| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Allen Ginsberg brought not only a new
self-consciousness to American poetry but a rare sense of humor. While poets
contemporary with him—W. D. Snodgrass, Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, and
somewhat later Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath—were mining the personal to unearth
images that would speak for an “Every person” understanding, Ginsberg was
exploring the psyche with a shrewd sense of humor. His dialogue with Walt
Whitman, “A Supermarket in California,” views the suburban scene of lush plenty
with a wry vision that brings the elements of poetry and life together in a
completely new perspective.
is best known for his first long-lined poem, “Howl,” written after he left
Columbia University and the New York avant-garde and moved to California.
“Howl” lamented the 1950s wastes—good minds buried under layers of convention,
stifling restrictions on art and sexual expression—reversing Whitman’s catalogs
of praise to chart uncountable griefs. Its irony and its all-too-real truths
gave Ginsberg an immediate audience once City Lights published the poem, with a
foreword by William Carlos Williams.
Ginsberg quickly became identified with the homosexual drug culture, his roots
more directly stretched back to his New Jersey home, where his knowledge of
social inequities and cultural frustrations mirrored that of his older
Rutherford neighbor, Williams. His next major poem, “Kaddish,” a lament for the
health of his brilliant Jewish mother, Naomi Levy, reflected much of that
social coercion, intensified with cultural alienation and social response to
was born in 1926 to Naomi and Louis Ginsberg, in Newark, where his father was a
high school teacher and a poet. Before graduating from Columbia University in
1949, Ginsberg held jobs as a dishwasher, spot welder, copy boy on the New York
World-Telegram, and reporter for a New Jersey paper. After he graduated with
his A.B. degree, he traveled to California to find William Burroughs, who wrote
from the tradition of prophetic, inspired voices (Ginsberg had had visions in
which he saw William Blake, and he thought of himself as a seer in his art).
After his comparative successes in California, determined to live on his income
from writing—no small endeavor—Ginsberg spent part of 1963 in India, traveling
with his lover Peter Orlovsky. He returned to the States to participate in a
poetry festival at University of British Columbia, bringing with him a
mantra-like chant that from then on enhanced the delivery of his poetry.
1963 Ginsberg was a Guggenheim Fellow; in 1969 he received a National Institute
of Arts and Letters award and in 1973 the National Book Award for The Fall of
America: Poems of These States. In 1979 he received the National Arts Club
Medal of Honor for Literature. Although he read frequently on university
campuses and remained a spokesperson for the avant-garde, Ginsberg developed a
comparatively mild profile during the last decade of his life. He returned to
New Jersey, where he lived on a small farm, accessible to his friends and
admirers, writing a remarkably constant poetry that hammered away at the
problems faced not only by the United States but by most of the world cultures.
The “insane demands” he spoke of in his 1956 poem “America” are still rampant,
and Ginsberg proved to be prophetic once more as he described himself as
staying with the country, trying to work through its aberrations to find some of
its truth. In that endeavor, too, he echoed the efforts of William Carlos
Williams. Though never accepted by the culture he was so critical of, Ginsberg
never expatriated himself from it; he rather preached, and sang, and chanted,
lessons he thought might be helpful to its greatest dilemmas.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In the Heath Anthology
A Supermarket in California
Howl and Other Poems
Empty Mirror: Early Poems
Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-60
Reality Sandwiches: 1953-1960
Wichita Vortex Sutra
The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971
Mind Breaths: Poems, 1972-1977
Collected Poems 1947-1980
White Shroud, Poems 1980-1985
The Beat Generation Map of America
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Allen Ginsberg Memorial
Extensive information about the life of Ginsberg as a writer and member of the Beats.
Allen Ginsberg's FBI file
Provides an excerpt from Herbert Mitgang's, Dangerous dossiers : exposing the secret war against America's greatest authors.
Ashes & Blues
Rich with resources; provides a biography, a multitude of links and, a forum for Ginsberg memorial exchange.
A hypertext biography.
The Beat Page: Allen Ginsberg
Contains a hypertext biography and a selection of poems including Sunflower Sutra, In the Back of the Real.
Donald Allen, ed., Composed on the Tongue: Allen Ginsberg, 1980
Michelle P. Kraus, Allen Ginsberg, An Annotated Bibliography 1969-1977, 1980
Barry Miles, Allen Ginsberg: A Biography, 1989
Barry Miles, The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963, 2000
Grergory Stephenson, The Daybreak Boys,1990
John Tytell, Naked Angels: The Lives and Literature of the Beat Generation, 1976