Bob Rosenthal on Ginsberg and Cherry Valley

Cherry Valley Farmhouse, 1985 – Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Julius Orlovsky at Cherry Valley, 1968, Bob Rosenthal & Rochelle Kraut & family 1985

Bob Rosenthal, Allen Ginsberg’s long-time secretary, recently gave a talk up in Cherry Valley – “Allen Ginsberg On The Planet – Citizen of the Planet: Globally Locally in Cherry Valley”

A transcript of that talk appears here:

BR:  I meet Allen Ginsberg in 1977. He already owns the old farm on East Hill. He comes to look in this region through close artist friendships. Mid 1960’s, Barbara Rubin (the filmmaker) wants to marry Allen. Peter Orlovsky needs a place to be unfettered. Barbara has a friend Peter Hansen who already lives near here. She also has a girlfriend living in the Satmar Community in Sharon Springs. Peter Hansen knows about the old 1860’s farmstead – he knows it is available. Allen seems to be just going along with Barbara. He is unsure of his own involvement. He hopes this change may be good for Peter Orlovsky’s mental health – to have an occupational project. Time seems short in 1965, Allen reluctantly agrees, with trepidation for all the things that can go wrong.

Barbara gathers hippie-workers from Cooperstown and fixes up the off-grid farm house, adding propane space heaters and propane lights. They install new wall insulation backwards. Young people gather up there because it is a free place. One can smoke pot, make out, away from the folks. Allen is never the living prophet as he is in his poetry. Allen is a great Wise Man. The poet Edwin Denby once noted Allen is a great citizen.

Barbara wakes up and realizes that Allen will never marry her; Allen gives her the VW Microbus. She rolls down into Sharon Springs; and is absorbed in the Orthodox Jewish community. Allen buys the property as a nonprofit grant-giving incorporation – Committee on Poetry, Inc. is created to avoid paying what Allen calls “the Vietnam War Tax”.  The honoraria from poetry readings are donations to C. O. P.  COP, in turn, becomes the property’s name as it ironically offers shelter. Allen supports many artists, informally, and understated. Allen flies out of Albany to give poetry readings on college campuses to fund COP. Allen sees the Committee as part of his Personal Cottage Industry, created earlier in the 60’s, that he learned about while living in India. He decides to not to take COP property off the Otsego County tax rolls. He pays taxes to not attract attention under the eye of local constabulary.

Lucien Carr, Ed Urich, and Allen Ginsberg, Cherry Valley, 1970

Ed Urich is COP’s closest neighbor, referred to as a hermit He has a cabin in the woods. He suggests a mechanical ram hydraulic pump for the shallow well already there. Allen embraces this arcane water pumping system. The water drops ten feet downhill from the well, then the ram pushes it 100 feet uphill to a cistern buried uphill above the house, the house is gravity fed. The ram is messy in that it uses more water than it pumps. Stephen Bornstein builds a cement blockhouse to contain the mess. It has a dedication plaque in a block; the pump house (not tied together with rebar) caves in relatively quickly. The well dries up seasonally, after twenty years, the ram stops pumping completely. No one left to fix it.

When I start working with Allen in 1977, his taxable income is less than mine. Allen has a deeply domesticated self. He loves to stay home and cook a big soup. There is a “No Needles” policy at the Committee. He wants a place where one can detox safely. Peter Orlovsky has some agricultural education in High School, so Peter manages the farm with the help of Gordon Ball and Steven Bornstein, Allen flies in and out regularly. Peter is an enthusiastic farmer and completes many plans but each one only once. One year there is a huge amount of apple cider produced, cider presses are bought, Cider is distributed to daycares in the East Village; then never again.

Allen likes having a lot of people around. In Sheila Carr’s film, Buddha Bellies (1981), Peter Orlovsky and Allen toil naked carrying large stones from one rock pile to another.

The major artistic work by Allen at the Committee is his musical composition for William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. Allen has two pump organs: one in the living room, one in the dining room of the house. Allen also has a phone line brought in, his only absolute need is the party line. Allen is profiled in pictures helping with the apple harvest or hosting poet friend gatherings with Robert Creeley, Gregory Corso, Bonnie Frazer, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Anne Waldman, Carl Solomon, Herbert Huncke, Charles Plymell, Lucien Carr. Allen is the beating heart of the Committee. He uses the phone a lot. There is a rumor of animal sacrifices at the Committee, he makes phones calls until he winds the gossip back to its source. some teenagers spotted beer drinking near by. He helps organize local resistance to a regional plan to install high-tension electric towers across East Hill.

I work on this social action from the city. I refuse to visit the farm – I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more”

I type proposals, cut checks at a safe distance. In 1985, Allen finally shows my family the property. Peter is also around, acts unfriendly by burning rubber downwind, smokes up the house. Shelley (my wife) is outraged and scolds Peter, while Allen and I stand helplessly by. Shelley gets a bucket of water to douse it as Peter sulks off.

I can’t manage the farm for Allen on site. I am a new father, my life only works in the city. I wait until everything East Hill falls apart.  By the late 1980’s, Peter can no longer oversee property or have a car. His addictions are getting worse. I try to rescue both Peter and the Farm.

During the 1980’s, AIDS is decimating people and no one understands its transmission. Allen teaches that the Planet has AIDS. Consuming the world is a self-depleting disease. Allen lives a somewhat carbon neutral existence. Owns no car, urban dweller with shared boiler. He makes enough money to stay current in all ways. He never saves. When Allen is in High School, he boards the ferry across the Hudson to take on the entrance exam for Columbia. He pledges to dedicate his life to helping humanity if he gets in. He pledges to become a lawyer for the masses. Time modifies that path but not the destination. Allen’s “Howl” is a cry for common acceptance.

Allen creates an embellished persona in India.He drinks the water and says he only gets dysentery once a month. He returns chanting the name of God in Bhakti yoga. He plays a Benares harmonium. His hair is long and thick, beard flowing, his shoulder bag has beads. This is when Cherry Valley pops up. The remote location leads to harrowing car rides for the winters Allen spends here. He chants OM at the ’68 Police riot Chicago. He is present at the Summer of Love, San Francisco. He joins with Gary Synder to purchase property in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that becomes Kitkitdizzie. The easiest place for Allen to be creative is on the Lower East Side, in his own bed five am scribbling in his notebook. Poet Ted Berrigan, calls Allen “The President of Poetry” because Allen is a work-maker, makes jobs for people. Allen hates being called President of anything but he never stops adding to his world.

Gordon Ball and Allen Ginsberg on crutches, Cherry Valley, 1969

The house on East Hill is a place of refuge. It is a broken family made up of broken people. Allen slips on Winter ice and breaks his leg. Writes“Broken Bone Blues”. The Committee on Poetry’s influence lasts longer than Allen’s actual presence. Dozens of people move here because they visit The Committee first. I have to pay the phone bill, which is startlingly large. I have to interfere and preach austerity. Allen lives at a heightened intensity, doesn’t spend very long in any one place, outside Lower East Side.

Allen continues to give poetry readings at universities and funds The Committee on Poetry. My family starts coming up regularly in Summers starting about 1992, we leave the house empty all winter. The house suffers and the water system fails, the propane stove leaks, the propane refrigerator breaks. Unlike Allen, I do find the property productive for writing – I write my book Straight Around Allen here. Now I find the woods awesome the same way I used to thrill to walking the Biblical streets of New York City.

Bob reads from Eclogue  (& then from Straight Around Allen)

“..The well’s filled up- /the Cast iron ram/that pushes water uphill/by hydraulic pressure/flowed from gravity/Can be set to motion soon,/& water flow in kitchen sink tap/.  Some nights in sleeping bag/Crickets zinging networks dewy meadows,/white stars sparkle across black sky,/falling asleep I listen & watch/till eyes close and wake silent -/at 4 a.m the whole sky’s moved,/a Crescent moon lamps up the woods./ & last week’s one Chill night/summer disappeared-/ little apples in old trees red,/tomatoes red & green on vines,/green squash huge under leaf spread,/corn thick in light green husks/sleeping bag wet with dawn dews/& that one tree red at woods’ edge!   Louder wind! there’ll be electric to play the Beatles!/  At summer’s end the white pig got so fat/it weighed more than Georgia/Ray Bremser’s 3-year-old baby./Scratch her named Don’t Bite Me under hind leg,/she flops over on her side sweetly grunting./nosing in grass tuft roots, soft belly warm./   Eldridge Cleaver exiled w/bodyguards in Algiers/Leary sleeping in an iron cell,/John Sinclair a year jailed in Marquette/Each day’s paper more violent -/War outright shameless bombs/ Indochina to Mnneapolis-/ a knot in my belly to read between lines,/lies, beatings in jail-Short breath on the couch-/ desolation at dawn in bed-/ Wash dishes in the sink, drink tea, boil an egg -/ brood over Cities’ suffering millions two/hundred miles away/down the oilslicked germ-Chemicaled/Hudson river/. Ed Hermit comes down hill/breaks off a maple branch/& offers fresh green leaves to the pink eyed rabbit./  Under birch, yellow mushrooms/sprout between grassblades & ragweed-/ Eat ’em and you die or get high & see God-/ waiting for there exquisite mycologist’s visit/Winter’s coming build a rough wood crib/& fill it with horse dung, hot horse dung, all around the house sides/  Bucolics & Eclogues!/ Hesiod the beginning of the World/Virgil the end of his World/& Catullus sucked cock in there country/far from there Emperor’s police./  Empire got too big, cities too crazy, garbage-=filled Rome/full of drunken soldiers, fat politicians,/circus businessmen -/ Safer, healthier life on a farm, make yr own wind/in Italy, smoke yr own grass in America/  Pond’s down two feet from drainpipe’s rusty top -/ Timothy turned brown, covered with new spread manure/sweet-smelt in strong breeze,/it’ll be covered in snow couple months/& Leary covered in snow  in San Luis Obispo jail?/is mind snowflakes falling over the States./. Did Don Winslow the mason come look at the basement/So we can insulate a snug root cellar/for potatoes, beers, carrots,/ radishes, parsnips, glass jars of corn & beans. Did the mortician come and look us over for next Winter/ Black flies walking up and down the metal screen…”

Allen wants to fully participate in the Back to the Earth movement. He makes the old Farm into a safe-haven from urban temptations and urban threats – a democratic means to distribute wealth and avoid paying the war tax. Allen lives a Spartan communal life. Allen is a native of our planet Earth. He transcends all particular sense of place.

In Judaic culture, there is a belief that ten Wise Men (tzadiks) walking the planet at any one time would make the Messiah come. Allen is one of these wisdom travelers throughout our planet.

I thank Allen for bringing my family here. My son and I have been able to take full advantage of new age building materials and renewable energy to achieve an off-grid sustainable home on East Hill.

Bob Rosenthal, Cherry Valley, April 2022

One comment

  1. I was caretaker at the farm on East Hill from 1987-1989 and lived there over two winters, alone. The gravity well tank above the house developed a crack late in 1988; and wouldn’t store water any more. To confirm that, I had water delivered and poured into the cistern; but it all leaked out within a couple of days. By spring of 1989, with no running water, I had no choice but to leave. The C.O.P. would not pay to get it fixed or to have another well drilled. To their credit, however, I talked them into getting a new wood stove in the kitchen. The old one was falling apart and dangerous. Allen came a few times a year with the Rosenthal family, and his brother. It was interesting, and a bit frightening in the middle of winter with temperatures going down to twenty below zero with four feet of snow.

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