“Allen Ginsberg’s harshest critics have claimed that he published every word he’d ever written, regardless of value as poetry.
This, of course, is nonsense. As someone who has seen all of his journals, I can attest to the fact that he published only a small portion of his writings. There are some real jewels buried in his journals, just as there were numerous published poems that neither made his small poetry books nor his gigantic 1,200-page, posthumously issued Collected Poems.
Beat Generation scholar Bill Morgan, who compiled Ginsberg’s bibliography, catalogued his archives, wrote a biography of Ginsberg, and edited six volumes of his letters and journals, has sifted through scores of old poetry pamphlets and journals, newspapers, magazines and other sources to gather what he considers to be the best of Ginsberg’s uncollected poems. The resulting volume, Wait Till I’m Dead(Grove Press), touches on Ginsberg’s writings from six decades, beginning with the poet’s earliest work and concluding when he was growing old and ruminating about his mortality and the deaths of some of his closest friends.
Most appeared in tiny publications, many no longer in existence. A handful were never published at all. Morgan arranges the poems in chronological order, broken into sections arranged by decades, with annotations that offer readers brief histories of the works.
All this makes me think of how Ginsberg’s friend, Bob Dylan, would write and record wonderful songs that were never included on his albums, but which are now being released as part of his Bootleg Series. Some of Ginsberg’s poems, like Dylan’s songs, were crying out to be issued in a wide-circulation format, and Wait Till I’m Dead, similar to Dylan’s better Bootleg Series albums, gives you a look at the lifelong development of the artist, as well as offering meritorious work.
I’m partial to Ginsberg’s travel poems, which seem to find him at his most observant of detail; this book offers a strong sampling, from the long “New York to San Fran” to a few outtakes from his National Book Award-winning The Fall of America. “Notice what you notice,” Ginsberg advised, and what he noticed was an enormous range of interests, from the banal to the sublime. I’ve always been impressed by how Ginsberg’s poems never seem to age, how his mind remained fresh until his final days. His publisher claims this will be his “final major contribution.” Knowing what’s still out there, hidden in his journals, I wouldn’t bet on it.
In the meantime, we have Morgan to thank for assembling another volume from one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.”
One of the most rare (and seemingly unlikely) Ginsberg items – Allen’s direct connection to “hard-core” – “Hard-core legend”, Harley Flanagan‘s 1976 children’s book, Stories & Illustrations by Harley (surely the only children’s book Allen ever wrote an introduction to!)
This is what he wrote (on May 6, 1976):
“Harley Flanagan lives in Denmark. He is nine years old. He started this story in Morocco. The Shopkeeper and The Donkey. His mother, Rosebud was a Lower East Side hippie, and a friend of mine. Harley is also a friend of mine since he was a year old. We lived on a farm together. I’m glad he grew up to be an Artist. His sense of perspective is vast. His choise [sic] of details, mud-wall bricks, triangular mountains, arabic writing on bottles, paths of the Bee to the Moon, baloons [sic] with big music notes out of the mouth, teeth in the sun, big donkey ears – is bold and smart. I’m proud to know he is a member of the Sensitive Family.”
Harley puts the book in context: “I have often been asked about the book of poetry I did when I was a kid with the introduction by Allen Ginsberg. Well this is the story…
When I was a kid in the early 70’s, me my mother and my stepfather traveled to Morocco, and while living there at the foothills of the Atlas mountains I wrote and drew two short stories, it wasn’t poetry at all. One was about a Shopkeeper his donkey and a bee, the other was a story made up only of drawings involving a saber-tooth tiger family and some sort of mammoth or elephant and their fight for survival. Maybe a year or two after I had drawn this little book and stapled it together, for whatever reason, this Danish press, called Charlatan Press, decided it was amazing child art, or something to that effect, and wanted to put it out, so (much to my embarrassment) it came out, nearly three years after I had drawn and written it. Allen Ginsberg was a friend of my mother and my family, I had known him since birth. He did the introduction for it.
The funny thing is Allen, one of the most important writers of his age, he did the introduction for the book, and if you look at the cover you’ll notice that the press spelled his name wrong! [Ginsburg again! – see here]
This book is very rare and was on display in the children’s museum of NYC [Editorial note – the children’s center at the New York Public Library] right next to the original copy of Winnie the Pooh. My Mother was extremely proud and went there to take pictures of the display.”
Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since 1976, since those “hippie” days, Harley did indeed become “an Artist” (tho’ perhaps not quite the kind that Allen expected!) – “…cheated of rocknroll money, twenty thousand people in stadiums/cheering his tattooed skinhead murderous Hare Krishna vegetarian drum lyrics”, as Allen remembers him, (from his 1992 poem, “The Charnel Ground”). Harley has a new (very different) book coming out Hard-Core – Life Of My Own, his memoirs (due out from Feral House in September) and new CD of his genre-defining music (more details here)
Coming soon, series 6, the next installment of the extraordinary Lost & Found – CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. For the previous five series (a positive cornucopia of poetics rediscoveries – in short – and not so short – pamphlets) – see here
William Burroughs‘ The Travel Agency Is On Fire was one of the titles in the last series, Gregory Corso‘s Naropa Lectures 1981 (edited by William Camponovo, Mary Catherine Kinniburgh and Oyku Tekten with a preface by Anne Waldman), spearheads the new series. But, singling these out does a disservice to the range and relevance and intelligence of the endeavor. They are essential books.
Jay Babcock, Larry “Ratso” Sloman, and Michael Simmons‘ oral history, of another historic counter-cultural moment, the Yippie 1967 Exorcism of the Pentagon, “Out Demons Out“, (originally published in 2004 in Arthur magazine), can likewise be read in its entirety – here
Big news – Jack Kerouac’s French writings (scheduled to be published-in-translation and included in a new volume published by the Library of America, later in the year) appeared this month (in their original language) from Les Editions du Boreal in Montreal.