Back Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg

1926–1997
Allen Ginsberg in 1976. (Binder/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Major works:
“Howl” • “America” • “A Supermarket in California” • “Kaddish” • “Wichita Vortex Sutra”

“This was the first time that Allen Ginsberg read ‘Howl’. . . . Allen began in a small and intensely lucid voice. At some point Jack Kerouac began shouting “GO” in cadence as Allen read it. In all of our memories no one had been so outspoken in poetry before—we had gone beyond a point of no return—and we were ready for it, for a point of no return. None of us wanted to go back to the gray, chill, militaristic silence, to the intellective void—to the land without poetry—to the spiritual drabness. We wanted to make it new and we wanted to invent it and the process of it as we went into it. We wanted voice and we wanted vision. . . . Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America and its supporting armies and navies and academies and institutions and ownership systems and power-support bases.”
—Michael McClure

“When he was younger, and I was younger, I used to know Allen Ginsberg, a young poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, where he, son of a well-known poet, had been born and grew up. He was physically slight of build and mentally much disturbed by the life which he had encountered about him during those first years after the First World War as it was exhibited to him in and about New York City. He was always on the point of ‘going away,’ where it didn’t seem to matter; he disturbed me, I never thought he’d live to grow up and write a book of poems. . . . Now he turns up fifteen or twenty years later with an arresting poem. Literally he has, from all the evidence, been through hell. . . . The wonder of the thing is not that he has survived but that he, from the very depths, has found a fellow whom he can love, a love he celebrates without looking aside in these poems. Say what you will, he proves to us, in spite of the most debasing experiences that life can offer a man, the spirit of love survives to ennoble our lives if we have the wit and the courage and the faith—and the art! to persist.”
—William Carlos Williams

Read the poem

Psalm III

Allen Ginsberg

To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness—to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness—to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb—this cockroach is holy.

Read a passage from Psalm III by Allen Ginsberg
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