Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Final Essay (Due December 8th)

For your final essay, you'll respond to one of the following prompts, which will allow you to analyze and synthesize our readings throughout the term through one of several broad frames (mortality, gender, nationality, authority and spirituality). Within each question, you'll be required to decide upon a number of key ideas/concepts/characters (usually three) and then explore each with appropriate complexity, bringing a wide array of textual evidence into play to support your points. Before further discussing the nuts and bolts of your finals, here are the prompts:
  • In Kerouac's famous appearance on The Steve Allen Show, he observes that "I wrote [On the Road] because we're all going to die," while Ginsberg, mourning his father in "Don't Grow Old" muses, "What's to be done about Death? / Nothing, nothing." All of our authors' formative years have been marked by the loss of loved ones (Kerouac's brother and father, Ginsberg's mother, Burroughs' wife, Corso's mother) and they've witnessed the premature deaths of many friends and colleagues (including Neal Cassady, Kerouac himself, Kells Elvins, Louis Ginsberg, Billy Burroughs Jr., Chogyam Trungpa, Elise Cowen, etc.). How do these experiences of loss frame their lives and writing?  How does it motivate them or alter their perspectives on living? Does it make them more willing to avoid complacency or take more risks? How do these attitudes change over time and in what ways do the authors deal with their own mortality?
  • Throughout the quarter, we've lamented both the absence of female authors and lead characters in the various Beat Generation writings we've been reading, along with the general attitudes exhibited towards women, which have ranged from indifference and neglect to outright misogyny. We're addressing this issue now with readings from Joyce Johnson and Hettie Jones, who offer their own stories from the time period, documenting their search for ideological, spiritual, literary and sexual freedom, along with the pitfalls and benefits of living their lives outside of society's expectations for young women. Guided by these lessons, I'd like you to go back into our earlier readings and explore three female characters you find there — some potential candidates: Marylou, Evelyn, Helen Hinkle, Terry, Mardou Fox, Naomi Ginsberg, Joan Vollmer Burroughs, Elise Cowan — comparing their experiences with the first-person testimonies of Johnson and Jones. In what ways are they liberated and how are they degraded by their male partners and society at large?  Who emerges relatively unscathed and who pays the greatest costs?
  • From Sal Paradise's controversial desire to be anything but white in On the Road to the our authors' great appreciation for non-white cultural artifacts (from bebop jazz to Zen Buddhism), a key hallmark the Beat Generation is its transgression of traditional racial boundaries. Explore the complexities of this phenomenon as embodied by our readings throughout the semester. What specific affinities do our authors demonstrate? What risks do they take for the sake of these desires? In what ways do they show a greater empathy for other races than their fellow citizens, and what (well-intentioned) mistakes do they make? How do the Beats address racism in their writings, and in what ways might their own marginalized identities foster a greater understanding? Interracial relationships — from Leo and Mardou in The Subterraneans to Hettie and LeRoi Jones — are particularly revealing and might form a foundation of  your argument. 
  • The Beat Generation is an essentially American literary movement, and many would argue, ultimately a patriotic movement — celebrating the heart and soul of American life and exploring the true breadth and diversity of its populace along with its natural grandeur — even if its authors might not agree wholeheartedly with mainstream American culture or morality. That having been said, it's curious that all of the authors we've read have benefited greatly from time spent outside the United States, and many of our readings have either taken place in international locales (including Mexico, Tangiers, Paris, London, Wales, South America, India, Cuba and even Interzone) or were written there. Analyze the tensions between the foreign and domestic in Beat literature: how are places like Mexico City and Tangiers depicted by the Beats, and why are they so attractive to them? What dangers exist in these places, and what freedoms can be found there that aren't readily available in America? How does the Beats' interaction with these cultures and locales relate to their exploration of America itself and its various counter- and sub-cultures, its ethnic groups, its artistic scenes? Are there places within America where similar freedom might be found? Is the ideal base of operations for the Beats within or outside of America, and why?
  • "Prison is where you promise yourself the right to live," Kerouac observes in On the Road and all of our authors this term have had run-ins with the law — from Kerouac's arrest as an accessory to the David Kammerer murder to Burroughs' accidental shooting of his wife, Ginsberg's charges related to stolen goods that eventually saw him committed to Pilgrim State, Corso's numerous juvenile incarcerations, and Baraka's arrest during the Newark Riots — and partaken in various illegal activities. Explore the Beats attitudes towards authority and criminality as demonstrated in their writings: What are their criticisms of mid-century society's laws and culture of repression? How do their address institutionalized injustice and personal freedom? What are the benefits of living outside of the law and what liabilities and anxieties does that foster? What hypocrisies do they reveal in police, politicians and the military? You're free to respond to this question in a more general fashion or focus exclusively on a single sub-topic such as drugs, free speech/censorship, social injustice, war/pacifism, etc.
  • Spirituality — whether Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism or a more general Humanist practice — is at the heart of the Beat Generation aesthetic, from the early strains of Ginsberg's "Footnote to Howl," where he declares the holiness of everything (in graphic catalogued detail) to the authors' preparation for death. Consider the role of faith and spirituality within this quarter's readings, as both philosophical worldview and personal practice, paying special attention to the ways in which differing religious perspectives are intermingled in the texts. How do the Beats differentiate their faith from that of mainstream America and what critiques of organized religion (and/or the actions committed in its name) do they offer. In what ways do they use their writing as a vehicle to provide readers with practical instruction in faiths other than their own? Finally, in a more general sense, how would you define Beat spirituality?

Your final essays should be a minimum of six (6) pages (and by six pages, I mean that the text of your essay itself makes it to the very bottom of the the page, or better yet onto a 7th), and written in MLA style (including a proper header, parenthetical in-text citations and a works cited list at the end), double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman, no tricked-out margins, etc. You'll e-mail your papers to me no later than 5:00 PM on Monday, December 8th. Because e-mail is an imperfect delivery medium and the UC system is prone to collapse, take note that I'll reply to each paper received, letting students know that it's arrived safely, so if you don't receive that e-mail, get in touch with me, and should you have any questions or concerns prior to the deadline, don't hesitate to drop me a line.

Also, please don't forget that tardy papers will be docked a full letter grade for every day they're late and that papers that are less than the stated limit of six full pages will automatically receive an F. Finally, I will not permit block quotes for this essay — whittle down your quotations to the essential information and make use of summary and paraphrase when necessary.

While six pages seems like an endlessly long paper, I can assure you that it's not really a lot of space to discuss these topics in great depth, therefore I wholeheartedly encourage you to dispense with any and all filler, including bloated rhetoric and lengthy five-paragraph-style introductions that ultimately say very little while taking up a lot of word count.  Don't hover over the surface of the issues — dive right in and get to the heart of your argument from the start. I also recommend that unless you have compelling reasons to do otherwise, organize your essay around the topics (characters/techniques/etc.) you've chosen to discuss, rather than proceeding chronologically or dealing with each author individually, and also that you write through the source texts themselves, as demonstrated in the "Making Effective Arguments" post I put up at the start of the term. You do not need to do outside research for this assignment, and you should avoid lengthy explications of the authors' biographical details or summaries of the plots of texts outside of what relates directly to the points that you are making. Presume that the person reading your paper has read all of the texts you reference (because he has!). Finally, make sure that you are following the conventions of MLA formatting (which can be found in numerous places on the internet).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weeks 12–15: Joyce Johnson and Hettie Jones

Hettie Jones (left) and Joyce Johnson (right) in NYC, circa 1960.
If, throughout the semester, you've lamented the absence of female authors and lead characters in the various Beat Generation writings we've been reading, as well as the general attitudes exhibited towards women, (which have ranged from indifference and neglect to outright misogyny), then we've reached a redemptive point in the term. It's true that the Beat 50s and 60s were very phallocentric times, but in the decades since then many female voices have stepped forward to assert their important place in this time period — not just as wives, girlfriends and enablers, but also as writers. We'll conclude the year by spending a little time with two of them, and in the process, reframe our earlier readings through a new perspective.

Chief among these revisionist historians is Joyce Johnson, whose National Book Critics Circle Award-winning memoir, Minor Characters (1983) is an important document of the Beat Generation's heyday from a female perspective. A close friend of Allen Ginsberg's in New York City, Johnson (née Glassman) was set up with Jack Kerouac on a blind date by the poet, largely because he thought that she'd take good care of him. Only in her early twenties, she did just that for a few years, which coincided with the publication of On the Road and Kerouac's uneasy rise to international fame (or infamy). That's what a key portion of the book is about, however it's a terrible injustice to Johnson to treat her like some mere groupie — while she had famous friends, Minor Characters is far more importantly a story of how a woman might seek (and find) the same sort of ideological, spiritual, literary and sexual freedom that Beats did. Along the way, you'll also meet a few of her closest female friends, including the ill-fated poet Elise Cowan and Hettie Jones, who sought similar achievements, with varying levels of success.

Jones, born Hettie Cohen, grew up in Queens dreaming of a freedom that wasn't possible under her family's restrictive rules. Like many others, the bright and talented young writer escaped to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, where she was quickly absorbed into the city's literary scene and found a succession of editorial jobs. She also found love, with LeRoi Jones, and their union (as we've already discussed) was not just a romantic one, but also a literary powerhouse, producing the influential journal Yugen and the publishing imprint Totem Books. As I discussed in the Jones/Baraka write-up, the two married at a time when interracial marriages were not only socially revolutionary, but also illegal in many jurisdictions (and at the very, widely least deemed unacceptable — Hettie's family responded by disowning her). Her 1990 memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones reveals the personal transformations that defined her twenties and her delayed evolution into the writer she'd eventually become.

Here's our reading breakdown for our last four holiday-riddled weeks:

Week 12
  • Tuesday, Nov. 11: No Class — Veterans Day
  • Thursday, Nov. 13: Jones chapters 1–9
Week 13
  • Tuesday, Nov. 18: Jones chapters 10–18
  • Thursday, Nov. 20: Jones chapters 19–23; Johnson chapters 1–3
Week 14 
  • Tuesday, Nov. 25: Johnson chapters 4–8
  • Thursday, Nov. 27: No Class — Thanksgiving
Week 15
  • Tuesday, Dec. 2: Johnson chapters 9–15
  • Thursday, Dec. 4: No Class — Prof. in DC

Finally, here are some supplemental materials that might be of interest to you:
  • Joyce Johnson, "Beat Queens: Women in Flux" [link]
  • Hettie Jones, "Babes in Boyland" [link]
          (the two above pieces come from The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats)
  • Nancy Grace interviews Jones and Johnson in Artful Dodge [link]
  • a 2007 interview with Johnson in The Guardian [link]
  • a 2007 Vanity Fair interview with Johnson [link]
  • The New York Times reviews How I Became Hettie Jones [link]
  • Hilton Als writes about "Amiri Baraka's First Family" in The New Yorker [link]
  • a 2011 video interview with Jones for the Mom Egg [link]

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Week 11: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), "Transbluesency"

Our next author, LeRoi Jones, will be the last contemporary Beat writer we'll be reading this term — our final two authors (Joyce Johnson and Hettie Jones) while closely-linked to writers like Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso, didn't write their memoirs of the Beat era until long after the fact — and, for that mater, some question whether Jones is even a Beat writer in the first place.

As Donald Allen's groundbreaking 1960 anthology, The New American Poetry reveals, the Beats were just one of several sub-groups operating within the world of postwar experimental poetics, alongside the New York School, the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance group and the poets operating at North Carolina's Black Mountain College (who later navigated north to NYC after its close). LeRoi Jones, a multifaceted young writer — in addition to the poetry you'll read here, Jones was also an Obie-wining playwright, wrote a novel and short fiction, and also was a much-lauded music critic who penned a highly-influential volume on jazz, Blues People — was living and working in New York at the same time and both close friends with, and publisher of (through Totem Press and the journal Yugen, both of which he ran with his wife, Hettie) of members of all of these groups (Kerouac, Ginsberg and Corso from the Beats, Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch from the New York School, Gary Snyder from the SF poets, and Black Mountain writers including Paul Blackburn, Ed Dorn and Fielding Dawson), however he was never "officially" a member of any. Nonetheless, it's clear from the start of our reading in Transbluesency that the Beats are near and dear to him, and his writing, along with his wife's memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones, provides us with a unique perspective on the Beats and their times.

Born into a working class family in Newark, NJ (a city whose identity, both then and now, has been shaped by its large African-American popuation), the young and idealistic Jones studied religion and philosophy at Rutgers, Howard, Columbia and the New School (though he never earned a diploma) and read widely in contemporary literature and the arts. He joined the the Air Force, which gave him broader exposure to the world, but also an early reminder of the price one paid for his individuality, when the gunner sergeant was dishonorably discharged after he was discovered reading Communist writings. He'd eventually settle in New York City, where he'd meet and mingle with the city's young writers, marry his first wife, Hettie (a controversial interracial union in an era when such marriages were not only unrecognized, but also illegal in many states) and begin the publishing ventures mentioned above. Still guided by an intense interest in the political and social (particularly the fledgling civil rights movement), Jones would eventually move away from the friendships and artistic associations that would mark his early years. In 1960, he joined a delegation of artists and writers that traveled to Cuba as a show of solidarity, and as the decade unfolded, he'd find himself drawn into the Black Nationalism movement and the Nation of Islam, eventually (after the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X) going so far as to move to Harlem, leaving his wife and two daughters behind, sever many of his associations with former friends, and change his name to the one on the cover of your book (and the one he went by until his death this January): Amiri Baraka. While his political passions and his association with the Nation of Islam would eventually fade slightly, and he'd express regret for some of his actions, he remained (and remains) a defiant figure in America's literary and cultural scenes, a tireless advocate for a uniquely black aesthetics, and an adventurous and formally inventive writer.

While, like many of our previous authors, Jones/Baraka continued to write beyond the Beat heyday, we'll more narrowly confine our focus to his earlier output, with a few selected later works thrown in. Here's the breakdown for our two classes:

Tuesday, Nov. 4: Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961) and The Dead Lecturer (1964)
  • Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (5)
  • Hymn for Lanie Poo (6)
  • In Memory of Radio (15)
  • Look for You Yesterday, Here You Come Today (17)
  • To a Publisher . . . Cut-out (22)
  • Way Out West (29)
  • The Bridge (31)
  • Symphony Sid (36)
  • The New Sheriff (43)
  • Notes for a Speech (48)
  • As a Possible Lover (53) MP3
  • Balboa, the Entertainer (54)
  • A Contract (For the Destruction and Rebuilding of Paterson (56) MP3
  • A Poem for Neutrals (58)
  • An Agony. As Now (60)
  • A Poem for Willie Best (62)
  • Short Speech to My Friends (72) MP3
  • A Poem for Democrats (77)
  • The Measure of Memory (78)
  • Footnote to a Pretentious Book (80)
  • Rhythm & Blues (I (82)
Thursday, Nov. 6: from The Dead Lecturer (1964), Black Magic (1969), and Hard Facts (1972)
  • Black Dada Nihilismus (97) MP3 / DJ Spooky mix: MP3
  • A Guerrilla Handbook (101)
  • Political Poem (107)
  • A Poem for Speculative Hipsters (110) MP3
  • Three Modes of History and Culture (117) MP3
  • A Poem Some People Will Have to Understand (120) MP3
  • The People Burning (122) MP3
  • The New World (127)
  • Tone Poem (131)
  • Numbers, Letters (136)
  • Red Eye (138)
  • Return of the Native (140)
  • Black Art (142)
  • Poem for HalfWhite College Students (144) MP3
  • American Ecstasy (145)
  • History on Wheels (151)
  • Real Life (155)

And here are a few supplemental resources to help you through our time with Baraka:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Weeks 9–10: Gregory Corso, the Poet's Poet

We're switching gears from prose back to poetry as we move on to the poet who served as D'Artagnan to the Beat Three Musketeers of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs — Gregory Corso. Still, it would do him a horrible disservice to suggest his talents are any less than theirs.  Our readings will be taken from the 1989 collection, Mindfield: New and Selected Poems, sadly the only comprehensive volume of Corso's poetry, even if it neglects his final twelve years of writing.

Corso's childhood was every bit as tough as Neal Cassady's. Abandoned by his mother (or so he thought) not long after his birth, and then abandoned again by his father, who shuttled him in and out of foster homes throughout the first eleven years of his life. While he was a talented student, in spite of these hardships, he soon ran afoul of the law, serving time for several thefts and break-ins throughout his teenage years, ultimately leading to his three-year incarceration in Clinton Correctional Facility from the ages of 16-19. It was here that Corso's life began to change for the better. 

By sheer happenstance, Corso was placed in the cell that had just been vacated by the gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano, and this had several positive consequences: Luciano had donated an extensive library to the prison so that he could keep up with his reading, and to facilitate this, he also arranged to have a special light installed so that he read into the wee hours of the morning. Protected by the hardened criminals (who saw the teenaged prisoner as a mascot of sorts) he began a long process of self education — reading widely through Greek and Roman classical literature as well as the English canon — and started writing poetry, which became a salvation for him. Not long after his release, he met Allen Ginsberg at a lesbian bar called The Pony Stable and struck up a conversation, becoming fast friends. The rest, as they say, is history!

As you'll recall from Kerouac's depictions of Corso in The Subterraneans it's a bit of an understatement to say that he is a character — both cantankerous and charming, the ex-con and freeloader with a heart of gold who can quote Keats and Shelley from memory. This tension between hyper-modern and clasical and Romantic influences makes Corso a unique voice among the Beats, and it'll be interesting to explore these dichotomies as we work through Mindfield

Here's our reading schedule for Corso:

Thurs., October 23rd: from The Vestal Lady on Brattle and Gasoline
  • Greenwich Village Suicide (3)
  • In the Morgue (4)
  • Sea Chanty (5): MP3
  • The Horse Was Milked (7)
  • Requiem for ‘Bird’ Parker Musician (8)
  • Cambridge First Impressions (15)
  • Mexican Impressions (24)
  • Sun (26)
  • Puma in Chapultepec Zoo (27)
  • Uccello (29)
  • On the Walls of a Dull Furnished Room (30)
  • Italian Extravaganza (30)
  • Birthplace Revisited (31)
  • But I Do Not Need Kindness (32)
  • Don’t Shoot the Warthog (34)
  • I Am 25 (35)
  • Three (36)
  • Hello (37)
  • The Mad Yak (38)
  • This Was My Meal (39)
  • For Miles (40)
  • Last Night I Drove a Car (42): MP3
  • Allen Ginsberg, "Foreword: on Corso’s Virtues" (xi)
  • William S. Burroughs, "Introductory Notes" (xv)
  • David Amram, "Introduction" (xix)

Tues., October 28th: from The Happy Birthday of Death and Long Live Man
  • Notes After Blacking Out (47)
  • Hair (51)
  • Under Peyote (54)
  • I Held a Shelley Manuscript (58)
  • Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway (60)
  • Marriage (62): MP3
  • Bomb (65)
  • She Doesn't Know He Thinks He's God (70)
  • Dream of a Baseball Star (71)
  • Giant Turtle (73)
  • Clown (76)
  • The Sacré-Coeur Café (85)
  • From Another Room (86)
  • Power (87)
  • Army (93)
  • 1959 (97)
  • Happening on a German Train (105)
  • European Thoughts—1959 (106)
  • Friend (108)
  • Writ on the Steps of Puerto Rican Harlem (115)
  • They (117)
  • Danger (118)
  • Second Night in N.Y.C. After 3 Years (119): MP3
  • Writ on the Eve of My 32nd Birthday (120)

Thurs., October 30th: from Elegiac Feelings AmericanHerald of the Autochthonic Spirit, and uncollected poems
    • Elegiac Feelings American (125)
    • America Politica Historia, in Spontaneity (152)
    • God is a Masturbator (156)
    • Columbia U Poesy Reading—1975 (161)
    • I Met This Guy Who Died (169): MP3
    • Earliest Memory (170)
    • How Not to Die (177)
    • Many Have Fallen (182)
    • Getting to the Poem (187)
    • Spirit (190)
    • I Gave Away . . . (191)
    • The Whole Mess . . . Almost (199): MP3
    • Feelings on Getting Older (203)
    • Fire Report - No Alarm (234): MP3
    • Poet Talking to Himself in the Mirror (237)

    Gregory Corso passed away in January of 2001, and thanks to the intervention of his friends, he was buried, as he wished to be, in Rome, beside the grave of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here are a few remembrances:
    • The New York Times obituary [link]
    • Robert Creeley announces Corso's death on the Poetics List [link]
    • The Woodstock Journal's tribute to Corso [link]
    And here are a few supplemental videos:

    Corso reads from "Bomb" at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant

    Corso in Rome, 1989 (part 1)

    Corso in Rome, 1989 (part 2)

    Wednesday, October 1, 2014

    Weeks 8–9: William S. Burroughs, "El Hombre Invisible"

    Moving on from our time with Allen Ginsberg, and after taking a little break for the fall reading days, our next Beat author for weeks 8 and 9 will be William S. Burroughs, and our primary text, Word Virus: the William S. Burroughs Reader (eds. James Grauerholz and Ira Silverberg).

    An early mentor to the younger proto-Beats Kerouac, Ginsberg and Lucien Carr — he not only suggested books and authors that were radically different than their readings at Columbia, but also exposed them to the drug and criminal subcultures of New York's seedy underbelly — Burroughs had no real intentions of being a writer, but the his friends' persistent encouragement (Ginsberg's in particular) lead him to give it a try.

    Ivy League-educated, and a world traveler by his mid-1920s, Burroughs who always seemed to find himself in trouble with authority, was drawn to philosophical questions of control and spent much of his career exploring that topic, whether through the guise of addiction, criminality, propaganda, media or deviance — all topics he knew well from first-hand experience — and in particular, his accidental shooting, in 1951, of his wife, Joan Vollmer, brought these issues into the forefront, unleashing "the Ugly Spirit" and charging him to use writing as a medium for his explorations. He wed the sharp analytic eye of a historian or anthropologist to a wildly experimental prose style, creating some of the 20th century's most challenging and innovative texts.

    You'll notice a distinct difference between relatively-straightforward early prose like Junky and the excerpts from Naked Lunch, Nova Express, The Ticket That Exploded and The Soft Machine, as well as the handful of excerpts from Interzone, that you'll be reading this week. All of these texts were drawn from a large manuscript Burroughs produced in the aftermath of Vollmer's accidental death, called "The Word Hoard," or simply "WORD" — a vast series of "routines," (the author's term for the short vignettes that fill his work) which he would constantly revise, deconstruct and remix to produce new works. As a result, you'll likely notice a lot of repetitions and overlaps between the excerpts from Naked Lunch and the Nova Trilogy books, since, after all, they come from the same source.

    Burroughs' primary means of reconstructing these texts was the "cut-up method," an experimental cut-and-paste practice devised by the author and Bryon Gysin in the late 1950s, which draws inspiration from, among other things, the Dadaist practice of automatic poetry, as formulated by Tristan Tzara. Here's a brief audio clip of Burroughs describing the origins and methodologies of the cut-up technique. Take a few minutes to listen, and perhaps the work you'll be reading might make more sense:

    It's also worth noting that Burroughs' writing is deeply-rooted in postmodern notions of "meta-fiction' — a practice in which form is almost as important as content. Getting a handle on what Burroughs is saying here is one thing to shoot for, but also pay attention to how he's saying it. He's taking chances with his writing, in terms of subject matter, but also in terms of the writing itself.

    Those of you who're able to make it out to this week's film screening will get a lot of useful background information on Burroughs and his techniques, and thankfully the reader we'll be using also provides some helpful contextualization. Here's a breakdown of our Burroughs readings:

    Tuesday, Oct. 14: Junky and Interzone
    • The Name is Burroughs (15)
    • Personal Magnetism (23)
    • Twilight’s Last Gleamings (24)
    • International Zone (121)
    • Ginsberg Notes (excerpts) (133)
    • from Junky: prologue and selections (47)
    • Ann Douglas, "Punching a Hole in the Big Lie: the Achievement of William S. Burroughs" (xv)

    Thursday, Oct. 16: Naked Lunch and The Nova Trilogy
    • from Naked Lunch (149)
    • Dead on Arrival (184)
    • Case of the Celluloid Kali (187)
    • The Mayan Caper (193)
    • See the Action, B.J.? (202)
    • Operation Rewrite (208)
    • The Invisible Generation (218)
    • Last Words (225)
    • So Pack Your Ermines (231)
    • Shift Coordinate Points (232)
    • Pay Color (240)
    • Clom Friday (243)
    As you make your way through Naked Lunch, keep these words of wisdom from The Simpsons in mind:

    Tuesday, Oct. 21: The Third MindExterminator! and beyond
    • Who is the Third That Walks Beside You (256)
    • The Exterminator (270)
    • The Future of the Novel (272)
    • Notes on These Pages (273)
    • Exterminator! (383)
    • The Discipline of DE (386)
    • From Here to Eternity (394)
    • Seeing Red (396)
    • The "Priest" They Called Him (397)
    • from The Cat Inside (selections) (504)
    You also might want to check out the cut-up films Burroughs made with Antony Balch and Brion Gysin in the 1960s and 70s ("Towers Open Fire" and "The Cut Ups" are a good place to start).

    Unlike Ginsberg, there aren't exact audio tracks to correspond with many of the readings, but I'm listing a few files below to give you a taste of Burroughs' reedy, grim delivery.
    • from "Twilight's Last Gleamings" (2:48): MP3
    • from Naked Lunch (2:12): MP3
    • from Naked Lunch (20:28): MP3
    • from Junky (7:29): MP3
    You can find a great many more recordings on UbuWeb's William S. Burroughs sound page.

    And here are some supplemental readings, followed by a few videos.
    Much like Ginsberg, Burroughs would have close ties to the world of popular music throughout his career — he coined the term "heavy metal," and bands like Steely Dan, the Soft Machine and DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid all took their names from his writing. In later years, he collaborated with a diverse array of artists, from R.E.M. to Sonic Youth to Nirvana. Here's "The 'Priest' They Called Him," with musical accompaniment from Kurt Cobain:

    Burroughs and R.E.M.'s collaborative version of "Star Me Kitten":

    And here's a compendium of Burroughs' scenes in Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy:

    Tuesday, September 30, 2014

    Tuesday, October 7th: Allen Ginsberg Day 6 — Cosmopolitan Greetings and Farewells

    There's not much to say and very little to weep for at the end of Ginsberg's life. The most important lesson here is the ability to adapt, to hybridize, to change as the times change — Ginsberg had it, Burroughs had it, even Cassady had it, but unfortunately Kerouac did not, and that's why our last memories of him are as a bitter, bloated drunk, while the rest were lively and engaged until the end.

    All of the themes that we've traced throughout Ginsberg's life continue through his last decade. In particular, I wanted to address his musical interests as being particularly evocative of his ability to grow and change. In last week's readings, we see the hopefulness of the 60s give way to Nixon-era spiritual and political malaise, followed by the youthful rebellion of punk rock, and Reagan's conservative stranglehold in the 80s bringing us to a reemergence of socially-conscious youth in the 1990s. These evolutions reflected in Ginsberg's work, in the ideologies he espoused, and see him happily embraced each new mode, whether that would find him on tour with Bob Dylan or sharing the stage with the Clash. The young Ginsberg who celebrated seeing the Beatles in concert in "Portland Coliseum" would have close ties to the world of popular music until the end of his life, most notably his mid-90s collaboration with Paul McCartney, Lenny Kaye and Philip Glass, "The Ballad of the Skeletons."

    Ginsberg evolved to the very end.  In 1996 Ginsberg took part in a discussion/interview with Beck, published in the Buddhist magazine Shambhala Sun with the unfortunate subtitle, "A Beat/Slacker Transgenerational Meeting of Minds." The two had met a year-and-a-half earlier in New York, backstage at the Lollapalooza festival.  He also started talks with MTV about doing an episode of their Unplugged series with musical accompaniment by Bob Dylan, Philip Glass, Paul McCartney, and Patti Smith.  At the same time, Ginsberg acknowledged that the world was quickly moving beyond him. In a 1996 interview with Hotwired (an online web journal related to Wired magazine), he offered his response to seeing the internet for the first time: "Thank God I don't know how to work this!"  

    Diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in early 1997, he greeted this latest transition with great enthusiasm, calling friends to say farewell even as he lamented all of the things he'd never be able to do.  On April 5th, surrounded by friends and family in his modest NYC apartment, he breathed his last.

    Here are our final Ginsberg readings, with audio when available:
    • A Public Poetry (869)
    • Maturity (872)
    • I'm a Prisoner of Allen Ginsberg (882)
    • Prophecy (915)
    • Sphincter (950): MP3
    • Cosmopolitan Greetings (954)
    • Personals Ad (970): MP3
    • May Days 1988 (979)
    • CIA Dope Calypso (996): MP3
    • Numbers in U.S. File Cabinet (Death Waits to be Executed) (982)
    • Return of Kral Majales (984): MP3
    • After the Big Parade (1010): MP3
    • After Lalon (1019): MP3
    • Put Down Your Cigarette Rag (Don't Smoke) (1029): MP3
    • Autumn Leaves (1046)
    • New Democracy Wish List (1063)
    • Tuesday Morn (1074)
    • "Put Down Your Cigarette Rag (Don't Smoke)"
    • New Stanzas for Amazing Grace (1080): MP3
    • The Ballad of the Skeletons (1091): MP3
    • Richard III (1128)
    • Death and Fame (1129)
    • Dream (1159)
    • Things I'll Not Do (Nostalgias) (1160)
    And here are some supplemental videos:

    Personals Ad

    Put Down Yr. Cigarette Rag (Don't Smoke)

    Ginsberg's video (shown on MTV's "Buzz Bin" and at the Sundance Film Festival) for "The Ballad of the Skeletons," directed by Gus Van Sant and featuring musical accompaniment by Paul McCartney, Lenny Kaye and Philip Glass

    MTV's obituary for the poet

    Finally, though it can't be embedded: experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas' Scenes from Allen's Last Three Days on Earth as a Spirit documents the scene just before and after Ginsberg's passing in 1997, including conversations with those who've gathered to send their friend off [note: this can be a challenging and emotional film to watch]

    And some optional readings:
    • Ginsberg's obituary in The New York Times: [link]
    • "Memories of Allen," a tribute from Rolling Stone: PDF
    • Mikal Gilmore's obituary for Ginsberg (also from Rolling Stone): PDF

    October 2nd: Allen Ginsberg Day 5 — Fame and Death in the 1970s and early 80s

    Ginsberg at the 1968 National Book Awards ceremony with
    fellow poets Robert Creeley (left) and John Ashbery (right).
    One of the first poems you'll read for today is "Who," Ginsberg's response to the folks at Who's Who when they asked him for a biographical blurb in 1973. In that same year, he'd release his collection, The Fall of America: Poems of these States 1965-1971, which would go on to win the National Book Award for Poetry in 1974. This recognition, as well as his admission to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and winning a National Arts Club gold medal (both in 1979), and Ginsberg's co-founding (with Anne Waldman) of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University (in 1974) were emblematic of the poet's evolution from a feared radical to an accepted and even lauded cultural figure over the course of the 1970s — a strange and wonderful occurrence when you consider that in the late 1950s, his alma mater, Columbia University, wouldn't even buy a copy of Howl and Other Poems for its library. At the same time, it's worth noting that while Ginsberg might've garnered more mainstream attention, that doesn't mean that his social, sexual or political perspectives dimmed in their contrarian intensity. Upon being invited to join the American Academy, for example, he immediate began lobbying for his friends and peers to receive the same honor, eventually seeing William S. Burroughs join the organization as well. He also continued to criticize injustice and abuse of power wherever he saw it, particularly in his great latter-day work "Plutonian Ode," part of his protest of the Rocky Flats nuclear power plant near Naropa in Boulder, Colorado.

    This period was also marked by a growing awareness of his own mortality. Ginsberg had already mourned his mother, Naomi, and friends including Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac, and in the mid-70s, he'd also lose his father, Louis, but in the process, write some of the finest, most moving poetry of his later years. Ginsberg faced each new change in his life with an unfaltering sense of self-awareness, and tracked his evolving role in society, in his relationships with friends and lovers, and natural process of aging (and eventually death), guided by his art and taking solace in his Buddhism.

    Ginsberg was a guest on David Letterman's late-night talk show in June 1983.
    If a major thread of Ginsberg's life in the 1970s is his struggle to once again come to terms with a new public persona (as he'd similarly done in the wake of "Howl" in the late 1950s) the 1980s were a decade in which he happily embraced his myriad roles in American and international cultural spheres and even added a few more.

    While he'd been somewhat ambivalent about his position as professor at Naropa (and taught, unpaid, for the sake of the program and so that other poets might make a little money), Ginsberg was appointed Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College in 1986 and taught there until his death eleven years later. The opportunity to revisit germinal texts, share the work of his Beat comrades, support up-and-coming writers and interact with students was rejuvenating for Ginsberg and helped shape his work throughout the decade.

    With Joe Strummer of the Clash, 1981.
    A spirit of retrospection and nostalgia hung over the poet as he marked the changes in his ever-lengthening life — losing both of his parents, moving back to New York from Boulder, his problematically-evolving relationship with Orlovsky, the growing AIDS crisis, Reagan-era conservatism and political misdeeds, etc. — and while he sometimes felt like "a prisoner of Allen Ginsberg" as one of the poems you'll read attests, he often took these stresses in stride and relished the potential his worldwide renown brought for advocating social change. While he continued to use poetry as a forum for his activism, his growing interest in popular music — which began with his friendships with Bob Dylan and the Beatles in the 1960s and would yield albums of Blake songs and blues numbers in the 70s — came into full flourish in this decade, with Ginsberg using song as a vehicle for strident political commentary (cf. his collaboration with the Clash, "Capitol Air;" "The Little Fish Devours the Big Fish;" "Birdbrain!"), religious instruction ("Do the Meditation Rock") or general lyrical embellishment (on tracks from the 1989 Hal Wilner-prodced album The Lion for Real, including several you've already heard: "To Aunt Rose," "Xmas Gift," "The End," "Stanzas: Written at Night in Radio City," etc.).

    Ginsberg also reconnected with his love of photography at this time, thanks to the encouragement of friends including Raymond Foye and Robert Frank. He had his first exhibition of photos from the Beats formative years, "Hideous Human Angels," at Holly Solomon Gallery in 1985 and would eventually publish several collections of his work, in addition to staging many more showings. Several years ago, for example, there was a landmark exhibition of his photography at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

    Finally, during this decade we see what's perhaps the clearest evidence of Ginsberg's prominent role in American life and culture and the significance of his work in two major financial transactions: his signing a six-book contract with Harper and Row — which would yield Collected Poems 1947-1980 along with a lengthy volume of the poet's mid-50s journals and several subsequent collections of poetry — and his arrangement for Stanford to house his archives. While many in the poetry world cried sellout, one should note that though Ginsberg's busy reading, teaching and publishing schedule did bring in a respectable income, he immediately divested himself of much of that through charitable donations and gifts of money for living expenses to an ever-growing roll of indigent artists, poets and musicians (Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and esteemed folklorist Harry Smith all drew regular paychecks from Ginsberg). Moreover, his business deals often sought to benefit others besides himself: most importantly, Ginsberg protected City Lights by insisting upon provisions in his Harper and Row deal that would allow the independent publisher to continue issuing his books in individual Pocket Poets volumes. What these deals did was provide an aging poet in increasingly-poor health a small modicum of comfort in his autumn years.

    Here are our readings for Thursday:
    • Xmas Gift (595): MP3
    • Who (603)
    • Yes, and It's Hopeless (604)
    • What I'd Like to Do (610) 
    • News Bulletin (613) 
    • Manifesto (625)
    • Mugging (633) : MP3
    • Who Runs America? (636)
    • Gospel Noble Truths (649): MP3
    • Junk Mail (665) 
    • "You Might Get in Trouble" (668)
    • Punk Rock Your My Big Crybaby (691): MP3 / MP3
    • Don't Grow Old (659): MP3MP3; excerpt, "Father Death Blues": MP3
    • Plutonian Ode (710): MP3
    • "Don't Grow Old" (718): MP3 (read my note on this recording here)
    • Brooklyn College Brain (725)
    • After Whitman and Reznikoff (740): MP3
    • Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Letters (744)
    • Ode to Failure (745): MP3
    • Capitol Air (751): MP3 (note: live with the Clash 1981, see "Ghetto Defendant" below as well)
    • Why I Meditate (851)
    • Do the Meditation Rock (863): MP3
    • The Little Fish Devours the Big Fish (865): MP3
    And here are a few supplemental videos:

    Ginsberg sings "Father Death Blues"

    Another version of "Father Death Blues"

    Ginsberg sings "Gospel Noble Truths"

    Ginsberg (with Steven Taylor on guitar and Arthur Russell on cello) performs "Do the Meditation Rock" on Good Morning, Mr. Orwell, Nam June Paik's live satellite TV celebration of New Year's 1984 (which is astoundingly great). That's Peter Orlovsky meditating, by the way.

    Ginsberg's appearance on the Clash's track, "Ghetto Defendant"

    Ginsberg sings "Capitol Air" with a Kansas City punk band in the film Poetry in Motion

    Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    A little Ginsberg reading list shift

    Because of the shift in days for Ginsberg we've run into a little bit of a problem with a student who'd really like to present on "Kaddish" but won't be able to be in class on the new day for "Kaddish." To accommodate this situation — and with the blessing of the other students presenting on the affected days — we're going to shift the reading list just a little bit, as follows:

    • September 23rd: "Kaddish," "Europe! Europe!," "Transcription of Organ Music"
    • September 25th: all of the other poems listed for both the 23rd and 25th aside from the above
    "Kaddish" is the longest poem you'll read this term, though its length benefits its intentions, and so though it might not seem like it, the readings for each day are still relatively balanced. Thank you all for your flexibility. 

    Tuesday, September 16, 2014

    September 30th: Allen Ginsberg Day 4 — Poet Becomes Activist

    As the 1960s continued, Ginsberg's fame (or notoriety) grew more widespread, and with it grew his awareness of the soapbox he'd stumbled upon. Horrified by what he saw as a bloodthirsty culture of death and violence, and simultaneously heartened by the civil rights movement, the growing youth counterculture and queer liberation, the young poet — who once aspired to become a labor lawyer — found himself becoming more and more politicized. You can see this thread traced from a poem like "Howl" and "America" to "Death to Van Gogh's Ear" or the discussion of his mother's communism in "Kaddish" and this current will further strengthen in our readings for Tuesday. The key poem here is "Wichita Vortex Sutra" — the third great epic masterpiece of his early career — and we'll discuss it in detail.

    Here's a quick list of some of the major events happening in Ginsberg's life through the 1960s:
    • He travels the world, starting in Paris and continuing on to Tangiers, Greece and Israel before extended stays in India (as documented in his Indian Journals) and Japan.
    • He has his first psychedelic experiences with both psilocybin and LSD, courtesy of Timothy Leary, which would influence the composition of visionary poems such as "Wales Visitation."
    • He testifies for the defense in the Boston obscenity trial of William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch.
    • He travels to Cuba, where he causes a political ruckus and is swiftly deported to Prague, where he is crowned the "King of May" (or "Kral Majales," as in the poem which documents this event), causes a political ruckus and is deported once more.
    • He meets and interacts with both Bob Dylan and the Beatles, and gives a gala reading at London's Royal Albert Hall.
    • He takes part in the historic Berkeley and Vancouver Poetry Conferences (in 1965 and 63, respectively) — a sign of his growing influence in the world of poetry. (You can listen to his entire Vancouver Conference reading here)
    • His friend and former lover Neal Cassady dies in 1968, and Jack Kerouac's slow decline catches up with him when he dies in 1969.
    • He buys a top-of-the-line Uher tape recorded with money given to him by Bob Dylan, and begins composing poems by dictation during a long drive from Los Angeles to New York, many of which would appear in his volume, The Fall of America, which won the National Book Award in 1973; a key poem of this sequence, "Wichita Vortex Sutra," appears as a chapbook on its own then is published in Planet News.
    • He assumes a larger role in youth culture and politics, participating in the Human Be-In and the 1967 march on the Pentagon (as well as the 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago), and mediates a peace between the hippies and Hells Angels in San Francisco.
    So, it's a busy time for Ginsberg to say the least! What we'll want to look for here is how all of these personal occurrences interact with current events in these poems — and while the war in Vietnam is a key focus, certainly other topics will come up. In addition to the personal and political, Ginsberg is also further refining and developing his spiritual side, having first studied Krishnaism while in India in the early part of the decade, and also continuing his Buddhist studies. Eventually, he'd be asked by his spiritual teacher, Chögyam Trungpa, to co-found (with poet Anne Waldman) the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University (America's only accredited Buddhist university). Much like his political views, Ginsberg would use the medium of poetry (as well as song) to spread his spiritual beliefs.

    Here are our readings for Tuesday:
    • I Am a Victim of Telephone (352): MP3
    • Kral Majales (361): MP3
    • Who Be Kind To (367): MP3
    • Portland Coliseum (373)
    • First Party at Ken Kesey's With Hell's Angels (382): MP3
    • Wichita Vortex Sutra (402) (recordings listed below)
    • Growing Old Again (431)
    • Uptown (432): MP3
    • City Midnight Junk Strains (465): MP3
    • Wales Visitation (488): MP3
    • Elegy for Neal Cassady (495): MP3
    • On Neal’s Ashes (513): MP3
    • Going to Chicago (514)
    • Grant Park: August 28, 1968 (515) 
    • Car Crash (516)
    • Memory Gardens (539)
    • Flash Back (542)
    • Graffiti 12th Cubicle Men's Room Syracuse Airport (543)
    • Hum Bom! (576): MP3
    As for "Wichita Vortex Sutra," we have a few options (all of which are wonderful): First, here's a straightforward reading of the entire poem, recorded in May of 1995 at the Knitting Factory:
    • Wichita Vortex Sutra I (3:14): MP3
    • Wichita Vortex Sutra II (12:52): MP3
    • Wichita Vortex Sutra III (5:51): MP3
    • Wichita Vortex Sutra IV (5:41): MP3
    Next, here's a rather breathtaking musical setting of a long portion of the poem by Philip Glass, part of his collaboration with Ginsberg, Hydrogen Jukebox (a term you'll recall from "Howl"):

    And here's a very interesting recording I uncovered a few summers back, in the tape archives of the poet Robert Creeley, which sets a lengthy excerpt of the poem to musical soundscape including chanting, sound effects and a snippet of Bob Dylan's "Queen Jane Approximately," among other noises:
    • Wichita Vortex Sutra (28:00): MP3
    You can read my write-up of the recording (and several others released at the same time) here.

    Finally, here are some supplemental links:
    • "The Last Anti-War Poem" — Rolf Pitts' 2006 article in The Believer that argues, on the 50th anniversary of "Howl," that we should instead be celebrating the 40th anniversary of "Wichita Vortex Sutra," a poem that continues to speak to our society in ways that "Howl" does not [link]
    • Footage from the May Day 1965 parade in Prague, including Ginsberg's coronation as King of May (or Kral Majales in the native parlance) [link
    And a few videos:

    Ginsberg reads "Kral Majales" at City Lights Books

    Ginsberg on conservative pundit William F. Buckley's Firing Line in 1968

    Ginsberg reads "Wales Visitation" in its entirety on the same program

    Ginsberg was present when John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded "Give Peace a Chance" during their 1969 "Bed-In" in Toronto (and sings on the track)

    Ginsberg leads chanting on the shores of Lake Michigan during the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968

    September 25th: Allen Ginsberg Day 3 — "Kaddish" and Further Mourning

    On June 9, 1956, not long before the publication of Howl and Other Poems, Allen Ginsberg's mother, Naomi (shown at left during her courtship with Ginsberg's father, Louis), passed away.  Her life had not been easy, marked by both mental illness (including numerous long stays in institutions and jarring therapies including electro-shock and insulin), further complicated in later years by a stroke.  Moreover, as a  Russian immigrant to this country, and one-time fervent participant in Communist youth groups, her paranoia was stoked by the McCarthy-era witch hunts.  

    Ginsberg was particularly close to his mother, having been there during her first major mental breakdown (as a teenager, he oversaw her commitment) and continuing to look after her while her then-ex-husband and older son Eugene could (or would) not.  Particularly due to his time in an institution and the social pressures he felt during his twenties and thirties (including his disagreement with societal norms of the 1950s), he feared that her mental illness had been passed down to him.  While he felt a sense of relief that her suffering was over, her death also felt unresolved to him, particularly since at her burial there were not enough men present for a proper minyan (Kerouac and Ginsberg's lover, Peter Orlovsky, weren't Jewish and therefore not counted towards the ten men needed), therefore they could not pray the Kaddish, the traditional funeral prayer.

    The day after the funeral, Ginsberg received a letter from his mother in the mail, sent right before her death, which responded to the copy of "Howl" he had recently sent her.  It mixed prophetic statements with motherly advice, saying, "The key is in the window, the key is in the sunlight at the window — I have the key — Get married Allen don't take drugs — the key is in the bars, in the sunlight in the window."  His brother, Eugene, received a similar note, saying, "God's informers come to my bed, and God himself I saw in the sky. The sunshine showed too, a key on the side of the window for me to get out. The yellow of the sunshine, also showed the key on the side of the window."  Taking these statements as a starting point, along with the unsaid funeral prayer, Ginsberg sought to write an epic religious poem that would both properly mourn his mother, and also tell the complete and unvarnished story of her life, and "Kaddish," two years in the making, is the realization of those goals.

    In addition to "Kaddish," we'll look at several other poems from around the same time with an elegiac sense of humanity's struggles with life and death as detailed below:
    • To Aunt Rose (192): MP3
    • Kaddish (217-235, don't stop reading at the "Hymmnn" section, it keeps going)
    1. Introduction to Kaddish (2:40): MP3
    2. "Kaddish I" (10:11): MP3
    3. "Kaddish II" (36:43): MP3
    4. "Kaddish - Hymmnn" (1:37): MP3
    5. "Kaddish - III" (1:46): MP3
    6. "Kaddish - IV" (2:17): MP3
    7. "Kaddish - V" (1:57): MP3
    • The End (267): MP3
    • This Form of Life Needs Sex (292)   
    • The Change: Tokyo-Kyoto Express (332) 
    •  Nov. 23, 1963: Alone (341)
    And here are a few supplementary links:
    • Levi Asher writes on "Kaddish" on his site, LitKicks, a very early Beat resource online (this article was written in 1994, for example) [links]
    • A review of the reissued Kaddish and Other Poems in Zeek [link]
    • An illustrated version of "This Form of Life Needs Sex," by Eric Drooker (who collaborated with Ginsberg on Illuminated Poems and did the animation for Howl), Salon, 1997 [link]

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    September 23rd: Allen Ginsberg Day 2 — Ginsberg in the Late 1950s

    Ginsberg points at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, the inspiration for Moloch in "Howl," San Francisco, 1959.

    On Tuesday, we'll continue to look at poetry from one of Ginsberg's most prolific and groundbreaking periods: the time between the composition of "Howl" in the mid-1950s and the publication of Kaddish and Other Poems in 1961.  Had the young poet never written another line, he'd have still produced more than enough to earn his reputation as one of the 20th century's most innovative poets.  It's worth noting that these poems were scattered over a number of later volumes, however Collected Poems returns them to a strict chronological order, and in doing so, Ginsberg's stylistic development is made clearer.

    This period is also one of great personal change for Ginsberg.  Aside from losing his mother, Naomi (which we'll discuss in greater depth on Thursday with "Kaddish") in 1956, he also spends a great deal of time outside the country — first in Mexico (as detailed in Kerouac's Desolation Angels) and then joining William Burroughs in Morocco (where he helped transcribe and edit the manuscript of Naked Lunch) before an extended period of travel throughout Europe.  The publication of Howl and Other Poems and its subsequent obscenity trial, combined with spotlight placed on Kerouac and On the Road transformed the Beats from a subterranean group of close friends to an international phenomenon, and each struggled with it in different ways (Ginsberg, for example, felt terribly conflicted about receiving money for readings, considering it a prostitution of his talents, and suffered writers block).  Ginsberg also entered into what would be a life-long relationship (albeit an often-tumultuous one) with Peter Orlovsky, coming to terms with his homosexuality after several years of ambivalence and experimentation with women (you'll recall that in The Subterraneans — as well as in The Dharma Bums — Ginsberg's alter-egos are depicted as straight) and this spirit of acceptance would soon make its way into his writing.  This activism also carries over into questions of public obscenity and censorship, with the poet organizing several benefit readings around the issue of a suppressed issue of the Chicago Review (containing work by several Beats, most notably a visceral excerpt from Naked Lunch), which would eventually be published as the first issue of Big Table. Finally, in 1959, Ginsberg tries LSD for the first time, and while he was no stranger to drug experimentation, psychedelics would greatly shape both his aesthetic and cultural priorities in the coming years.

    Ginsberg, Irving Rosenthal, and Peter Orlovsky at a Big Table benefit reading in 1959 (listen to audio here).
    Also, since Thursday's conversation (and presentation) was concerned with "Howl," there are a number of worthwhile poems in that day's reading that shouldn't get lost in the shuffle ("A Supermarket in California," "Sunflower Sutra" and "America" jump immediately to mind), so we can spend some time looking at one or two of them if we haven't already covered them.

    Here are our readings, with PennSound audio when available:
    • Transcription of Organ Music (148): MP3
    • Sather Gate Illumination (150)
    • Tears (159): MP3
    • In the Baggage Room at Greyhound (161): MP3
    • Ready to Roll (167)
    • Wrote This Last Night (174): MP3 
    • Death to Van Gogh's Ear (175): MP3
    • The Lion for Real (182): MP3
    • American Change (194)
    • Back in Times Square, Dreaming of Times Square (196)
    • My Sad Self (209): MP3
    • Psalm IV (246)