“This massive collection is another extremely valuable insight into the life and work of Allen Ginsberg and will soon become required reading for Ginsberg scholars. Michael Schumacher has done excellent work transcribing Ginsberg’s tapes and chicken-scratch handwriting into an entertaining volume. His notes, occasionally inserted to fill a gap in Ginsberg’s own journaling, are intelligent and informative.”
“Much of this book is comprised of transcriptions of “auto poesy,” which is what Ginsberg called his newfound method of recording directly onto tape. In 1965, Bob Dylan gave Allen a tape recorder (or possibly donated the money for him to buy one) and he would speak directly into the machine, composing spontaneous poems from his thoughts and from the chaos of the world around him”
“Beginning in 1965, Ginsberg has returned from the travels that made up the previous volume (Iron Curtain Journals) and, after years of international travel, he takes to the road in a Volkswagen van, exploring America as he had done Asia, Europe, and South America. In these spontaneous compositions, he juxtaposes his observations of the world around him with reactions to the atrocities in Vietnam. The life he finds in America is at odds with what appears to be the reality of the wider world, and he notes, “I am a stranger alone in my country again.””
“”This book”, Willis notes, “is oddly relevant. Not since 1968 has America been so divided. Once again, a culture war is playing out, exposing racism at all levels of society, and resulting in horrendous acts of police violence, sanctioned by conservative politicians in front of an angry, confused, and often desperate populous.”
“All this is not to say that The Fall of America Journals is a bleak and depressing read, for it is not. It is a fascinating insight into Ginsberg’s life and offers a valuable perspective of that era. As the journals themselves are not hugely substantial or informative, the book is almost another poetry collection. It is littered with first drafts of his best poems from 1965-72, as well as a great many unpublished works. He is, as ever, playful with form and of course the content tends to revolve around politics, sex, his friends, self-doubt, and travel.”
And there’s more, plenty more. Check out the full review.
“Allen Ginsberg and I did not do such a good job of it in this life. We possibly carried forward bad habitual practices from past lives. And we will, sure as hell, continue in future lives.”
In it, John chronicles what he sees as his problematic relationship with Allen (“a complicated karmic pattern”) – “With “Howl” in 1956, Allen had been my hero, and in the 1960’s he was a bodhisattva of compassionate activity and I was very devoted to him. But in the 1970’s something changed.”
“There had always been problems with Allen, just below the surface, jealousy for one reason or another, from the first time we met with Kerouac in 1958.” – (the book opens with that early star-crossed, star-struck, encounter at the West End Bar, up by Columbia University) -“Allen..didn’t like my poems”, Giorno waspishly observes at one point, “but was always respectful of success..”
“Jealousy”, Giorno locates as sexual competition, (though there’s a memorable description of a Ginsberg-Giorno-Burroughs ménage à trois), and also coterie defensiveness. (“Allen was very possessive of William..”, he writes) – But more significant, unquestionably, was his 1974 Gay Sunshine interview (Allen himself sat for one the previous year) ,”heroic candor.. poisoned by anger”, as he later acknowledges it.
“In the (Gay Sunshine) interview I had said loud and clear what I thought reflected my mind and everybody’s mind and hoped Allen would hear it and wake up. However I regret having done it. I made a bad situation worse, caused more anger and more suffering for the both of us. He heard nothing and never forgave me.”
“Candor” may “end paranoia”, but Giorno’s comments were both petulant and cruel (and, at one point, baldly and shockingly racist – he calls Allen “a pushy Jew”). He quotes a number of them in the memoir:
“He (Allen) is a genius at manipulating political power. He is a great politician. And that is wonderful….(But) I mean his guru trip in the 1960s. How can you be a guru, if you’re not enlightened?…And he is ravenously desirous, gets angry at the drop of a pin, and won’t listen to any criticism of himself. His brain is so quick that he will rationalize, or twist anything you might say…”
“(He) hasn’t written a good poem in years, and hasn’t written a great poem in twenty years. When he wrote “Howl”, he was the voice of his time, mirroring what everyone felt in their heart. Now he’s just a good poet which means he’s a bad poet, and everyone listens to him, because he is famous.”
“His music is awful and his blues melodies are worse. He hustles all these great musicians, Bob Dylan, Archie Shepp…and it’s a joke, they laugh behind his back..”
He even found occasion to criticize Allen’s political-spiritual practice – active at that time – mantra
“Mantra is for meditation practice not for politics. Allen uses mantra to support ego. “I want this good thing to happen”. It has good intentions but it’s not Buddhist meditation.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly there was mutual engagement but an abiding froideur from then on.
Read Jerry Cimino’s obituary notice on her for the Beat Museum – here (and see also the Beat Museum’s 2014 interview with her – here)
Here‘s Empty Mirror‘s celebration of her 90th birthday back in 2018 (and her 85th – here)
Rent Romus interviews her – here – and Thomas Antonic (for the European Beat Studies Network) – here
Rest in Peace, Ruth.