Stevan Weine‘s groundbreaking Best Minds: How Allen Ginsberg Made Revolutionary Poems from Madness was one of our recommended books for 2023. This week, (“How Allen Ginsberg’s Poems About Madness Helped Change Psychiatry“), Laurie Udesky interviews Weine for MindSite News:
LU: Why did you want to tell the story of Allen Ginsberg?
SW: I got really interested in the question of ‘how is great art made?’ How does the brilliance of Allen Ginsberg work? We have these kinds of romantic notions of creativity and madness out there, that they’re the same thing, and they’re clearly not the same thing. And I think we have to push back against those easy equivalencies. But can they be connected in some people? Absolutely! So the more I became aware of Allen’s actual experiences and those of his mother, I thought, this is an opportunity to try to explore those connections, to see how his lived experience is and how he coped with that might have been involved. So, you know, beyond the question of understanding Allen, it seemed an opportunity to unpack the relationship between creative work, life experience, traumatic experience, resilience and risk-taking….
Allen took a lot of risks that other people wouldn’t be willing to take. Was that a way of punishing himself for the guilt that he felt for what he had done to Naomi? Possibly, but I don’t think so. I think Allen wanted to go there, learn and come out with something to say about it. I think he wanted to expose that world, the logic behind it, the hardship, but also the generativity of madness to the world.
LU: What was the cultural impact of Ginsberg’s poetry on psychiatry?
SW: I think profound, but in some ways, indirect. I think that Allen’s poetry changed the culture, and then I think psychiatry had to deal with the changes in the culture. The change was that madness and mental illness should not just be shut away and silenced. There’s a human experience there.
To read the full interview – see here
Joining them in the discussion, that font of Beat lore, Neeli Cherkovski, and another “surprise guest”, poet and ex-San Francisco Giants employee, Milo Martin (recalling the infamous occasion, in 1994, when Allen got to throw out the first pitch at Candlestick Park)
The following day, (yesterday), Pat and Peter presented again, this time, across the Bay, at Mrs Dalloway’s Bookstore in Berkeley
“Kaddish”– ah Kaddish! – Jason Diamond in Veena, writes movingly about the poem – (“About a year after my grandfather passed, I found “Kaddish.” It helped me mourn”). He places it in the context of the original Mourner’s Kaddish – (“Ginsberg’s Kaddish managed to do what the Mourner’s couldn’t. It felt more personal than the Mourner’s Kaddish.. How he borrowed the title of the old, holy hymn, and fashioned it into a meditation more William Blake than Old Testament as a way to cope with his mother Naomi’s passing a few years earlier..
What comes after the first dozen or so lines was what took me away from my grief.”
“Poetry is often the most beautiful sort of memoir”, Diamond notes.
That’s certainly the case with “Kaddish”.
This coming Wednesday (January 31st) in New York, Pat Thomas and Peter Hale will be back on the East Coast at New York’s Rizzoli Bookstore (alongside Holly George-Warren, and Sylvia Reed) for the East Coast book-launch of Material Wealth