Allen Ginsberg and Herbert Huncke – SFSU 1967

Herbert Huncke and Allen Ginsberg together on East 10th Street, New York City,  three years later, 1970 – Photograph by Ann Charters

From the invaluable trove at San Francisco State University’s Poetry Center Digital Archive –  Allen Ginsberg and Herbert Huncke reading on February 7, 1967

This historic event can be heard in its entirety here

Mark Linenthal (of SFSU) begins by noting upcoming events and a visit to the campus by film-maker Stan Brakhage.
He then turns to the business of the evening, introducing Herbert Huncke and Allen Ginsberg.

ML: “I want to welcome  Herbert Huncke and Allen Ginsberg to the Poetry Center and to the campus of San Francisco State College. Allen is going to read first and then we’ll have a break and everybody can stand up and stretch and we can open the doors  (oh, the doors are open!), everyone can stand up and stretch, and then Herbert will read.

As most of you know Mr Herbert Huncke is an old friend of Allen’s, it’s appropriate then to have Allen introduce him to you. Allen Ginsberg needs no introduction but I would like to call attention to his extreme importance. I want to suggest what I think his role has been in changing the way in which we experience our experience, that is, in actually changing us.”

Linenthal goes on to introduce Allen within the context of “the New Criticism“:

“The so-called modern poetry of the 1930’s and (19)40’s, the poetry on which I was raised, was famous for difficulty and for complexity. It was the poetry which the so-called New Criticism explained and was deeply affected by the New Criticism. It was essentially, I think, dramatic or dialectical, (not that it presented characters on a stage but it did present an agon or conflict of attitudes. As such, it tended to establish or communicate its meanings by setting limits). It seemed to say, that poetry seemed to say, that a meaningful life depends primarily on our discovery and acceptance of boundaries, of limitations. The poetry of the poem, people used to say, the expressiveness of the poem, arises not from any single element but from structure, from organization, and the organized interplay of the various parts, and these parts were felt to be significant because of the way in which they impinged upon each other. This was a poetry of artifice, of paradox intention. The fashionable poem was a beautiful and self-contained unit. It stood at a certain distance from life, (usually a comfortable distance), and it lent itself to disinterested aesthetic examination and analysis.

I can remember my own excitement at Allen Ginsberg’s early readings of “Howl in San Francisco, and in Berkeley shortly before that book was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Those readings gave us permission.They renewed the lyric possibility. They said that what is important is not a sense of boundary or of limitation, but the release of energy, the expression of possibility. They said that we ought to speak with candor, that our own lives are worthy of expression, and that we can, and must, speak of those lives in our own voices. For more than ten years [sic – this is 1967],  Allen Ginsberg has insisted upon this candor, this worthiness, this freedom. For us, he has been what (Walt) Whitman has been for him, a “courage teacher“. I am proud to present Allen Ginsberg.”


Allen begins (for approximately the first fourteen minutes) with chanting

AG: (I’ll) begin with chanting, the Prajnaparamita Sutra, in Sino-Japanese, and then in an English translation which was prepared by the Reverend (Shunryu) Suzuki of the Bush Street Soto Zen Meditation Center

AG continues:

“I published in the last year or so a bunch of different texts which were done on a tape-recorder traveling through the country. Wichita Vortex Sutra” was in The Berkeley Barb and in the last issue of Ramparts – (Ramparts,  before this, had a long  piece about how big is the prick of the President). Now this is a continuation of that same material but none of it has been published [sic – editorial note – was, of course, subsequently, published – this is 1967] – So I’ll be reading you things from hand-scrawled notebooks that I ‘ve taken down from dictation – Hiway Poesy – LA-Albuquerque” and Kansas City to Bloomington” [Allen reads extensively from “Wichita Vortex Sutra”]

“Next is a long section of the same poem, called Iron Horse”, written on the train, Santa Fe,  between San Francisco and Chicago, plus a little epilogue in the bus between Chicago and New York.” – “Night darkening on Mohave desert…”
[note – there is a brief break in the tape at approximately forty-eight minutes in when the audio is replaced by Allen chanting, the reading from “Iron Horse” however  continues shortly after –  “I want to go out in a car and not leave word where I’m going..”] 

The second half of the reading (as announced) is Herbert Huncke. Allen makes the (brief) introduction



Herbert Huncke – photo by Magnus Reed

AG: And now I want to introduce someone who I think is a major American prose writer. His work will be published, probably later this year, by Grove Press [editorial note – sadly, this was not to be], an older fellow, who was my teacher and guruboth in language and perception, Mr Herbert Huncke

HH: I’m afraid my voice will sound pale next to Allen’s, he’s always so vibrant, you know. As a sort of introduction, I’ll read “Song of Self” – “Herbert E Huncke. My name – although I’m generally known as Huncke and by a few as Herbert and in the past as Herbie…”…”It wasn’t long after I began travelling and ceased to call Chicago my home.”

I’m going to catch a little of each of the so-called moods, I guess, I’ve written in from time to time. I think I’ll try, let’s see “In the Park” next, since this is one of Allen’s favorites

Well, I might as well try one more here that’s… I’ll read this for Mrs Linenthal who asked me to. This is called “The Magician “ (Incidentally, I think I’ll start by making a little comment. All the things I’ve ever written have always been about myself. I can’t imagine anyone being in doubt about that after hearing any of my stories, but at a reading that I first gave when I came to San Francisco I had read this..well, anyway one of the stories, and I had thought that I had established rapport. ApparentlyI hadn’t, because I was questioned very closely by several very sharp-witted young men as to what did I mean by several of these characters, that… what was I thinking about when I introduced them into the story, etcetera. So, just to clarify, these people are people that I have known and that I  have been involved with. In this, I used, something I seldom try to do but somehow or another I got around to trying to introduce a little imagination into the thing, so one or two instances, which you’ll recognize, are  of course slightly imaginary. But, any rate..)

This is recent and hasn’t been published and maybe never will be, I don’t know.. [Editorial note – Huncke is speaking in 1967, it was subsequently published, along with the bulk of his stories some years later in The Herbert Huncke Reader] ..I don’t know how much you people know about me as a person, my habits and so forth. I’m a drug addict, or have been a drug addict, all my life. Last year I made several attempts to withdraw. Physically, it was accomplished, but you know… anyway, each time I went into the same hospital, Manhattan General, which has a program set up for drug addicts – they give you a methadone withdrawal treatment, which is pretty effective. It’s good, as a matter of fact. Anyway, the whole set-up is kind of amusing, and I got so I enjoyed going! – Anyway.. I’ve written a couple of stories, I got a couple of stories out of it and this was the last story called “Joseph Martinez

I wrote this this morning, about.. I don’t know what time it was.. about three o’clock in the morning, I guess, not very much, let’s see how it sounds – Tuesday February 7 1967 Again, morning, early, in a whole new confusion and muddle-ness and my feelings about even trying to look toward the next ten hours much less thinking about the future..”..”…and we are still together, Janine, Serge and me..”

This, I think, should just about do it, it’s called “The Sea Voyage” (“Phil awakened me early in the morning…”….”Phil left me in front of the apartment after we had made arrangements for a meet the following day and I went upstairs and rolled up the last of that fine Panamanian pot, flopped down and got stoned thinking about Jaco, Victor, the Caribbean sea, and the whole trip.”

Herbert Huncke with Allen Ginsberg – photo by Magnus Reed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *