Essays

Metropolitan Greetings: Allen Ginsberg Behind the Iron Curtain (from Havana to Moscow)

In 1965, Allen Ginsberg traveled to Eastern Europe, visiting Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union alone. Ginsberg was a prolific world traveler. Over the course of his life he traveled to some 66 countries. Whether he was traveling as a member of the merchant marine, in support of his work, or simply traveling for traveling’s sake, he kept extensive journals, chronicling his experiences and capturing political and poetic landscapes that were both ancestrally familiar, and ideologically foreign. In the United States, Allen Ginsberg had risen to near-legendary status in the popular eye and would often lead crowds in mantra-chanting sessions at gatherings. Ginsberg was seen as a combination guru and paterfamilias of the hippies, a kind of ultimate generational advisor. He would direct much of his writing and public presence toward anti-war efforts. Refining the observational poetics that he practiced in his travel writing abroad, Ginsberg traveled across the United States from 1965 to 1971 to chronicle “the flux of car bus airplane dream consciousness Person during Automated Electronic War years, newspaper headline radio brain auto poetry…headlights flashing on road through these States of consciousness” (Fall of America 189).

His journals, published posthumously, chronicle his travels, poetic impulses, and spiritual considerations while on the road, and present readers with a well-documented perspective on the poet’s mind at work. This essay focuses upon Ginsberg’s time in Eastern Europe, charting his observations, poetry, political dissent, and personal encounters during the height of the Cold War. More specifically, I intend to share ideas on the ways in which Ginsberg, whose mother Naomi had come to the United States from Russia, viewed himself as a world citizen, immersed himself in the environments that he traveled to, and recorded his experiences in his notebooks. I also want to shed light on the way Ginsberg’s observations informed his poetic output. Much of what I discuss draws from the somewhat recently published “Iron Curtain Journals” edited by Ginsberg biographer, Michael Schumacher, as well as the Ginsberg collection at Stanford University Libraries Department of Special Collections. I also looked at critical editions and primary sources related to this trip.

Books about Allen Ginsberg by Beatdom. Find them on Amazon.

Cuba

Ginsberg’s time “behind the iron curtain” actually started in the west, in Cuba. He traveled there in January 1965 when he received an invitation from the Cuban minister of culture to participate in a writer’s conference sponsored by the Casa de las Americas in Havana.

In Cuba, he filled hundreds of pages with observations, new poetry, dialogue, sketches, travel descriptions, dream notations, and other musings that deserve a separate investigation. His time in Cuba is noteworthy because it is this trip that gave Ginsberg an inkling of the logistical difficulties and ideological tension that he would encounter in Eastern Europe.

Ginsberg’s travel arrangements were convoluted. The State Department, adhering to Cold-War era policies, did not allow Americans to fly directly to Cuba from the United States. Ginsberg would have to fly through Mexico City, and in order to return to the United States, he would have to travel to another Iron Curtain country, in this case, Czechoslovakia, before returning (Iron Curtain Journals 6). Ginsberg was initially excited, stating how “I was at last stepping on the giant bird to fly to the Island of Cuba and premonitions of Marxist Historical Revolutionary Futurity with Wagnerian Overtones lifted my heart, an abstract passion seized the airfield” (Iron Curtain Journals 7).

Initially enthusiastic about the prospect of witnessing a revolutionary government in practice, Ginsberg’s assumptions about Cuba would turn out to be incorrect. It is important to note here that criticism of censorship stood at the forefront of his public life. Lawrence Ferlinghetti had faced and won an obscenity trial in 1957 for publishing Ginsberg’s book Howl and Other Poems and months before traveling to Cuba, Ginsberg, along with Norman Mailer and other writers, testified in an obscenity trial on William S Burroughs’ novel Naked Lunch. Freedom of speech had always been a primary focus of Ginsberg’s work, and he felt the same level of openness must be applied to discussions of homosexuality and drug use, which were illegal in Cuba, where offenders were subject to capital punishment. 

Ginsberg was escorted around Havana by local writers and shown the nightlife of the El Vedado neighborhood. He gave poetry readings, wrote, and visited the beach. Ginsberg’s sexual encounters with the young writer Manuel Ballagas resulted in his deportation and Ballagas’ imprisonment. This marked the first serious run-in with authorities over the course of the 1965 trip, and an externality of his insistence on free expression. In the journals, he writes of his expulsion from the country and shows a level of self-awareness about who might be reading his journals and the importance of keeping his contacts anonymous, something he would do while traveling in Eastern Europe:

Three soldiers in olive green neat pressed uniforms…looking around the room. What did I have on me—the $10 for pot—that’s ok—I was moving around sort of blurrily looking for my underwear thinking— “My Notebook! Libreta de Technicos black notebook on the bed table—yesterday’s description of love scene with M. —Thank God I used his initials—but there’s still enough in there for them to get me on something political or amoral?— Will they search?

(Iron Curtain Journals 150)

During his stay, Ginsberg had spoken too freely about politics and sexuality for the Cuban authorities to tolerate and was forced to leave amid the controversy. In a letter to his father, he admitted that “I committed about every infraction of totalitarian laws I could think of, verbally, and they finally flipped out & gave me the bum’s rush…it was half Kafkian & half funny” (Iron Curtain Journals 161). Elsewhere in the journal is the brief inscription “Cuban military, American military, Vietnam military- the world is a mountain of dogs,” indicating his distaste for any authority, regardless of ideological stance (Iron Curtain Journals 157). He summed up his experience to Peter Orlovsky in a letter: “Cuba is both great and horrible, half police state, half happy summer camp – mixed” (Morgan 264).

Czechoslovakia: Part I

Ginsberg arrived in Prague in February and resolved to maintain a lower profile. He stayed quietly for a few weeks before traveling to Russia and Poland, and would return to Prague at the end of April. Ginsberg enjoyed his time in Prague, and held celebrity status among the city’s youth. He gave poetry readings at the Viola cafe, which allowed him to fund his side trip to the Soviet Union. He toured the city, museums, visited Kafka’s home and grave site, and found himself ruminating on the idea of the free spirit trapped within a totalitarian society. 

Soviet Union

March 18- My Slavic soul, we are coming home again—

once more on Red Square by Kremlin wall

              in the snow to sit and write Prophesy—

Prince-Comrades of Russia, I have

              come from America to lay my beard

              at your beautiful feet!

                                                          Trembling

in the Railway Station, amazed at the

              great red train Moscova—Prague—

The train doors open to the corridor—

              A Sealed train—Lenin was a trained

                             Seal—

I’ll trade you one diamond Sutra

              for 2 Communist Manifestos—

                             I am approaching the throne.

(Iron Curtain Journals 169)

Ginsberg’s time in the Soviet Union began with optimism. He saw himself as coming home to lay his beard at the feet of the nation. He went to the circus, the ballet, the theater, and wrote highly of the experiences. The journals present a narration of his travels that distill the essential features of a given scene or sequence:

In youth cafe—monk beard on a saxophone, the slow stately bounce, & the lovely echo on the clank plane. Many a youth & many a maid dancing on the wooden floor, modern lights hung from the ceiling, plastic tables, hot dogs & peas, ham & cheese, caviar & salmon, young kids in babushkas, one couple doing an Afric twist, middleaged Slavic beauties drinking sweet punch & coffee, a wine bottle at musician’s table, the band jumping and most of the dancers swaying back and forth slowly a food apart, a smart photog from a youth magazine with a giant eyed camera, the saxophonist gaunt & calm, intellectual, from behind with his sensitive fingers and delicate skull he looks like Jonas Mekas.

(Iron Curtain Journals 212)

His head-on encounters with authority would soon change this optimism. Authority was not only exercised in terms of who Ginsberg saw (his tour guides arranged meetings with state-approved poets like Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky) but also by who he did not see, like the poet Iosef Brodsky, who was serving a sentence of hard labor and whose poetry was denounced by the authorities as “pornographic and anti-Soviet.” He also had a hard time seeing Alexander Yessenin Volpin, who he was able to find on his last day. Ginsberg found out that he could have found Yessenin Volpin’s address in a common telephone book, something his tour guide was unwilling to help him with.

Ginsberg was initially taken with Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, perhaps the most popular in the Soviet Union at the time of his visit. He respected Yevtushenko’s oratory power and described a poetry reading, his command of the room, and his bulging venous neck muscles. In a drunken discussion (in broken Spanish), Ginsberg began to talk about the two subjects that resulted in his Cuban expulsion: drugs and sexuality. The more that Ginsberg talked about drugs around Yevtushenko, the more Yevtushenko seemed distant and uninterested. In the journals, Ginsberg recounted Yevtushenko’s response: “Please Allen, I like you, I like you as a poet, but these are your personal problems, please don’t speak to me about them. They are not interesting to me, I respect you as a great man, a great poet, but these two subjects homosexuality and narcotics are not known to me and I feel they are juvenile pre-occupations, they have no importance here in Russia to us, it only disturbs my impression of you- please don’t talk to me about these 2 matters” (Iron Curtain Journals 190). Yevtushenko’s wholesale dismissal of Ginsberg’s conversation illustrates the difference in the two poet’s approaches to dissent. The two nonetheless became familiar in a friendship that would last their whole lives, with Ginsberg returning twenty years later, in 1985, for another visit.

Yevtushenko’s reticence to embrace Ginsberg’s then-controversial stances makes sense, especially considering his illustrious position within the Soviet literary sphere. At all points in the journals, Ginsberg portrays Yevtushenko as stiff and overly-serious, yet willing to include the radical American in his social circle. Yevtushenko was concerned with Soviet-specific affairs and his poems grapple with the atrocities of war. Yevtushenko navigated a literary world under massive ideological control and would always have to be careful about his political critiques to survive. His poem “Babiyy Yar” protests the Soviet Union’s refusal to identify the Babi Yar massacre as a Holocaust site. The poem’s first line is “Над Бабьим Яром памятников нет” or  “There are no monuments over Babi Yar”. The poem denounced both Soviet historical revisionism and still-common anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union of 1961, focusing not only on the Nazi atrocities, but also on the Soviet government’s own persecution of the Jewish people (YIVO). “Babiyy Yar,” first circulated as samizdat, was published unofficially without state sanction.

In a sense, Ginsberg encountered some similar political risks in his early career. His most famous poem, “Howl” was a reaction to war and contains allusions to drugs, madness, and homosexuality and its publication led to an obscenity trial. However, it should be noted that the poetic atmosphere was significantly more tolerant in the United States and the horrors of the eastern front would have been much more immediate in Soviet poetics.

Yet both poems are burning missives, social critiques that invite emotional participation by the reader. Both “Babiyy Yar” and “Howl” are born from a sense of war-as-Hell. Both poets were tasked with creating art within the context of massive human and psychological devastation. The raw, instinctual, attention-getting, sorrowful language in both poems is born of the incomprehensible carnage of the Holocaust, the leveled cities in Europe, millions of civilians dead, and a new specter of atomic devastation. Indeed the “Beat experience” and Yevtushenko’s political awareness begin and end with war.

In Moscow Ginsberg was able to meet with long lost relatives, Joe and Anne Levy, organized in part by his father and brother Eugene.  Ginsberg’s interest in Russia dated back to his boyhood, when his mother, Naomi Ginsberg, an avowed communist, told young Allen and Eugene harrowing tales of the persecution of Jews in rural Russia, stories of the pogroms, and Cossacks charging on horses during village raids. He recounts the meeting with the Levys:

March 21- The Kremlin bells are tolling on the radio midnite Moscow—and the new Soviet anthem— Da dum da da dum—I light a long cardboard filtered Bebop Kasha cigarette— and now Tchaikovsky violins—I began to see the dream life of the past flit by—They were all cousins—and Memele, my maternal grandfather, who didn’t want to fite the Czar, went off to America (he bribed his way out) in company with J’s father — and Memele got to Ellis Island, and was admitted, while J’s father was rejected in 1904, he had a bald spot on his head suspected to be woeful or diseased…And some came across in 1907 because they had been in jail for revolutionary activities…so came to America—and I alone will someday know the ghost of this tale—

(Iron Curtain Journals 181)

As they share photographs and discuss the family’s immigration, Ginsberg writes of “the expression the sad tragic aloneness never changes in half a century, surviving them the unknown descendents—[Anne] and I were sad and tears rolled down our cheeks as we came to the end, the last pictures of the unknown newly grown children in America” (Iron Curtain Journals 182). The family reunion presents layers of abstraction between Ginsberg’s lived experience and the comfort of the narrative of ancestry. One is not able to simply plug back into one’s own family after generations. The episode brings into question the experience of children of emigres reuniting with the rest of the family and the mixed emotions that accompany such a reunification. 

Ginsberg spent much of his time in the Soviet Union lonely, so many journal entries describe loneliness and a growing feeling of alienation. His visits to state-sanctioned tour stops, museums, and cathedrals left him feeling conflicted. He visited Nevsky Prospect, Leningrad, where he looked at statues from Gogol and Pushkin stories. He met up with local puppeteers and unsuccessfully propositioned sex, but the boy preferred to trade with Ginsberg for his blue jeans and jacket. He returned to Moscow where he changed hotel rooms to gain an unobstructed view of Red Square at night and was able to extend his stay with Yevtushenko’s assistance.

Night

Red Square the Clang of Shusky Tower

              eleven times echoed from brick gothic towers

GUM blinding spotlights on Kremlin battlement

              a range of neon zooming across arched

                             display windows, 

Electricity gleaming on cobbles, electricity

              like power station cabaret of red marble

              atop Lenin’s tomb—

a lonely cop walking the asphalt street

              by the tribune—long coat & black 

              fur hat— I sit on the white bench—

orange lights in the arches of Gum say

              Gum—

A crowd gathered in the dark shade by

              Lenin’s portal to witness

the hourly goosestepping charge of the grey guard—

and rolled away like a tree when the 

              bell finished echo—    

(Iron Curtain Journals 212)

His perspective soured over the remainder his journey. He began to feel profoundly alone, and commented on the restrictions of Soviet society, similar to the ideological control that he encountered in Cuba. In a public poetry reading, he amended his poem “Death of van Gogh’s Ear,” which had criticized the US, to include the Soviet Union as part of the global problem. He equated capitalism and communism as two faces of the same bad deal, a sentiment that he would also describe in his poem “Kral Majales” and the collections Planet News and The Fall of America. In the journal, Ginsberg wrote “The Russians are trapped in Russia” (Iron Curtain Journals 244).

His view of regular people, however, was more forgiving. He said he saw people as Soviets, but then he saw them as God. Perhaps he saw people as individually holy, part of the World Soul or atman. The human soul is a concept he explored in much of his work, like in “Howl” where he wrote “Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity! Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!” He also said that in an orthodox church he first saw Christ on the cross as a religious figure worthy of serious consideration.

Long avenues, old palaces, old dungeons, 

Great gardens covered with mud, an iron

fence on the Neva waters dirty ice lakes, 

where Pushkin walked in springtime drowned

his heroine pique dame, the vast open space

surrounded by old low apartments where Dostoyevsky

trembled at the eternal hole in the barrel of Czarist rifles

and left reborn, now a children’s theater with Mickey

the Red Mouse, the giant dome and malachite

columns of St. Isaac’s, Kirov’s caricature

Christ and Holy Fools with magic signs & foetus

dinosaurs illustrating scientific method on 

Mosaic floors that eye trick solid space

(Iron Curtain Journals 202)

Ginsberg’s deployment of religious topics and imagery such as “Holy Fools with magic signs,” “Kirov’s caricature Christ,” and “malachite columns of St. Isaac’s” stand in stark contrast to intimations of scientific modernity, “the eternal hole in the barrel of Czarist rifles,” and “foetus dinosaurs illustrating scientific method on mosaic floors that eye trick solid space.” In this journal passage, Ginsberg considers the reflections of an Orthodox-Christian moral axis buried beneath Marxist-Leninist doctrine and distills the friction between the two into a pithy entry. Yet Ginsberg was no Christian. His divine intellectual-romantic ideal of salvation was the love of the world-soul. Ginsberg’s belief in this eternal and inherent nature of reality, expressed sometimes as the dharma, was central to Beat literature and to his later writing and spiritual practice. The idea that such a world-soul, which permeates matter so that matter is not just physically but morally sentient, relates directly to the “rebirth” of Pushkin and Dostoevsky as a children’s theater featuring a purported “Mickey the Red Mouse.” The suggestion of Disney’s Mickey Mouse satirizes the Soviet literary culture, equating it to the oversimplification and commercialization of American popular culture.

Read about Allen Ginsberg’s travels here.

Ginsberg’s belief in transcendence through repetitive chant is expressed a number of times throughout the journals, like when he chants Hare Krishna in a Cuban taxicab: “I pulled out my cybals and began singing very low OOOM OOM OOM SARAWA BUDA DAKINI VEH WANI YEH BENZA BERO TSA NI YEH HUM HUM HUM PHAT PHAT PHAT Hare Kirshna Hari Hari Krishna Krishna Hari Hari Hari Rama Hari Rama Rama Rama Hari Hari, singing easily and low for some time…it cleared my senses a bit, very useful and felt good steadying influence as we drove out thru city” (Iron Curtain Journals 153-4).[1] An awareness of such a world-soul was likely augmented by the use of psychedelic drugs and access to the counterculture of the 1950s and 60s, but the concept has deep roots in poetics. This concept of the world-soul was explored by his precursor Percy Bysse Shelley in poems like Queen Mab, in which he develops the image of fairies, of “viewless beings,” from which comes a portrait of the universal soul:

 Unrecognized, or unforeseen by thee

Soul of the Universe! Eternal spring

Of life and death, of happiness and woe

Of all that chequers the phantasmal scene

That floats before our eyes in wavering light

Which gleams but on the darkness of our prison

Whose chains and massy walls We feel, but cannot see

(Shelley et al. 50)

In the case of Orthodoxy, this “Soul of the Universe” would have been omnipresent in the grace of the divine Christian God. In the case of Queen Mab, one might speculate on whether something in Shelley (and by extension Ginsberg) was tugging him towards a Platonic-Kantian sense of some quasi-divine noumenal unifier of experience which is itself inaccessible to experience, or at least human sensory perception.

Poland and Czechoslovakia Part II

Ginsberg stayed in Warsaw for three weeks at the Europejski Hotel, first a guest of the ministry of culture, then as a tourist.  He summarized his stay as pleasant, stating how “I stayed alone mostly or drank with a young Rimbaud-ish Marlon Brando writer at Writer’s Union and long afternoons with editor of Jazz magazine who’d printed my poems, a Jewish good man who’d been in Warsaw Ghetto, escaped, and covered rest of war as journalist with Russian army and stood across river from Warsaw and saw the city destroyed by Germans and nationalist underground killed off” (Morgan 132). Ginsberg wrote several poems on this trip, including “Cafe in Warsaw” and “The Moments Return.” While in Poland, he developed a list of all of the places he had traveled to since 1946 and reflected upon his time spent abroad, referring to the travels as “Marco Polonian” (Iron Curtain Journals 275). Ginsberg also visited the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz on this leg of the journey, and his writing on the matter is somewhat terse and distracted.

Ginsberg’s time in Eastern Europe culminated in his return to Prague where he was elected King of May, or Kral Majales, by the student population of the technical university. The celebration was the first May day celebration in 20 years, and the parading around of a prominent countercultural icon like Ginsberg with his beard and cardboard crown was likely to stir the suspicions of the authorities. Ginsberg was quickly dethroned and his disruption of what the police thought would be an otherwise orderly affair resulted in his subsequent expulsion from the country. The official rationale for his removal was the discovery of inappropriate journal entries that the secret police obtained in a stolen journal. Luckily Ginsberg anticipated as much and kept many of the names of his contacts anonymous, assigning letters as names. Unfortunately, Ginsberg’s journal from this leg of the trip was never recovered. Along with the poems, it is now lost to time. The poem “Kral Majales” was written on the plane to London in reflection of this period of travel: 

And the Communists have nothing to offer but fat

              cheeks and eyeglasses and lying policemen

and the Capitalists proffer Napalm and money in 

green suitcases to the Naked, 

and the Communists create heavy industry but the

              heart is also heavy

and the beautiful engineers are all dead, the secret

              technicians conspire for their own glamour

in the Future, in the Future, but now drink vodka

              and lament the Security Forces, 

and the Capitalists drink gin and whiskey on air

              planes but let Indian brown millions starve…

The Travel Writing Origins of Ginsberg’s “Automatic Poetics”

In his journals, Ginsberg is often focused on his immediate surroundings, which were scribbled down as he dealt with the environments through which he passed. The resultant journal entry rendered the process by which the perception took place. This element of viewing informed his journals and his poetic work. His journals often contained lines and first drafts of poems, and his descriptions of quotidian scenes seem poetic. Note the “strands of tall, disciplined trees” in this journal entry:

March 18, 1965 – 3:58 p.m on train Prague-Moscow-late afternoon in compartment with Czech military attaches, travelling rocking thru sunlight by the river Elbe- Hares in the fields, a warm day, the snow of black Prague streets melted in green winter fields, many strands of tall disciplined trees; a brown landscape thru which Elbe flows to empty into N Sea? At Hamburg- 

Ginsberg’s observational techniques were synthesized from William Carlos Williams’s observation of the phenomenal to identify the “true value” of objects and Ezra Pound’s impressionistic “mimesis of perception,” and informed his poetics of modernist looking. Modernist looking describes the fundamental poetic act of employing visual perception to shift or metamorphose apprehension of the phenomenal world from the quotidian to the numinous (Jackson 299). Ginsberg combined this modernist looking with an automatic form of recording, specifically tape recording. Bob Dylan had given him six hundred dollars to buy what was in 1965 an exotic technological device: a state-of-the-art portable Uher tape recorder. Absorbing and benefiting from this combination of nontraditional poetic methods of observation and composition, Ginsberg arrived at his own poetics, and put them all to use in his work The Fall of America. In writing the work, Ginsberg, driven by Peter Orlovsky through a range of shifting American environments in his white Volkswagen camper, could make almost instantaneous notations and representations of reality, without having to scrawl in a notebook or type on a typewriter. For Ginsberg, “auto-poesy” meant a total disregard for a logical or rational ordering of experience, in order to re-create the unimpeded flow of his mind.

Through Ginsberg’s travel journaling, the novelty of the environments he passed through, the elements out of which the world is made are broken down into component parts, and the ordinary gestalt of perception is freshened, interrupted. The apprehended world is thus infused with poetic significance. In the limited space of the poem-world or the journal-world, these apprehended phenomenal elements ordinarily held in complex mutual dependency, elements like words, natural scenes, or points of view, are suddenly reconsidered. He deconstructs the familiar along the way, and records the essential, reconstituting it into a poetic form. 

Conclusions

It is no surprise that Ginsberg encountered so much friction during his travels. The journals from this period reinforce his pre-existing stature as a poet-provocateur. He is a perennial disruptor, and does not compromise his insistence on freedom of expression for any audience, regardless of ideological affiliation. He is essentially an anarchist, as he hates both the United States and Eastern European governments. He hates authority in any form. His childlike wonder and optimism about what communist nations might be like quickly gives way to an understanding that power expresses itself in similar ways. Whether he is in the US or the USSR, Ginsberg imagines the soul triumphant against what he sees as the infernal machinery of capitalism and communism, promising freedom for those who would join him and the rest of a new visionary generation.

This stance is especially apparent in the poetry that emerges from this period of travel, and in the subsequent collections of poetry Planet News and The Fall of America, in which he personified the national shift from one of idealistic optimism to one of beleaguered resignation. By 1968, the Tet Offensive meant the Vietnam War had taken a decisive turn for the worse. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy both frightened and sickened Ginsberg, who believed that his spiritual mentor Walt Whitman’s prophecy of America’s fall was materializing before his eyes. Indeed, Whitman warned of a time when social strife would undermine “Intense and loving comradeship…the counterbalance and offset of our materialistic and vulgar American democracy…without which it will be incomplete, in vain, and incapable of perpetuating itself” (Whitman 19). This national-spiritual nadir amplified his mournful, elegiac mode which had its start even in earlier poems like “Howl.” While he remained positive and optimistic in his outward persona, poems like “Ecologue” present his growing awareness of the flaws of the counterculture’s vision. Ginsberg wrote of a fractured utopia, and ways in which America will never be able to escape itself. Many of these concepts expressed in The Fall of America would not have been possible without the perspective gained through world travel. It would be impossible for an American to begin to understand America without first seeing the rest of the world, especially Soviet-aligned nations, in a time of such ideological cleavage. The poetic style that emerged from this period of travel represents the genesis of his “auto-poesy.”

Ginsberg’s journals were intended to be a private record. When he was on the road alone, he would fill notebook after notebook with whatever he felt like writing, whether that be detailed descriptions of his surroundings, conversations, summaries of daily life, drafts of new poems, random observations, dreams, or personal encounters. In addition to any ideological reflections, the journals from this period provide a window into his quiet, contemplative moments and considerations of his own mortality. In an entry, Ginsberg writes, “On this planet, I haven’t got much time—combing my hair in the mirror saw the spreading fields of white in my beard; never noticed so close before. That’s one thing beards are good for” (Iron Curtain Journals) No matter where on the globe he is, or who he is with, Ginsberg attempted to relate to himself and others on a human level, as a part of the world-soul, rather than as an American. It is this insistence on humanity that cements Ginsberg’s status as a true world citizen.

Bibliography

“Babi Yar.” YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, 2010, yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Babi_Yar.

 “BBC Face To Face Interview, 1994 (ASV#21).” The Allen Ginsberg Project, 27 Oct. 2019, allenginsberg.org/2011/11/bbc-face-to-face-interview-1994-asv21/.

“Expansive Poetics – (Shelley’s Ode To The West Wind).” The Allen Ginsberg Project, 5 Feb. 2020, allenginsberg.org/2013/12/expansive-poetics-6-ode-to-the-west-wind/.
Buckley, William. “The Avant Garde.” Firing Line, season 3, episode 18, WOR-TV, 1968. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OixwFNugZ4I

Gelpi, Albert. American Poetry after Modernism: the Power of the Word. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. City Lights Books, 2001.
Ginsberg, Allen, and Gordon Ball. Journals: Early Fifties, Early Sixties. Grove Press, 1992.
Ginsberg, Allen, and Michael Schumacher. Iron Curtain Journals: January-May 1965. University of Minnesota Press, 2018.
Ginsberg, Allen, et al. The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. Counterpoint, 2010.
Ginsberg, Allen. 6 May 1993. Series IIIc- Manuscripts and Books, Box 38, Folder 2. M0773 Allen Ginsberg Collection. Special Collections Division, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, CA. 29 July 2020.
Ginsberg, Allen. Airplane Dreams: Compositions from Journals. House of Anansi, 1969.
Ginsberg, Allen. Indian Journals. City Lights Books, 1970.
Ginsberg, Allen, and Michael Schumacher. South American Journals: January-July 1960. University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Ginsberg, Allen. The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971. City Lights, 2001.

Ginsberg, Allen, and Michael Schumacher. South American Journals: January-July 1960. University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Ginsberg, Allen, and Michael Schumacher. The Fall of America Journals: 1965-1971. University of Minnesota Press, 2020.

Hyde, Lewis, et al On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg. University of Michigan Press, 1984.

Morgan, Bill. Beats Abroad – a Global Guide to the Beat Generation. City Lights Books, 2016.

Pinkus, Benjamin. Jews of the Soviet Union: the History of a National Minority. Cambridge U.P., 1990.

Ramazani, Jahan, et al. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. W.W. Norton, 2003.

Schumacher, Michael. Dharma Lion: A Biography of Allen Ginsberg. University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe, et al. Percy Bysshe Shelley: the Major Works. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Trigilio, Tony. Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist Poetics. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.

Whitman, Walt, et al. Walt Whitman. Viking Press, 1974.


[1] Ginsberg would go on to perform the Hare Krishna mantra on a 1968 episode of William F. Buckley Jr.’s television program Firing Line in an attempt to end the war in Vietnam, to which Buckley replied “That is the most un-harried krishna I’ve ever heard.” Ginsberg discusses the world-soul on the program. Link in bibliography.

Mike Breger

Mike Breger is a poet, writer, and graduate student at Stanford University who researches poetics at the mid-century. His work can be found in McSweeney's and an assortment of international academic publications.

Recent Posts

Review: Fear and Loathing in Aspen

The life and work of Hunter S. Thompson has long appealed to filmmakers, yet no…

4 days ago

Podcast About the Beat Generation

In a recent episode of Wondros, a podcast hosted by Jesse Dylan and Pricilla Cohen,…

2 weeks ago

Review: The Beats, by Steven Belletto

In 2020, Cambridge University Press published The Beats: A Literary History, by Steven Belletto, author…

2 months ago

The Change: Allen Ginsberg, Reborn

This essay was originally published in Beatdom #21. On July 18th, 1963, Allen Ginsberg sat…

2 months ago

Beatdom #22 – The Jack Kerouac Centenary Edition

Every year, we pick a theme for the next installment of Beatdom. In the past,…

2 months ago

The Beats: A Teaching Companion

Clemson University and the Beat Studies Association have been working together on a series of…

3 months ago

This website uses cookies.