A couple of weeks back (yes, it’s taken us that long to recover from all of the travel!) Allen was honored as one of the national heroes of the liberation struggle for the creation/establishment of the modern state of Bangladesh .“September on Jessore Road”, it seems, had, in 1971, an extraordinary effect in publicizing the appalling plight of the refugees and spreading word on the refugee-crisis there. Bob Rosenthal and Peter Hale, of the Ginsberg Estate, flew out to the official ceremonies to accept the award on Allen’s behalf.
Here’s a few notes about (and selected images from) what was, clearly, a truly remarkable occasion…
Bob Rosenthal – “(Shortly after our arrival) Peter and I traded stories for a TV crew documenting the events – they wanted to know all about “September on Jessore Road”, and how Allen felt about Bangladesh, and we told how Allen had most wanted to impress Bob Dylan and John Lennon with the long song. John suggested that Allen record it with a string quartet [and he subsequently did so]. I read the entire poem for the cameras without sleep and feeling the strong emotions associated with the entire event. I actually shed tears while reading the text. I was learning that the Bangladeshis are a proud, friendly people, they never forget their friends – nor will they (easily) forgive their enemies.”
“(Initially) No schedules were offered. Finally, Peter asked, “how many honorees are there?” – “Seventy – and, with families, about one-hundred-and-fifty ” (was the reply). [indeed, Allen was just one of a large number of those honored, drawing from a range of nationalities]. Incredulous, we made the man repeat the statement.”
“The auditorium was filled and the balcony was packed with uniformed school-children in white tops and black pants or skirts. The first minister read the long detailed description of each honoree’s deeds. This recitation took about forty minutes. The children were getting restless and a low murmur arose from the balcony. Everyone ignored the children as they got louder and louder. The slow reading just carried on. I stayed awake watching people in the audience and fantasizing about their lives. Next, we were called up individually to receive the wooden honor from the Prime Minister. The award is a plaque in a stand with brass inscribed plates on the base. The award comes apart and fits neatly into the wooden box, (and) in your jute bag. As soon as I had bowed to the PM and taken the award back to my seat, a young soldier took the wooden box and award and returned with it neatly boxed.”
(After the ceremony) We had a three-hour boat ride with food and entertainment. Bangladeshi patriotic songs and dances were performed. After lunch a young college student named Mohammed Al-Amin translated two verses of “September on Jessore Road” and we read the verse alternating between the original and the Bengali….”
Peter Hale – “Two weeks ago, Bob Rosenthal and I had the pleasure of flying to Dhaka to receive an honor on Allen’s behalf from the government of Bangladesh. The current government were honoring Allen along with 70 0ther people and their families for their support of Bangladesh during their 1971 Liberation War against West Pakistan, as it was known at the time. Many of the honorees were journalists, politicians, descendants of generals, doctors, Red Cross volunteers – even magicians! – who had, in some way, tended to, or publicized the plight of the Bangladeshis and the genocide that was underway
What did Allen do to be so worthy of this gratitude, some 42 years later? – In 1971, he wrote the poem “September on Jessore Road”, his vivid recollections of the Jessore Road refugee camp on the Indian side of the border, where, literally, millions of families and orphans had sought protection from the brutal Pakistani onslaught. You really can’t over-estimate the importance placed on the poem, its significance for the country .[Moushumi Bhoumik’s haunting version did much to spread the word] Students are asked, “who is Allen Ginsberg?” for college-entrance exams, and most moderately-educated Bengalis will know who he is, if only for just that one poem! – Probably no surprise, since Bangladesh puts a high value on literature. Their national anthem, “Amar Shonar Bangla” is a (Rabindranath) Tagorepoem, after all. ”
Feted in Bangladesh, meanwhile lambasted this past week in Arica, Chile. “Allen Ginsberg no debiera ser leido por nadie” is the stunning quote (uttered by a public official, one Ana Montiglio) – “Allen Ginsberg should not be read by anyone”!) – All this part of an ill-advised witch-hunt against poet-teacher Daniel Rojas Pachas for, inadvertently, “exposing” Allen in a workshop (on craft book-making, no less) to “minors”. More in the Spanish-language press (see, for example, here)
Remember Occupy Wall Street? (we hope it’s not so swiftly forgotten!). Remember in New York the desecration of the People’s Library? The Library won an important battle in court this week. “The City of New York and Brookfield Properties (the owner of the park) agreed to pay more than $230,000 to settle a law-suit filed last year in Federal District Court asserting that books and other property had been damaged or destroyed when police and sanitation workers cleared an encampment from Zuccotti Park..”
Emily Fulop’s Jericho and Other Poems is an interesting little book arising out of that struggle, shamelessly modeling itself on Allen’s City Lights Howl. As Emily herself writes: “On September 17, 2011, after months of planet earth reverberating from change, Americans came together…Disturbed by the politics of our time, and the disillusionment of those in power – the howling began. That howl was “We are the 99%”.In response to a world writhing with such energy I was inspired to howl myself. So, in loving memory to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, I offer up my own”..