Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born in New Jersey in 1926 and died in 1997. He was born into a humble family of Russian origin. From childhood he showed a rare spirituality and sensitivity, as well as a great interest in poetry and literature.
He studied at the University of Columbia (New York) but did not finish his university degree because he was expelled for his unconventional habits when he only had the last year.
And it was just when he was expelled when Ginsberg met the writers Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. The three friends and writers became the backbone of the Beat culture.
However, at first, the three friends were led by the mediocre writer Lucien Carr, whose life was a disaster in every way. In fact he ended up committing a murder and ended up in jail.
At the same time that Carr was disappearing from the lives of the 3 writers, Neal Cassidy burst into them, who became the unifying element of the cultural life of these 3 geniuses of literature and who was the true catalyst of the Beat culture to end up being Ginsberg’s lover.
His literature is influenced by romanticism, beat, jazz music and Buddhism. And his reference poets were William Blake and Federico García Lorca.
Besides being a poet of international prestige, he was one of the most relevant icons of Beat culture in the fifties.
He strongly opposed the capitalist and militarist system of his country, the United States. Being a recognized homosexual, in his most famous poem, Howls, Ginsberg denounces sexual repression and the corrupting power of the capitalist system.
Along with his two great friends, the writers William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, he is considered the best poet of Beat culture.
Unlike William S. Burroughs, who is said to be his mistress, Ginsberg lived humbly. He lived in a modest apartment in the East Village of New York. He subsisted with little money and even bought his second hand clothes at the Flea Market. He was a man of a very spiritual nature and a practicing Buddhist. His Buddhist teacher was the teacher Chögyam Trungpa. It was precisely his teacher who convinced him to found the ‘The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics’ in 1974.
Ginsberg was a prominent activist in favor of Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of nonviolence. The poet was one of the main detractors of the Vietnam War and a nightmare for President Nixon. Not in vain Ginsberg became a benchmark of the hippie movement in the 60’s. He wrote his poem “September on Jessore Road”, denouncing the neglect of Western society towards the refugees of Bangladesh.
One of its main admirers was George Harrison, guitarist of The Beatles. Ginsberg’s protests against the situation of Bangladeshi refugees definitely influenced the creation of the famous Bangla Desh concert, which George Harrison created to raise funds for these forgotten from Earth. In the concert, Bob Dylan, great admirer of Ginsberg, Leon Russel, Billy Preston and all the great myths of the hippie movement intervened. In fact, The Beatles owe their name to the Beat culture.
He was the winner of the prestigious National Book Award for Poetry in 1974, thanks to his collection of poems known as The Fall of America: a scathing critique of the American system.
Subsequently, in 1979 he was awarded the gold medal of the National Arts Club. For this reason he was a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. It should also be noted that he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his book ‘Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems (1986-1992).
Among all his poems, the best known and probably also the best is Howl whose prologue begins with the words: I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.
Howls was considered too immoral and scandalous poetry. It was censored and finally banned shortly after being published in 1956. Fortunately, Judge Clayton W. Horn lifted the ban with a strong sentence in which he claimed that Howls had social redemptive importance.
Howls and all the literary work of Ginsberg was written under the influence of peyote and LSD. In fact, although the poet tried many substances, the only one that returned faithfully was marijuana, which he got used to in the jazz clubs of New York’s Harlem.
In addition to Howls, Ginsberg wrote many poems. The most notable are: Kaddish and other poems, Sandwiches of reality, The letters of the ayahuasca and News of the planet.
Every time Ginsberg opened his mouth people listened to him. Nobody forgets his phrase “Who controls the media, controls the culture.”, Attacking the power of fierce capitalism.
His literary work may like or dislike. But Allen Ginsberg was a man respected, admired and, above all, loved.