Recent Ginsberg volumes – The Essential Ginsberg (from HarperCollins) and Wait Till I’m Dead – UnCollected Poems (from Grove Press) – here’s Library Journal‘s cogent and informative appraisals of the books:
“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 involvement in 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, Wait Till I’m Dead:
“Much more than a footnote to 2006’s massive Collected Poems, 1947–1997, this carefully chosen gathering of Ginsberg’s fugitive pieces, some unpublished and others long buried in obscure magazines, spans his college days in the 1940s through 1996, the year before his death at age 70. For five decades Ginsberg adhered to a personal ars poetica (“I must write down/ every recurring thought —/ stop every beating second”), which for better or for worse influenced generations of poets beyond the Beats. An example of this spontaneous aesthetic at its liveliest is the heretofore uncollected “NY to San Fran,” a 27-page Whitmanic reverie of hallucinogenic scope the poet set down in a notebook during a 1965 crosscountry flight. But Ginsberg could pivot when appropriate, as in the formal unpublished elegy to his father, the poet Louis Ginsberg, composed in 1976.
VERDICT: Together with the editor’s informative notes, this volume not only complements its larger predecessor but similarly offers an impressionistic microhistory of the 20th-century American counterculture, its restless consciousness and broad emotional register filtered through the unbridled visions of one of its most outspoken icons. Ginsberg fans and scholars alike will appreciate the wealth of new material included.”
Some recent news that we’ve missed:
Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, the Qatari poet who we reported on this time last year, has finally been pardoned and released (after being imprisoned, shockingly, for almost five years, for, as Carles Torner, international executive director of PEN, has noted, “simply reciting a poem in private”. Al-Ajami was arrested in Doha in 2011 on charges of “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime” and “insulting the Emir” relating to the content of two of his poems. The charges were brought after recordings of him reciting his poems at private gatherings were published on line.
The Washington Post reports on a rare Walt Whitman letter, written for a dying (Civil War) soldier, found in the National Archives.
(which reminds us, recalling this aspect of Whitman, of Charley Shively‘s moving anthology of just such letters, Drum Beats – Walt Whitman’s Civil War Boy Lovers, now regretfully out-of-print, from Gay Sunshine Press.
Wednesday night (this coming Wednesday, March 30th, coming up) at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences – “The Poetry of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg for Baritone and String Quartet” – How proud Allen was of his membership of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences! – David Kravitz and the Arneis Quartet are the performers featured
& (hot damn!) ;
Allen’s “Plutonian Ode” made it, a week or two back, as a clue in the crossword puzzle in the New York Times!