. Even though people adhere to Communism, yet, in no way can they be termed as traitors or anti-nationalists. Ginsberg asks as to when the books across the libraries of America would tell the tales of martyrdom for the purpose of upholding the basic human values. The poet also questions the business ethics of a country which is bent on monopolising even the most necessary items of human consumption. Finally, Ginsberg wonders whether such a sick atmosphere is conducive for human beings for trusting each other. In the days of the barter system or even when money was introduced for the first time, men traded with each other on the basis of personal trust and it was almost always honoured. Ginsberg openly expresses his dislike for machinery. He feels that the use of different machines around him makes him want to be a saint. By this he means to say that machines are a symbol of power and power in turn will cause him to behave like a saint or deity who will decide the fates of people. Such possession of power is what he basically hates as it has a tendency to make men corrupt. In a way it is a reiteration of the saying that, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". In his eyes, all human beings are equal and that there is a saint in every individual. Therefore, no one has 57
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    the right to decide upon the fate of somebody else; but, this is what the politicians the world over are doing with the help of the state machinery and under the veil of providing justice to the deprived and the under-privileged. The poor are being crushed under the mill-stones of the laws created by the rich to safeguard their own interests. And if one may ask what is the ultimate result of all this, then the reply can be found in the vast discrepancy between the living conditions of the rich and the poor. While the former while away their time in pleasure resorts like Tangiers, the latter almost have nothing to eat and no shade over their heads. In this context, Ginsberg expresses the sinisterness of the power of money because he finds his friend, William S. Burroughs shifting base to Tangiers and loathes returning to his own country. It is an implicit statement of the deluding power of money: the poor are made to aspire for the pleasures and comforts of the rich with their limited resources and are consequently turned to be poorer. The reference to Burroughs is significant in another respect too. Burroughs, an enthusiastic Beatnik, was into drugs and had accidentally killed his wife, Joan Vollmer (1946-1951) while doing the William Tell act in exile in Mexico. In fact, Burroughs had fled to Mexico in the first place, to escape detention by the U.S. authorities for drug peddling. Ginsberg opposed the government's ban on drugs because he claimed that the latter could not realise its intrinsic worth to artists of all sorts, especially poets and writers. He openly campaigned in favour of drugs and was thus in the bad books of the authorities. Also significant in this relation is the reference to China Town because the Chinese settlements in all the major metropolitan cities serve as dens for opium and other types of drugs, from where they are easily available. Ginsberg claims to have given up reading the newspapers because of the reports of 58
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    human rights abuses in the form of capital punishments which have become a regular feature in their columns. These reports try to project the success of the government in maintaining law and order and upholding the ideals of democracy. But, in reality, these reports basically prove the inefficiency and failure of the administration because it has become power-drunk and therefore cannot tolerate any questioning of its authority. Moreover, what the American Establishment considers to be wrong may not be viewed in the same way by others. It is again a reference to the trial of his friend Burroughs. Ginsberg's inclination to the Left is quite apparent in his reference to the Wobblies, Marx and Tom Moony, besides, of course, Leon Trotsky. He also mentions the struggles of the Spaniards against the Fascist forces of General Franco and neither does he forget to mention the names of Scott Nearing, Ella 'Mother' Bloor and Israel Amter, the American Socialist and Communist leaders. These references make it amply clear that Ginsberg is the representative of free spirit and he finds it quite galling to bend his knees in supplication to any power or authority. Towards the conclusion of the first stanza of the poem, Ginsberg boasts that he won't utter the Lords prayer, but this refusal does not suggest any atheistic bent of mind; rather, it is a protest against any dominating force and here the force is the protestant Church of America that has a tendency of poking its nose in the political affairs of the country. Ginsberg is more interested in oriental philosophy and mysticism because it allows the individual to experience oneness with God; in no way is he forced to obey any set rules and regulations that have been prescribed in a so-called 'religious text' and has nothing to do with scientific experimentation and validity. Thus, for Ginsberg, the Bible 59
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    is symbolic of authoritarianism. Ginsberg's concept of mysticism can be understood from his reactions after a reading of William Blake's poem Ah, Sunflower! The very last line of the first stanza is significant because it makes a haunting reference to the treatment meted out by the American government to the immigrant Russians. The question has been asked in a rather sinister manner so as to make it explicitly clear that the government will not allow any Russian on its soil. The analogy to Uncle Max may be interpreted in numerous ways. Firstly, it may refer to the treatment meted out to the poet's maternal uncle, who was a Russian by birth, at the hands of the American authorities. Uncle Max is thus synonymous with the thousands of Russian immigrants who fled the horrors of the Soviet regime and settled in America only to be humiliated further. It may also refer to the espionage and counter-espionage moves made by both the countries during the Cold War era. In this case, the name may be a code of reference for the Russian spies who were captured by the U. S. authorities. In the second stanza of the poem, Ginsberg refers to the Time Magazine, one of the greatest movers and shakers in the field of American culture and cross-culture. It is a magazine for the upper class reading public as it mostly contains articles on fashion, politics, sports, Hollywood and anything that touches American social life. Such is its influence that Americans feel emotionally drained if they miss their weekly quota of the Time magazine. Its influence cuts across age. It is precisely for this reason that the Time Magazine can be had of the roadside bookstall or candy store as well as such places like the Berkeley Public Library, where Ginsberg and other intellectuals spend hours at an end to derive intellectual stimulus. The magnetic effect of this magazine on its readers can be gauged from its hold upon a pro-Leftist poet like Ginsberg himself. The Time Magazine, 60
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    it seems, has taken upon its shoulders, a great responsibility: the responsibility of projecting America as a paradise on earth by emphasising upon the liberal attitude of her society, her infatuation with stars and celebrities ranging from the field of sports to political board-rooms and Hollywood. These are the people who are form the main driving force in making America a progressive democratic force. Time Magazine, with its aura of things happening and its glorification of a bright future, makes Ginsberg feel like a wretch who does not contribute to the nation building as his name does not feature in its pages. According to its readers, the Beatniks are people who are not to be taken seriously because of their campaigns in favour of Communism and drugs and therefore, are unworthy of finding mention in its haloed pages. Although the Time Magazine claims to be unifying the nation by its wide reader-base, yet, what it is actually doing is degrading the human mind by influencing people to lead a high and luxurious life and consequently, amassing huge amounts of wealth, often at the cost of morality and the basic human characteristics. In the next stanza, the irony becomes even bitterer and it stems from the feeling that the rising political and economic powers of Asia like India, Japan, China and the Koreas are challenging the economic supremacy of America. This meteoric rise of the Asian countries is because of their internal resources. Ginsberg questions in a rather sarcastic manner, as to what are America's own resources: all these resources have been employed in suppressing the voice of the people. But, has the government really been able to suppress the voice of the people? In spite of all the efforts to prohibit the sale of narcotics, there are still two prominent joints, the poet boasts, from where he can purchase his requirement of marijuana; and in spite of the government's attempt to 61
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    improve public morality, by banning what it terms as 'obscene literature', people have purchased like hot cakes, those books and magazines which openly discuss and depict sexuality. Similarly, the government's efforts to suppress facts about the existence of mental asylums in America, has also been futile, because such secrets have been revealed and people are aware of the inhuman manner in which, it has dealt with mental retardation. This attitude is best revealed in Ken Casey's book One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (its film-version won the Academy Award for Best Film). Finally, Ginsberg also points out to the pathetic conditions of the slum-dwellers and pavement- dwellers. The last two lines of the stanza are significant in the sense that they refer to the sinister designs of the government, particularly, those people who are responsible for running it. America's only aim is to establish worldwide monopoly in trade and commerce and to achieve that purpose, she may go to any length. The American government has taken careful and well-planned steps to liquidate the French business houses and the tourism industry of Tangiers in North Africa, so as to reduce competition. By citing these 'acts of loyalty', even a catholic can aspire to become the President of the nation. This implies that people have become so power-hungry, that they will do anything for their own ulterior motives. Once elected as President, such a person would literally become the most powerful person on earth. The last stanza is the bitterest portion of the poem. Ginsberg wonders how he will ever be able to sing in praise of America because of the countries persistence with her idiosyncrasies. In an environment of crass commercialism, Ginsberg tells that he would sell his 'strophes' (poems) with the same intention as that of Henry Ford, the automobile 62
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    mogul. And with the money thus earned, he would seek the release of Tom Moony (the imprisoned American labour leader) or fund the Civil War on behalf of the Loyalist Forces against General Franco's Fascists or try to buy justice for the Scottsboro Boys' and Sacco and Vanzetti (all immigrants from Italy and Ireland and therefore looked upon with suspicion by the authorities). Ginsberg recalls his childhood days when his mother Naomi used to take him to secret Communist Party meetings where she made donations, although small, for the cause. Renowned Communist leaders like Scott Nearing, Mother Bloor and Israel Amter used to lecture at these meetings and so awe-inspiring were there speeches that people became sentimental. The American government considered such people (those who attended Communist party meetings) as nothing short of spies or enemy agents who were conspiring with Russia to bring about America's fall. However, in the concluding lines of this stanza, Ginsberg points out that even the Communists are not above board because they too want to acquire power, establish factories in Siberia to manufacture automobiles and to have a Reader's Digest of their own that would preach Marxism and Communist ideals. He refers to Jozef Stalin as him'. For Ginsberg, Stalin's name was synonymous with autocracy; he too realised that if Russia were to develop its industrial system, then he would have to bank upon the exploitation of the Negroes and other backward people who would work for long hours with less pay. This would prove to be beneficial for the industrialists who would reciprocate by funding his military activities as well as his political vendetta against the opposition. In fact, Ginsberg believes that most of America' s militarization process is the result 63
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    of a sense of insecurity prevailing due to the clandestine activities of Russia and China. The Chinese authorities have always maintained a high-level of secrecy about its human rights violations in Tibet and Taiwan. Moreover, the Chinese pose a great threat to the world's economy due to its underground drug trafficking as well as large-scale illegal immigration to America and other developed countries in Europe. All these observations prove the apolitical stance of the Beats. They believed in individual protests rather than getting themselves organised because that would imply having an ideology and acquiring power. By having an ideology of their own, they would lose the ability to make an honest criticism. It is due to their apolitical stance that the Beats could criticise the Russian Communists in the same breath as the American Capitalists. Ginsberg had himself claimed that although he had links with numerous Communist leaders, yet he himself was not one of them. Finally, he concludes the poem by making one last protest: he refuses to obey the law that makes it mandatory for all Americans to put in at least two years of military service. He also refuses to work in the precision parts factories because his health does not permit so. He chooses rather to follow his own independent and democratic ideas. A companion poem to this is Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem Undenvear. Though the title may prove to be a bit inappropriate, yet it is significant and very much relevant in the context of Ginsberg's poem. The underwear represents an important piece of clothing yet, it is considered to be vulgar to display it in public. Thus, it does its work quietly (that of providing comfort and shape to our organs) without any form of recognition. Such a condition is actually applicable to the millions of factory workers and farm-labourers who 64
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    work steadily and quietly for the progress of their nation but who are not even given their proper place in society for their pains and sacrifices. This condition is equally applicable in the case of those poets and literary figures who are trying to reform the rotting system in their own way but are finding themselves to be imprisoned and their works being proscribed because they are criticising the American establishment. These groups of poets and litterateurs are the Beats and the representatives of the other contemporary poetic movements. Given below is the text of Ferlinghetti's Underwear followed by an explanation of it. Underwear I didn't get much sleep last night thinking about underwear Have you ever stopped to consider underwear in the abstract When you really dig into it some shocking problems are raised Underwear is something we all have to deal with Everyone wears some kind of underwear Even Indians wear underwear Even Cubans wear underwear 65
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    The Pope wears underwear I hope The Governor of Louisiana wears underwear 1 saw him on TV He must have had tight underwear He squirmed a lot Underwear can really get you in a bind You have seen the underwear ads for men and women so alike but so different Women's underwear holds things up Men's underwear holds things down Underwear is one thing men and women do have in common Underwear is all we have between us You have seen the three-color pictures with crotches encircled to show the areas of extra strength with three-way stretch promising full freedom of action Don't be deceived It's all based on the two-party system which doesn't allow much freedom of choice the way things are set up America in its Underwear 66
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    struggles thru the night Underwear controls everything in the end Take foundation garments for instance They are really fascist forms of underground government making people believe something but the truth telling you what you can or can't do Did you ever try to get around a girdle Perhaps Non-Violent Action is the only answer Did Gandhi wear a girdle? Did Lady Macbeth wear a girdle? Was that why Macbeth murdered sleep? And the spot she was always rubbing - Was it really her underwear? Modern anglosaxon ladies must have huge guilt complexes always washing and washing and washing Out damned spot Underwear with spots very suspicious Underwear with bulges very shocking 67
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    Underwear on clothesline a great flag of freedom Someone has escaped his Underwear May be naked somewhere Help! But don't worry Everybody's still hung up in it There won't be no real revolution And poetry still the underwear of the soul And underwear still covering a multitude of faults in the geological sense - strange sedimentary stones, inscrutable cracks! If I were you I'd keep aside an oversize pair of winter underwear Do not go naked into that good night And in the meantime keep calm and warm and dry No use stirring ourselves up prematurely over Nothing' Move forward with dignity hand in vest 68
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    And death shall have no dominion There's plenty of time my darling Are we not still young and easy? Don't shout. [Courtesy: PoemHunter.com] Ferlinghetti begins the poem by admitting that he could not get enough sleep the night before, when he actually began to contemplate upon the utility of a piece of underwear and its immense importance in our lives. It is one piece of clothing that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, cast, colour, rank and gender because underwear is worn by everybody, although that may be in different forms. Like we say, 'Death the Leveller' we might as well say, 'Underwear the Leveller'! Ferlinghetti makes a rather bold statement when he refers to the story of the Governor of Louisiana seen in his underwear or when he refers to the underwear ads put up by the large manufacturing companies to popularise their products. He says that these people are not booked for obscenity but the ordinary people are if they are found to be hanging about in their underwear or if they are found to be expressing their sexuality in public. The authorities have banned some of the books written by Beatniks on grounds of obscenity and have thereby curbed the latter's right to freedom of expression and displayed the biased outlook of the former. Thus, people have to bear with skimpily-clad or almost semi- naked female models in bikinis and posters and billboards displaying encircled crotches. Ferlinghetti suddenly diverts from the sexual suggestiveness to make a very 69
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    important observation: like the underwear ads, the notions of democracy are also misleading, especially in America. The underwear manufacturing companies claim that their products will provide the maximum comfort to their wearers but the claim is almost always proved to be untrue; similarly, the American government always tries to put across the idea that the inhabitants of the country are living in a place where the democratic ideals are practised in their highest forms. Such a claim is also misleading because the two-party system practised in the country really limits the number of options for the common voter. In the next few lines, Ferlinghetti makes some apparently controversial statements, which, if analysed from a totally independent and neutral mindset, cannot be ignored. He equates the 'apostles of peace' like M. K. Gandhi (the father of the Non- Violent Movement in India) with the 'dark angels' of violence and warfare like General Franco and Mussolini. All these men, in their own manners, attempted to, and were successful to an extant, in changing the fate of mankind. However, they were all bound in by the underwear which, in this case, is synonymous with power. Directly or indirectly, these men were seeking power by their own unique methods; and the commonest method of coming to it is by using force and fraud. Lady Macbeth chose fraud to get the crown for her husband — the symbol of absolute power. But, all their attempts proved to be futile because Lady Macbeth was always haunted by the images of the heinous crime she had committed, General Franco's and Mussolini's forces were badly routed and their Fascist ideology was completely wiped out. Even Gandhi could not prevent the partition of India as well as the communal riots that followed in the aftermath of the independence. In the reference to Lady Macbeth, there is also a bit of irony that has been involved. 70
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    While she was horrified about the irremovable spot on her palm, the present generation of people are rather fond of spots. This trend is observable not only in the clothes worn but also in their attitudes and life-style. Today, people are not that much scandalised by the spots on their own characters or in those of their near and dear ones; rather it is being seen as a part of life and some minor blemishes are at best to be overlooked. Therefore, it would not be surprising to elect a person to some high position in the government even if he or she has had a brush with the authorities in the past. On the contrary, there is nothing attractive about a completely blameless and blemish-free person. Ferlinghetti opens our eyes towards the hypocritical attitude of the moral police: on the one hand, they are banning the works of the Beats on charges of obscenity while on the other, they are turning a blind eye towards the bikini-clad models and the nudists who prefer to take off their bikinis and use them as flags, symbolising their new-found freedom. These nudists are suffering under the delusion that they are advocating a new revolution but in reality, there is nothing revolutionary about it. The poet concludes by saying that poetry is the underwear of the soul because it binds us to nature as well as to our fellow human beings. So, as the underwear silently does its work that of providing comfort to its wearer, the poet also works silently in awakening the conscience of the people. Moreover, for any movement to be successful, sincerity, devotion, a sense of pride and dignity and courage are needed. Changes cannot be brought out by shouting-out ideologies from podiums, people have to work hard towards it end and it requires a lot of patience as well. This can be best achieved by the poet as his lines are the result of free-thoughts and expressions. 71
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    CONCLUSION: DREAMS, VISIONS, DRUGS AND 'SPONTANEOUS' WRITING In their literary practices too, the Beats were innovative. They believed in spontaneity of thoughts and emotions because, for them, enlightenment also meant the knowledge of the perceptible as well as of the imperceptible side of the universe. They "anathematized redrafting, as though the latter were the enemy of the former"l. Kerouac himself promoted the virtues of 'writing whatever comes into your head as it comes' in his mini- essay, The Origins of Joy in Poetry2 This is the sole reason for their interest in dreams and visions that a person experiences in a state of ecstasy. Therefore, they tried to connect the Ultimate with the Immediate and seek Truth through this connection. According to the Beats, such an ecstatic state could only be achieved through three methods: meditation, drugs and sex. For this reason, drug-addicts are the favourite characters of the Beats and the narcotics consumed by these characters, as well as their creators include Peyote, Mescaline, Lysergic Acid, Hashish concentrates L.S.D. and Amphetamines. This is one of the points of resemblance between the Beats and the Romantics, because many of the poets and prose writers of the Romantic Movement also took drugs, notable examples being Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas De Quincy. Whether intoxication really helps anyone to pursue spiritual enlightenment is doubtful; but, a person's sense of perception is really affected when he is in such a state. This is clearly evident from the behaviour of any narcotic-addict. By the term 'spontaneity' or spontaneous prose', one also means a non-stop flow of narration that is host to every mystical and ecstatic urge as well as to the mundanely picaresque. Jack Kerouac's novels, 72
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    On the Road (1957), The Dharma Bums (1958) and The Subterraneans (1958) are all examples of this. Kerouac's intention was to "sketch the flow that already exists intact in the mind," and "flow" itself was effectively, his aesthetic. There is something invincibly sweet about his "rucksack revolution," but the best of his novels are apt to survive in the literary histories because they played midwife to the more hardened detachments of the 1960s. Less celebrated Beat novelists, such as Chandler Brossard (b. 1922), R. V. Cassill (b. 1919), John Clellon Holmes (b. 1926) and Alexander Trocchi (b. 1925), lack Kerouac's promise of surviva13. However, it would be unwise to say that these poets and writers never revised their works although their claims were to the contrary. "In practice, however, the major works in the Beat canon are almost invariably those which benefited from arduous crafting; conversely, the genuinely impromptu pieces are usually the most disposable. This is not to say that the masterpieces exude laboriousness; but that their air of spontaneity has been hard won. Indeed, one of the reasons that academic critics were slow to applaud Beat artistry is that they did not appreciate just how hard it was to make it look that easy" 4. In fact, Allen Ginsberg was known to have revised Howl several times before its ultimate publication (there were five drafts of Part I, eighteen of Part Il, five of Part Ill and seven of Part IV); even Kerouac did the same with his novels, especially On the Road. When it finally made its appearance in 1957, the novel 'was the mature product of ten years' graft by several pairs of hands' 5. In a recent interview, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, perhaps the only surviving Beat, claimed that "The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics that Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldeman founded represents a poetics that has never been mine. I don't believe that 'first thought is the best thought' 73
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    (proclaimed by Allen Ginsberg), rather I would say first thought is the worst thought. Like Allen says after William Carlos Williams, 'no ideas but instincts'; well, see, WCW for me, is not one of these Great American Poets. The real American idiom, for me, comes from poets like Kenneth Patchen, EE Cummings, which is much more close to reality as far as street talk goes. I don't believe in 'no ideas but instincts'. I told Allen once that I would rephrase WC W as, 'no ideas but beings Of all the Beat writers, only Charles Bukowski extemporized his best work and wrote instantaneously without extensively revising it. There were two factors responsible for it: firstly, Bukowski had perfected his technique, not by redrafting the same text over a ten-year period like Ginsberg and Kerouac, but by drafting different poems and stories for approximately a quarter of a century before arriving at a style, a reputable publisher thought worth preserving; and secondly, he gave John Martin of the Black Sparrow Press carte blanche to select what he wanted from the vast, uneven eruption of the material that continued right up to Bukowski's death. Martin rejected half the material that his author sent for him, finding much of it close to gibberish: Bukowski, for his part, knowing that he only became blocked if he strove too consciously for perfection, was 7 happy to delegate all editorial functions in this way . OBSCENITY AND SEXUALITY The obscenity in their works is caused by the fact that their works are the studies of people who find it difficult to adjust with the norms and conventions of society and who are lecherous at heart. Thus, if they are studies of the lives of lechers, then such passages are inevitable. In fact, if literature is to record truthfully what happens in life, 74
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    and then one cannot escape recording the profanities and obscenities in one's work. This practise also greatly influenced the contemporary Bengali literary movement known as the Hungrialist Manifesto, with the leading poet among them being Malay Choudhury. Moreover, since their characters hail from the lower strata of society, it cannot be expected that they have a refined manner of speech. For them, abuses, profanities and obscenities are a way of life. Many of the characters in Kerouac's novels are unemployed people who depend on their mothers for financial support. Under such circumstances, such people find companionship in lower animals such as cats and dogs. This is a very common sight at the railway stations, footpaths and subways of developed and developing countries. This love for animals is nowhere more clearly exhibited than in works such as Ferlinghetti 's Dog and The Mad Yak. Ginsberg' s most famous work, Howl, is replete with such language and graphic sexual descriptions, I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls, who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy.. Partially subsumed by the Beat Generation and partially serving as its patron, William Burroughs (b. 1914) went further than the Beats in his rebellion against American conformity. Together with them, he reinvigorated the confessional mode and 75
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    wrote about himself with candour and an intensity that shocked his contemporaries. In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), the journalist Tom Wolfe suggests that Ken Kesey (b. 1935) bridges the 1950s Beats and the 1960s Hippies. Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo 's Nest (1962) is indeed at the point where the curve of one movement changes into that of the other8. INTERPERSONAL BEAT RELATIONS Another important feature of the Beat writing as we have noted earlier is that they admire one another a great deal and therefore maintain a sort of unity that is possible only in a closely-knit society. In the Introduction to Gregory Corso's Gasoline, Ginsberg makes a literary tribute to the former when he says: "He's probably the greatest poet in America, and he is starving in Europe". And this amounts to praising oneself because they are the writers of one and the same school. When Ginsberg's Howl was proscribed, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and other Beats came forward in his support; Ginsberg himself showed his solidarity for the Hungrialist poet, Malay Choudhury. Kerouac's novels are heavily fictionalised chronicles of the antics of his friends and himself and he represented Allen Ginsberg as Alvah Goldbook in Dharma Bums, Lawrence Ferlinghetti as Lorenzo Monsanto in Big Sur, William Burroughs as Old Bull Lee in On the Road and Gregory Corso as Raphael Urso in Desolation Angels9. Though "Beat" is most accurately applied to Ginsberg and his closest friends (Corso, Orlovsky, Kerouac, Burroughs, etc.), the term "Beat Generation" has become associated with many of the other poets Ginsberg met and became friends with in the late 76
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    1950s and early 1960s. A key feature of this term seems to be a friendship with Ginsberg. Friendship with Kerouac or Burroughs might also apply, but both writers later strove to disassociate themselves from the name "Beat Generation." Part of their dissatisfaction with the term came from the mistaken identification of Ginsberg as the leader. Ginsberg never claimed to be the leader of a movement. He did, however, claim that many of the writers with whom he had become friends in this period shared many of the same intentions and themes. Some of these friends include: Bob Kaufman; LeRoi Jones before he became Amiri Baraka, who, after reading "Howl", wrote a letter to Ginsberg on a sheet of toilet paper; Diane DiPrima; poets associated with the Black Mountain College such as Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov; poets associated with the New York School such as Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch. Later in his life, Ginsberg formed a bridge between the beat movement of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s, befriending, among others, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Rod McKuen, and Bob Dylan. REFERENCES: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Roberts, Neil: A Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry; Publishers, United Kingdom, 2003; pp 183-184. Ibid; pp 187-188. Blackwell Kiernan, Robert F.; American Writing Since 1945: A Critical Survey; Fredric Unger Publishing co., New York, 1983; pp. 52-53. Loc. Cit. Neil Roberts; p 188. Ibid; p 188. Mukherjee, Aryanil; The Lyrical Beat; 8th Day, The Statesman; September, 77
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    7. 8. 9. 2005. Loc. Cit. Neil Roberts; pp 188-189. Loc. Cit. Robert F. Kiernan; pp. 52-53. 10. John Osborne's The Beats in A Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry; Ed Neil Roberts; Blackwell Publishers, United Kingdom, 2003; PI 84. 78
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    SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Ecology and Oriental Philosophies in the Beats; B.D. Sharma; Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2000. As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg & Neal Cassady; Barry Gifford, ed.; Creative Arts Book Co., Berkeley, Calif., c1977. Ginsberg: A Biography; Barry Miles; Virgin Publishing Ltd. London, 2001, paperback, 628 pages. Jonah Raskin, American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and the Making of the Beat Generation; University of California press, Berkeley, 2004. Goswami, Satsvarupa Das; Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta Vol. 1 — 2 (2nd ed.), Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, Los Angeles, California, 1983. Roberts, Neil: A Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry; Blackwell Publishers, United Kingdom, 2003. Kiernan, Robert F.; American Writing Since 1945: A Critical Survey; Fredric Unger Publishing co., New York, 1983. MacGowan, Christopher; Twentieth Century American Poetry; Blackwell Publishing; United Kingdom, 2004. The Portable Beat Reader; ed. Ann Charters; Viking, U.S.A., 1992. 10. DasGupta, Partha Pratim; Beat Poetry as an Expression of Direct Self- Experience: Mother-Son Relationship in Allen Ginsberg's 'Kaddish' (Unpublished MPhil Dissertation, Dept. of English, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata). 79
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    11. Gale Research, Detroit. 12. 11th July, 1965; New York Times. 13. 8th Day, The Statesman; September, 2005. 14. www.wikipedia.com 15. PoemHunter.com 80


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