The South American Journals

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the official publication date for Allen Ginsberg – South American Journals (January-July 1960), the second of a three-volume collection of Allen’s journals, edited by Michael Schumacher and published by the University of Minnesota Press Iron Curtain Journals (January-May 1965) was published last year, the final volume,The Fall of America Journals, is forthcoming.

From the publisher’s note

“When Allen Ginsberg went to South America in 1960, ostensibly to attend a literary conference, he had a different kind of trip in mind. This would be another experience in the Beat poet’s journey deep into the realm of consciousness, the inward travel explored to exhilarating effect in his writing—whether in the poetry that had already earned him international acclaim or in the idiosyncratic journals that raised self-documentation to a new form of art. In his South American Journals, covering a tumultuous six months, Ginsberg describes his travels through Chile and Peru, his visit to Machu Picchu, and his search for a source for ayahuasca, or yagé, a mind-expanding drug recommended by his friend William S. Burroughs, another writer well traveled in altered states of consciousness.

Far from quotidian diary entries, Ginsberg’s observations in these pages, interspersed with poetry, dream notations, and musings about spirituality, amount to a critical chapter in the poet’s informal autobiography. Writing more during these six months than in any of his other journals, Ginsberg summons great ferment. In his distinctive accounts of all that he encounters, elevating travel writing to lyrical expression; in an abundance of poems published here for the first time, in both first drafts and polished forms; in his reports of fascinating conversations; and, in particular, in detailed passages that delve into inner recesses of his consciousness, Ginsberg recreates a journey like no other, one that reflects the workings of one of the best minds of his generation in the world of his own making and in its mysterious, immutable counterpart in the South American landscape.”

Nicanor Parra, Miguel Grinberg & Allen Ginsberg in Havana, Cuba, February 1965

Here’s Publishers Weekly

“Scholars and fans will appreciate the rich source material and skillful editing in this generous edition of the poet’s South American journals, from Ginsberg biographer Schumacher (Dharma Lion). Chronicling a six-month trip through Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru in 1960, the journals include observations on South American life and politics, recollections of vivid dreams and random thoughts, and drafts of many poems published later, here seen in their original context. Ginsberg’s erotic longings appear recurrently—especially those for lover Peter Orlovsky, though in Peru, Ginsberg records in detail an erotic dream featuring friend Neal Cassady—as do unvarnished glimpses of mid-century queer culture. The journals also reveal Ginsberg’s sense of encroaching age—at only “33 1/2” years old—and longing for bygone days with such fellow beat writers as Kerouac (“All that time in San Francisco’s gone away—but could come back if we all collected there again”) even as he seeks to expand his mental horizons through the psychedelic drug ayahuasca. Perhaps most notably, the book reveals Ginsberg’s raw poetic talent: even in rough draft, his compositions often soar. Graced with a clear chronology and with facsimiles of original journal pages, this well-edited volume offers a welcome addition to Beat Generation scholarship.”

from Michael Schumacher’s introduction:

“These journals act as a bridge between Ginsberg’s earlier writings about widening his consciousness and his Indian Journals, written while he and Peter Orlovsky traveled to India and stayed on the subcontinent for more than a year”…”By the time Ginsberg left for South America, Burroughs had begun his “cut-up” writings found in his most experimental work. He created new ideas by joining two different thoughts into a new one, not unlike the visions he had seen under the influence of ayahuasca. Ginsberg, on the other hand, was much more interested in the spirituality in his poetry, which was made more personal in its leaning.”

and, from elsewhere:  “Allen Ginsberg was fond of his South American journals, and he spoke of his hope of eventually seeing them in print. He talked to me about it on a couple of occasions, and I have no doubt that, had he lived and somehow found the time, he would have overseen their editing and publication. My first obligation in editing this book was to him, and I worked on the manuscript as if he were still alive, using his exacting eye to judge my efforts..”

A few random excerpts (but the book is a cornucopia – (and of a variety of forms – dreams, memories, observations, aphorisms, poems, drafts for what might be poems..)

Jan 27, 1960 – “My train from Concepcion to Teraico 3rd class – 6 AM, drank posole & farina & water – Peace to the white horse standing by the seawall at Bio Bio. In our ear, young kid selling huge Chaplinesque fish, singing began, a lady sitting on a bench over the fish – 2 vendors of nations (handkerchiefs, knives, needles) (whistles) – Vendors of bread, bitter peas, peaches – And how nice to sit in the market at some town in Chile and stare happily at a table full of flies.”…

Feb 2 – Al Volcan Osorno – Sun across the lain from the train Vaster each time I look.Old lady with a White Shawl, Stuid. mount! Diminishing head! Arms outstretched in power over the Andes. Sunlight now on the Crown Each side a broken inferior mount, Puntagudo’s broken Cock, Calbuco’s snowless nearly rags – Brother Andes ranged behind black in the afternoon or Snow cragged too.”…

Feb 16 – One day in Anoud – Walk with the Journalists  of Southern Cross (Cruz del Sur)  and later that nite to the Electric power-plant – high stacks of wood, of branches and split trunks, a great wall of broken trees, stacked against the factory, the electric factory, then talked to the worker inside – worked there 15 years, since a kid – grew up with Fire & Dynamo – makes 876 pesos a day (87 cents, present US) & cost him 20 days work for his room & board – what dark black room and watery soup?  – for a month – can’t get married, rather nice looking, covered with soot, & friendly invited me in to look. So I decided there is something wrong with the Economic  system here – what is the use working all day for money if you don’t even get money? Some kind of factory saint. My hotel bill for nice hotel & food plus extra lunch was $4,000 pesos or 5 days work for him.

So the facts are
1) Low pay for labor
2) High taxes on imports
3} 26% of taxes  go to army

4) Possibly much Capital goes out of country to US banks &

Chupa la Sangre
We suck the blood of Chile

from the Argentinian section:

Feb 25  5:01 PM entered Argentina “Viva” etc. Weak Cheers.
Riding in car for instant the large trees’ perpendicularity in front of me was larger mandala image of the more distant tree high on the mountain’s smaller perpendicularity – Flashed on mind a mandala of correspondence, caused by accidental conjunction of different phenomena with the observer’s eye.
Earlier – a handsome youth with wool cap, worn brown leather jacket, camera, and (?) and a motorcycle – sitting at rest in front of landscape – imagined him without the sore of worry on his face – a man for an instant transparent – an ageless eye one with the mountains observing phenomena..”

from Bolivia:

April 4 1960
“Bolivia is like Paterson with revolvers- Cafe Gally full of Politicians with thick eyeglasses, mustaches, little pins in lapel, dark skin and black hair – all like Eyn Zinel – Cab Calloway politician with long fingers getting soup from tables, shaking hands with all. I order Mate de Coca..”

from (the bulk of the book) Peru:

“April 25 – The Peruvian firelight – kerosene lamp in bridge-side inn, Pisac – waiting for firefoot lady on dirt floor  to cook my Asado & eggs & rice -white dog sniffing at my feet – the rough owner- blackhair & hanging nose going over his books – at his side, his babe, she with chicken leg in right hand and the jawbone of a sheep in the other, toying with them at the table.”

April 25 – “Machu Picchu – Express train roar down green below the movement of white Vilcanota water amomgst the tracks & footpaths.
Constant cricket chirp, theloudest from a near mount side
A flock of lambs running away from its owner over the green steps and down a field, a white puppy barkyipe can’t follow fast enough.
Lovers picking each other’s noses – an amber black & white spot tropic butterfly on the brown soil under the sun’s hitching post on which I sit.”…

April 28  – “Descending, a small sunny rain starting, to wet my hat and feet agai, but very light – Came to the sadde between Machu Picchu (Chico) and Huynu Picchu – a vast 180-degree rainbow from across the canyon and center of Pitumachi over R.R. tracks – to the foot of the ancient village filling the valley – same as yesterday. Must have had always many rainbows when the city was new.”

May 1 – “..Leaving having seen this wonder I dreamed of as a kid, I am doing also – one phantom seeing the trails and bones of an earlier phantom of earlier eternal days. Dusk.”

May 14 – “…Nasca, Pracas, Chancay, Ica, Tiahuanaco, Purkara, Mochicha, mort. Left some pots behind. They’re beautiful effigies. That pot’s dead like a skull, and lasts a long time – some thousands of years. I have one with a living fish painted inside it.
Tinkle of guitar from adjacent hotel room, in the warm foggy dusk, down the wooden hall, 1960, always return to one note.
an old Frenchman, with silver rim spectacles and white mustache – my eyes closed – sits down on the beach next to me with his arm over the back of my chair-
This room is where I’ll take the Ayahuasca.
– a shiver of fear, A real magic mirror.
in the hall, suddenly
the heavy cathedral bells.
Lying in bed knowing death in advance, twinkle of genitals, hearing guitar..”

image from Allen’s Peruvian notebooks

May 27

“…The skull is empty! But the air from a
new universe breathes thru
and others watch the empty eyes
and look through holes in the bones
to see the dust, nd no more Answer than
symbolic that,
Thru Eyes, we see a million eyes and all one
eye & many at the once…”

June 12 – The purpose of Life is Death. I’m afraid to face the significance Now – to feel the purpose of Death in everything at once.”…


“A few more generalizations” – “The Secret All is a consciousness which includes ours but is infinitely wide – we can widen our consciousness but in order to be identically conscious with the All we have to, at the present time, widen it to include the Not-ourselves which is death..”

Ayahuasca Revelations  –

” Eternity, thinking of Inexistent Myriads, creates us.
We must realize that our Existence (dimension – however seeming – vast) is merely an elimination of what is Not in Eternity.
Realizing this, annihilating ourselves, we realize eternity, or we are eternity realizing itself in another flash.
This flash is the mystical Illumination, or known as such to us.
The Mystical Illumination is Not the Contemplating God, but God (or eternity) contemplating Himself.
God uses our Eyes, which don’t exist.”

– And how Allen spent his 34th birthday:

Huamaco – June 2 My birthday

“Beard, in dream, celestial music, unintelligible to the rest of the tune as it snaked its way thru normalcy of music.”
In this room in Hotel Argentino, grim cell, really flappy the door doesn’t close, yellow stains on the wall near the bed, dry stains of old life – drips running down the whitewashed clay – and the corners of the room stained with old dust – the white water pitcher has a scum-film at the bottom – the clothesrack falls apart – my mochila (knapsack) with mouth open sits on the bed table. I took a nembutal to sleep early & wake for 5AM bus to Tingo Maria – wrote letters to Gene, Louis, Gregory.
How strange – truly I heard Celestial music in my dream this afternoon of my birthday….”

These few quotes just provided to whet your appetite. Go out and buy the book!

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