1967 Allen Visits St John, New Brunswick, Canada

Old newspaper clippings, lost (forgotten) newspaper clippings. We take you back today to  March 1967 and Allen’s visit to St John, a coastal city in New Brunswick, Canada.
Local historian Ronald J Jack sets the scene:

‘In 1967, two staffers at  U.N.B.S.J., the fledgling satellite campus of U.N.B., contacted Ginsberg’s agent in New York and with persistence, secured the busy poet’s only remaining spot in the 1967 booking calendar. Easter Weekend.  In Saint John he was greeted by our best poet of the day, Alden Nowlan, then a staff writer on the Telegraph Journal.  The two poets breakfasted and then took a leisurely walk though King Square, the Loyalist Burial Ground and the Old City Market.  The published interview was folksy and seemingly frank, and Ginsberg was flush with his flattery of Saint John charms…”

Jack goes on:

“The resulting encounter was less an interview than it was a conversation, between two gregarious men who enjoyed fresh encounters.  Nowlan clearly made an effort to ‘sell’ the New Yorker (sic) on the cultural significance of Saint John, because some of Ginsberg’s printed remarks are responses to localisms like dulce (seaweed) – “Ah, New Brunswick marijuana!” – and the well-known moose head, mounted in the City Market – “I guess the moose is sort of your national symbol here in New Brunswick…”
Allen Ginsberg and Alden Nowlan and the moose at St John City Market
“Nowlan wrote two articles on Ginsberg, now forgotten except among serious scholars of each man’s life and work. Each piece appeared in The Telegraph Journal (province-wide distribution) and The Telegraph-Journal (the paper with more local news). The “Closeup” on Ginsberg appeared on the Monday, and Nowlan’s review of his performance appeared on the Tuesday.”
Jack continues:
“Much of the article (the Monday’s) is taken up with Ginsberg’s views on the benefits versus risks of recreational drug taking. He was pressed again and again on LSD, but Ginsberg was a greater advocate for pot than the acid trip..”
Jack, interestingly, quotes Allen from that interview on the quagmire that was the Vietnam War at that time – “I’m not a pro-Communist. I don’t think there is any right side to the war. The U.S. may be more in the wrong than the Communists, but that’s only because the U.S. is bigger and stronger and should be more responsible.”
Allen concedes that, perhaps, his reputation for profanity might “bring them in”,  but he promises to deliver “Truth”, a commodity which he declares was “a Five-Letter Word”.

Clearly this “profanity” (“Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb”) irked a number of the more staid St John residents, his “crazy appearance”, the drugs,  the imagined Communism..

One letter to the newspaper begins:

“Like many others who attended I had never read a line that Ginsberg wrote (sic!) but I had read about him in Time (sic!) saw him on the CBC television show, “Sunday”, knew him as a Beatnik (sic!), so, accompanied by two other friends and my teenage daughter (sic!) went to hear Ginsberg read his poetry..”

She ended up walking out

I heard Ginsberg and this so-called poet (sic) celebrity from (the) US was more than a beatnik..he was an evil man with a mouth like a sewer. I looked about me at the keen attractive young people assembled and it sickened me to think that these young persons who look to their elders for counsel, guidance and learning were being offered garbage under the guise of “education..”

This provincial madam’s disdain is perhaps not so surprising. More distressing was Nowlan’s review/response (the Tuesday article).  It took another reader of the paper, one Peggy Smith, to surmise why:

“Expecting to read unbiased reporting from Alden Nowlan (our own respected and well-loved artist), I eagerly tore into Allen Ginsberg’s lecture at St. Stephen’s and St. David’s Church Hall Saturday night. To my sad astonishment, the man who writes so well gave the worst review anyone attending the lecture could have . Reason? He was unsympathetic. The rest of us were artists, students, laymen, everything but poets. Our souls were open, yes, laid bare unexpectedly by Ginsberg whose “crazy appearance” made him so akin to us – closer than a brother or a lover.  Not just me. He had an affect on everyone.”

She goes on:

“The few middle-aged English teachers who got up and offered their seats as early as possible proved that some people weren’t ready for any shock treatments.But he is such a kind man, meaning only the highest good, wishing to straighten us tight-thinkers out, wrench home our biased minds. pried with very few four-letter words at the outside casings in a way used by Stravinsky, Picasso, Miller, and others in his category. Words placed out of context side by side, unlikely images juxtaposed. Merely to show that all things are good. No, We left wanting to hear him again, know him better, drag him off to a party of an outside nature. His mind was as uncomplicated and simple that he was colossal. I’ve read “Howl”, (but) I never really got the point until Ginsberg read it

Addenda – Patrick Toner in his biography of Nowlan, If I Could Turn and Meet Myself – The Life of Alden Nowlan  (2000) has an interesting little detail – When Nolan met him in his room at the Admiral Beatty Hotel, (Allen) was reading from the Gideon Bible –  “Ecclesiastes“, Ginsberg explained, “One great, long, bitter poem!”

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