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Allen Ginsberg


from: "Fields of  Vision” by D.Delaney

Life and Works

Early years One of the most provocative and prolific poetic voices of the second half of the twentieth century, Allen Ginsberg was born in New Jersey to a Jewish father, who himself was a poet, and a mother who was a Russian immigrant. A shadow was cast over his childhood by his father’s fits of depression and his mother’s schizophrenia, which caused her to spend long spells in hospitals.

The Beat Movement As a student at Columbia University in the 1940s, Ginsberg became part of a circle of friends (the core of the Beat Movement) who shared a sense of spiritual exhaustion, an appetite for drugs and feelings of rebellion against what they viewed as society’s conformism and hypocrisy. It was in this environment that Ginsberg started writing poetry.

Howl and Other Poems In 1953 Ginsberg moved from New York to San Francisco. He joined the city’s vibrant literary community and in 1955 his public reading of the poem Howl, a lengthy attack on the stifling conservatism of American society, generated media interest. The collection of poetry that followed, Howl and Other Poems (1956), led to a highly publicized obscenity trial. Ginsberg had become the first writer of the Beat Generation to make an impact on the American literary scene. He had also become a counterculture icon.

Full poetic maturity By 1961 Ginsberg had reached full poetic maturity and wrote what many critics consider to be his finest work, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, an elegy in memory of his mother. Ginsberg’s style was influenced by the poetry of Walt Whitman and the technique of ‘streem of consciousness’, which had been widely used in fiction.

Zen Buddhism and anti-war protests Ginsberg spent most of the 1960s travelling, both in the USA and abroad. He lived for nearly two years in India where he discovered Zen Buddhism, which shaped the development of his poetry and his views for the rest of his life. He became a spokesperson for the counter-culture (or hippy) revolution and took an active role in the protest movements against the Vietnam War. He continued writing poetry and performing his work in public. He also recorded and occasionally toured with Bob Dylan and appeared in two of his films.

Final years In the last twenty years of his life Ginsberg directed his energies to supporting the legalization of marijuana and the antinuclear, environmental and gay liberation movements. He also gave public readings in many countries, including Russia and China, published more than fifteen volumes of poetry and gave lectures at such prestigious academic institutions as Oxford and Harvard. He died in 1997 of liver cancer.

External Links:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Ginsberg         


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