NYC OFF THE RECORD: Hello, Allen Ginsberg

Inspired by conversations with my brother and having just seen the newly acquired film KILL YOUR DARLINGS at Sundance – I FINALLY picked up my first copy of HOWL. Mostly, it lives on my bedstand and is the last thing I read before sleep. But recently, this epic poem published in 1956, and considered to be one of the great works of American literature, has found it’s way into my purse, igniting my inner poet by way of commuter rail – NYC.

As it often happens when one jumps in, the world aligns – and in my case, I’m seeing Allen Ginsberg celebrated, everywhere!

“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,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war ” ~ Allen Ginsberg

BEAT MEMORIES The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg. A self guided walking tour, Beat Generation spring calendar of events and NYC’s annual HOWL Festival.


[Reprinted from “The Puritan and The Profligate,” an interview with Allen Ginsberg in A Magazine of American Culture , published in Rockford, Illinois. The interview was conducted by John Lofton, a former columnist for The Washington Times.]

JOHN LOFTON: In the first section of your poem “Howl” you wrote: “I saw the best young minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” Did this also apply to you?

ALLEN GINSBERG: That’s not an accurate quotation. I said the “best minds,” not “the best young minds.” This is what is called hyperbole, an exaggerated statement, sort of a romantic statement. I suppose it could apply to me too, or anybody. People who survived and became prosperous in a basically aggressive, warlike society are in a sense destroyed by madness. Those who freaked out and couldn’t make it, or were traumatized, or artists who starved, or whatnot, they couldn’t make it either. It kinda cuts both ways. There’s an element of humor there.

LOFTON: When you say you suppose this could have applied to you, does this mean you don’t know if you are mad?

GINSBERG: Well, who does? I mean everybody is a little mad.

LOFTON: But I’m asking you.

GINSBERG: You are perhaps taking this a little too literally. There are several kinds of madness: divine madness—

LOFTON: But I’m talking about this in the sense you spoke of in your 1949 poem “Bop Lyrics,” when you wrote: “I’m so lucky to be nutty.”

GINSBERG: You’re misinterpreting the way I’m using the word.

LOFTON: No. I’m asking you a question. I’m not interpreting anything.

GINSBERG: I’m afraid that your linguistic presupposition is that “nutty” as you define it means insanity rather than inspiration. You are interpreting, though you say you aren’t, by choosing one definition and excluding another. So I think you’ll have to admit you are interpreting.

LOFTON: Actually, I don’t admit that.

GINSBERG: You don’t want to admit nuttin’! But you want me to admit something. Come on. Come off it. Don’t be a prig.


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