The Essential Ginsberg

Next Tuesday (May 26th) is the official publication-date for the new Allen Ginsberg book (published by HarperCollins in the United States and by Penguin in the United Kingdom and Australia) – The Essential Ginsberg (a vital – indeed, essential – 400-page plus compendium, covering the entire range of his art, skillfully edited by his biographer, Michael Schumacher – curiously, the first such one-volume survey).

Lawrence Ferlinghetti notes that it is “An intellectually impeccable selection, distilling Ginsberg as visionary mystic and dark prophet foretelling what people in power didn’t want to hear”.Michael McClure writes: “In these memory orchards Allen Ginsberg flashes from the divinely practical to inspired songs and factual revelations..They shine on the future”. Anne Waldman wryly observes: “When planet earth is dust, The Essential Ginsberg will be one of the books to take to Mars to remember us by”.

Here is the starred review that appeared in Library Journal:

“The work and not just the poetry of Ginsberg (1926-97), one of 20th-century America’s most important and notorious literary figures has finally been given the career-arching overview it deserves. Schumacher (Dharma Lion) has compiled the poet’s greatest hits into this volume, including the regularly-anthologized, “Howl, “Kaddish”, “A Supermarket In California”, “America”, and “Kral Majales”. What distinguishes this book from other posthumous Ginsberg collections is that it also presents small samples of his songwriting, essays, interviews, letters, journal excerpts, and understated photography. Ginsberg’s position at the center of the Beat movement is made clear through Schumacher’s selections which highlight his key relationships with Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, Neal Cassady, among others. Similarly, his involvementin the burgeoning American counterculture of the 1950s and 1960s is at the heart of many of these selections. By making this volume similar to the ones in Viking’s “Portable Library” series, Harper Perennial  has all but ensured the book’s place in university classrooms for years to come.

VERDICT:  An essential starting-point for any reader encountering the artist’s still-controversial work for the very first time.”

and from Kirkus Review:

“A representative sampling from an iconic American poet. A prolific poet and political gadfly, Ginsberg (1926-1997) never wrote an autobiography, but he did keep journals, write letters to fellow poets, and reflect on his life and work in interviews and essays. Schumacher..Ginsberg’s biographer, offers a well-chosen selection of his writings in this copious collection: 34 poems, including the famous “Howl” and “Kaddish“; 10 essays, including his testimony regarding>LSD before a special Senate Judiciary Committee ; assorted journal entries from 1949 to 1969, several unpublished; two lengthy interviews; and a dozen letters to prominent Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Burroughs and Robert Creeley. Forthright about fueling his creativity with a cornucopia of drugs, Ginsberg expounds on his interest in “all states of consciousness”: dreams, spiritual ecstasy, and “preconscious, quasi-sleep” states. Besides Emerson, Thoreau Whitman and Blake, he cites as influences William James especially Varities of Religious Experience, and the poetry of James’ student Gertrude Stein. In an “Independence Day Manifesto” in 1959, he proclaimed that America “is having a nervous breakdown”, intent on oppressing poets for their allegedly anti-social behavior. But in a country “gone mad with materialism, a police-state America, a sexless and soulless America”, poetry offered solace and wisdom. “Poetry”, he contended, “is the record of individual insights into the secret soul of the individual and…into the soul of the w orld”. A few years later, he again chided Americans for living in a “mental dictatorship” of materialism and conformity. If his solution – everyone should try LSD once – seems capricious, his critique is likely to resonate with contemporary readers. Except for brief introductions to the journal entries, Schumacher allows the selections to stand alone as testimony to an often outrageous, groundbreaking poet and tireless social activist.”

One comment

Leave a Reply

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