Tuesday, October 15

Ginsberg went against the grain


Wednesday, 4/9/97

Ginsberg went against the grain

Poet’s ideas, lifestyle epitomized true spirit of America

Allen Ginsberg was more than a poet. Like Jim Morrison and Pablo
Picasso, he had a passion and a persona that transcended his work.
He was a revolutionary, a punk, an artist and a politician. But
above all, Ginsberg remains a symbol of and inspiration for the
free spirits of America.

Though often eclipsed by his friend and fellow Beat poet Jack
Kerouac, Ginsberg was the man that started it all. "Howl," his poem
of 1956 that jarred America into the beat era, was the voice of a
wolf among sheep. Its defiance of the stifling ’50s Disneyland
culture was a wake-up call to his generation and each generation
that followed.

In a time of Hollywood blacklistings, rampant book burning,
homophobia and forced "family values" that would send Buchanan
running for Gloria Steiner’s camp, Ginsberg’s voice rang true and
unafraid – unafraid of his communist leanings, unafraid of jail,
unafraid of his homosexuality, unafraid to live his life as he saw
fit.

In many ways, he inherited the legacy of Walt Whitman, one of
his heroes who also chose to live life on the fringes of society.
In "A Supermarket in California" Ginsberg asks of his "lonely old
courage-teacher": "Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors
close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight? … Will
we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue
automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?"

His questions echo the concerns of a generation lost in a tide
of war and social chaos. Usually, he confronts this America more
sternly, as in the confrontational and confessional poem,
"America": "America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. … I
can’t stand my own mind./ America, when will we end the human war?/
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb."

But Ginsberg’s scathing challenges to the richest country and
the most conservative era of the 20th century did not go
unanswered.

Unlike many today who would leave his burning questions in the
lap of the authorities or "someone who gives a damn," Ginsberg
offered time and again to take part in the fight, a fact his FBI
record will show. "America" ends not with damnation or cynicism,
but with the vow, "America, I’m putting my queer shoulder to the
wheel."

Ginsberg’s works balance vulnerability and strength, anger and
compassion, wit and deep emotion – with the power and understanding
that only someone who has been from college to jail and from a
mental institution to the throes of the ’60s revolutions can
possess.

What is his lesson for those of us just entering college, or
those of us who will take our last final this June? It’s probably
not a very comfortable one. For you fifth-year students who made
"making more money" the top reason that ’92 high school grads (like
myself) attended UCLA (remember that freshman poll?), for those of
you who major in biology because your parents told you to, and for
those of you who stand back and let others fight your battles and
reap the rewards, Ginsberg might have read this to you from
"Howl":

"(Those) who cut their wrists three times successively
unsuccessfully, gave up and were forced to open antique stores
where they thought they were growing old and cried, who were burned
alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts
of leaden verse and the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of
fashion and the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of
advertising and the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or
were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality … What
sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up
their brains and imagination?"

Fiore is a fifth-year art history student until June, when she
will become a first-year unemployed parental mooch.Kristin
Fiore

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