Allen Ginsberg

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Allen Ginsberg’s Life Essay, Research Paper Ann Charters Ginsberg, Allen (3 June 1926-6 Apr. 1997), poet, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the younger son of Louis Ginsberg, a high school English teacher and poet, and Naomi Levy Ginsberg. Ginsberg grew up with his older brother Eugene in a household shadowed by his mother’s mental illness; she suffered from recurrent epileptic seizures and paranoia. An active member of the Communist Party-USA, Naomi Ginsberg took her sons to meetings of the radical left dedicated to the cause of international Communism during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the winter of 1941, when Allen was a junior in high school, his mother insisted that he take her to a therapist at a Lakewood, New Jersey, rest home, a disruptive bus journey he

described in his long autobiographical poem "Kaddish." Naomi Ginsberg spent most of the next fifteen years in mental hospitals, enduring the effects of electroshock treatments and a lobotomy before her death at Pilgrim State Hospital in 1956. Witnessing his mother’s mental illness had a traumatic effect on Ginsberg, who wrote poetry about her unstable condition for the rest of his life. Graduating from Newark’s East Side High School in 1943, Ginsberg later recalled that his most memorable school day was the afternoon his English teacher Frances Durbin read aloud from Walt Whitman’s "Song of Myself" in a voice "so enthusiastic and joyous . . . so confident and lifted with laughter" that he never forgot the image of "her black-dressed bulk

seated squat behind an English class desk, her embroidered collar, her voice powerful and high" (quoted in Schumacher, p. 17). Despite his passionate response to Whitman’s poetry, Ginsberg listed government or legal work as his choice of future occupation in the high school yearbook. Attending the college of Columbia University on a scholarship, Ginsberg considered his favorite course the required freshman great books seminar taught by Lionel Trilling. Later Ginsberg also cited the renowned literary critics and biographers Mark Van Doren and Raymond Weaver as influential professors at Columbia. But Ginsberg’s friends at Columbia were an even greater influence than his professors on his decision to become a poet. As a freshman he met undergraduate Lucien Carr, who

introduced him to William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, part of a diverse (and now legendary) circle of friends that grew to include the Times Square heroin addict Herbert Huncke, the young novelist John Clellon Holmes, and a handsome young drifter and car thief from Denver named Neal Cassady, with whom Ginsberg fell in love. Kerouac described the intense encounter between Ginsberg and Cassady in the opening chapter of his novel On the Road (1957). These friends became the nucleus of a group that named themselves the "Beat Generation" writers. The term was coined by Kerouac in the fall of 1948 during a conversation with Holmes in New York City. The word "beat" referred loosely to their shared sense of spiritual exhaustion and diffuse feelings of rebellion

against what they experienced as the general conformity, hypocrisy, and materialism of the larger society around them caught up in the unprecedented prosperity of postwar America. In the summer of 1948, in his senior year at Columbia, Ginsberg had dedicated himself to becoming a poet after hearing in a vision the voice of William Blake reciting the poem "Ah Sunflower." Experimenting with drugs like marijuana and nitrous oxide to induce further visions, or what Ginsberg later described as "an exalted state of mind," he felt that the poet’s duty was to bring a visionary consciousness of reality to his readers. He was dissatisfied with the poetry he was writing at this time, traditional work modeled on English poets like Sir Thomas Wyatt or Andrew Marvell whom