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  • NYS Writers Institute

What would Allen Ginsberg say about these days?

Were you part of the packed Page Hall crowd that greeted poet Allen Ginsberg nearly 30 years ago on November 29, 1990?

After his appearance at UAlbany, Ginsberg took the crowd to QE2 on Central Avenue in Albany and continued reading his poetry into the wee hours of the morning. Here's a photo by poet Dan Wilcox taken outside QE2 from that 1990 event. (photo posted on the Albany Group Archive site on Flickr.)

At the time, he spoke out against war, intolerance, racism, homophobia, environmental degradation and a number of other subjects.

Allen Ginsberg died in his East Village loft in New York City in 1997. We wonder what he might have had to say about these days of rage and plague.

Here's the beginning of his poem "America" published in the collection, Howl and Other Poems (1956):

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?

Here's the beginning of the title poem "Howl":

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated....

In an essay published June 3 titled "Why Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Kaddish’ is the perfect poem for these times," Laurel Brett writes:

"He was the good son who wrote 'Kaddish' for his mother when the lack of a minyan, ten Jewish men, prevented the prayer from being recited at her funeral. How many must be dead without minyans? If Ginsberg were here, he would recite his poem for all those dying alone on ventilators. For the families who cannot be with them. As a pandemic rages and we are unable to gather to celebrate our dead or hold one another’s hands, I sing both the Jewish prayer and recite Ginsberg poem in my head for my own dead." Read more.

A shred of good light in our dark times: City Lights, the San Francisco bookstore that originally published "Howl" and served as a sanctuary for Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and other Beat writers, reopened last week following a shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We support City Lights and all of our local, independent bookstores. #indiebookstoreboost


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