Jason Shinder Remembers Allen

“A Culture in crisis…” – film by Bill Hayward featuring Jason Shinder

The late Jason Shinder (1955-2008), poet, teacher,  founder and director of the YMCA’s National Writer’s Voice, as well as the director of Sundance Institute’s Writing Program, was the editor of the 2006 collection, The Poem That Changed America, Howl 50 Years Later.  Greil Marcus, in the New York Times, reviews the anthology – here
(David Ulin in the L.A.Times reviews his posthumous poetry collection Stupid Hopehere)

 

Here’s Jason’s contribution to his own anthology:

“In April 1976, when I was twenty-one, I sent a hand-written note to Allen Ginsberg asking if I could study with him. On a postcard with a picture of himself and Bob Dylan sitting cross-legged at the graveside of  Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg quickly responded,”Come when you can”, he scribbled. By that summer I was working with him at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Cofounded by Ginsberg and the poet Anne Waldman, it was the first liberal arts college in America inspired by Buddhist teaching

Although I was a young poet, Allen gave me access to his work (allowing me to help assemble his collection, Mind Breaths) and, more important, to his community. Dressed in a white shirt with a skinny, colorful tie, he was often on his way to teach a workshop, read from his work, or meet with a student or colleague. I frequently wondered what it felt like to be so busy and accessible, and would ask him questions about the conditions of his life – questions that at times bordered on the overly personal – but hallways answered them.

I have heard many stories such as mine, in which strangers quickly found themselves part of Allen’s life. Yet the long list of people he suggested I meet no matter where I was traveling never ceased to surprise me. His ever-increasing network of comrades even included several shopkeepers he wanted me to visit upon walking around the block to purchase a cold drink.

The wellspring of Allen’s generosity was, of course, catalyzed by the losses, visions and passions he had felt deeply. The perpetual sorrow, confusion, and joy triggered by the experiences of his private (and very public) life were always met with a genuine acceptance. He was, quite simply, interested in everything and everyone.

On one occasion, while I was visiting him at his apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he received a call from a stranger living in Portland, Oregon. I expected him got show little interest and end the conversation with a polite dismissal. Yet there was something in him, always curious, sensitive, and humorous, that surfaced when he was in touch with another human being, The world seemed to be continually saying to him: Here now is something that forever can change the vision of one’s life.

When he had been on the phone for more than forty-five minutes from the stranger from the West Coast, he leaned over to me and said, in an aside, “She had a dream, very disturbing, vivid”. The most common human circumstance we share was always new and intriguing to him.

“What do you regret most?” I once asked him, “I regret not spending more time with my family”, he said without hesitation. The shift away from his immediate world, however, to the variegated family of America had marked his life ever since he moved toward his candid and public self as evidenced in “Howl” and his endless interactions prevented more time with his own flesh and blood.

On several occasions, to my surprise, Allen showed me the exact locations in New York City where he had met, often for the first time, his friends, heroes and “enemies” -.  including Kerouac, Trilling, and Auden – all of whom now were dead. To me it seemed as though these visitations had never ended and would never end.

Walking by one of these infamous locales, I once asked, “Isn’t that Auden on the corner of Christopher Street?”  “He has an eternal presence”, Allen replied.

Like Auden’s, Ginsberg’s candidly mindful and courageous voice does indeed spring eternal. But even more so. Allen had a genius for attentiveness and generosity. These qualities, which I witnessed first-hand, are the very things that inspired me to gather a collection of some of our best writers’ personal narratives on “Howl’. Unlike the myriad of  critical texts about it, this book stands as testimony to the poem’s extraordinary ability to continue to change so many individuals’ works and lives in such indelible and uncanny ways.

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