I have seen marble-eyed lyricists hide in cups of black coffee, chewing spent filters, coughing,
not a poet among them the scoundrels spit and wail on forgotten love and curse the memory of this tribe and that casting call, hollow in the chest, laughing
at the thought one could spend a lifetime counting spoons and who’d give a shit about your novel? – fingers shaking at a loaded hip-flask: elixir rye to the shaman roll-bones poking guts telling yesterday like tomorrow’s news,
appears you can’t tell the future unless you’re blind otherwise you’d catch hell with the clues, standing firing line with near-prophetic ad-men, flat cap in hand used to play Ronnie’s Swing Club balking hexes on a trumpet.
Too many buddies sewing patches on old cords; I contribute to The New Yorker every day sharing the kerb with any vagabond with a screenplay.
My kid sisters don’t know George Sempé but I’m obsessed with him, I’m positive I can do better. Young writers quit the mail-order quotations mahogany satin polish Edwardian silk finish with a happy ending I’m sick of it; the is only one god and Howard Roake is his prophet.
I pray with a guitar and a young heart into a tin speaker every night; no trains, my den crux cobwebbed ‘neath the elevated tracks – they closed the pink line so I can record my album spring loaded civic action no cash flow anyway...
Ain’t any time for you boxcar balladeers! Free ride but no train to take,
can’t lay dozing ‘neath the freight.
Pigs in kitsch suit aesthetic,
Signing up as clockwork volunteers,
Ink-lip their names to a list,
Form ranks armed
To the teeth with Mint Juleps,
Calmly advance on my salient,
Feathered by a fist,
Tarred with a kiss
- I hope to never know why that is.
I’ll walk myself back
To the stocks above my bed,
My boots leak - I don’t care.
My eyes deep in my pockets,
On the midnight street,
I’ll shuffle and stare
At the news-print on my fingers:
Life without a future tense.
Go for coffee and cigarettes.
Writers’ bar-room circle
Follow their own scripts.
“Punch your time-card, boy,
You’ve got work to do.”
I sweep the salt from the ground,
Pretend I’m D.B. Cooper.
- Allen Ginsberg, 'America', Berkley, January 17th 1956.
This man is my favourite poet of all time; anyone who is not familiar with his work has my sincere recommendation to dig up a copy of Kaddish, Howl or a collected volume. I know it is highly irregular for me to include critical content on my page but it seems to me that the poems I write need some definition. My work will now be given in context with my understanding of what makes a good poem and how this has been achieved by writers before me. I shall therefore include short pieces like this which describe what I look for and learn from when I read the poetry of others.
The first thing which should be understood about Ginsberg is that he is never lost in meandering metaphor: every line, phrase and syllable is immediate and concerned at all times with the theme of the work. You will never catch this poet embarking on a hallucinatory critique on the state of romance in contemporary New York through similes concerning broken teacups and Grandma’s roses. When discussing his experiences with and love for the tragic youth forgotten by society, in the first part of Howl (San Francisco, 1955-6), Ginsberg writes:
I saw the best minds of my generation...
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, ...
The grammar here is sparse but not irrelevant, prepositions are forgotten and the pace is sickeningly rapid. Ginsberg’s style is about exposing what is happening right now, even if he is referencing the past. The impression throughout the first section of Howl is that he has seen this and it is still going on. Poems like Howl display Ginsberg’s ability to weave deep understanding and incredible gravity of statement in a novel way, a refreshing break from the funeral dirge of some of T.S. Elliot’s work or the sporadic awkwardness of E.E. Cummings.
When this poet does engage in immaculate descriptions or extended metaphor, he does precisely that: he engages. The result is not grandiose and pompous like public confessions of impotent intellectuals. Allen Ginsberg wrote acute poetry which, although laced with subtle messages and intimate ideas, stands tall and gives a clear and thought-provoking message. Sunflower Sutra (Berkley, 1955) is the prime example of this approach. A scene is set where Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac sit atop a hill to watch a sunset and there follows a beautiful contemplation of a sunflower among the wreckage of an old locomotive.
...the gray sunflower poised against the sunset...
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sun-rays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear...
Important ideas must be conveyed clearly and effectively or they face abandonment, being shunned for lack of relevance. Sunflower Sutra ends with Ginsberg giving his sermon on the mount to Kerouac and the Sunflower and anyone down in the echoing valley who’ll listen – his point is clear and dexterously put because it is too important to be squandered by ill-defined poetic whimsy.
Although I have only covered two examples, barely touching on the complex natures of each, the complexities of Allen Ginsberg’s style are already emerging. I will continue to write in a free and intermittent manner on his work and the other poets I enjoy. It is not my aim to produce exhaustive passages on the various facets of the work of these poets; I would like simply to highlight the passages and phrases which have caught my eye and sent my thoughts racing in all directions. The work of many critics sets about the task of dismantling and debasing the art they are attempting to explain. There is no pleasure in this for me because the best work invariably must be approached repeatedly and will even then strike you differently and unexpectedly.
when catharsis is therapeutic
but this self-indulgence
is bound to induce stagnation.
When a strong man,
one who is heroically individual,
is swallowed up by fictions
– precluded, altruistic jubilance
over the prize of mystic love
from a good woman, the belief
that, had the dice rolled differently,
he could have been saved
from himself, his consuming misery –
he is truly defeated
and nobody can help him.
Then again it is pleasant
to see the lymph rise
from an old wound
with the pump and vigour
of a youthful heart
too often thought lost.
Picking over our memories
is not time wasted licking
our sores. Reflecting
in the westbound waiting room,
we take pause and attempt
to gather up our resources,
devise foresighted stratagems
to meet all exciting new contingencies,
bid to never again run and hide
from impending calamities
or any vexing mysteries
approaching our lives.
pisses me off; sunshine or rain
please, none of this indecisive
bullshit – I’ve waited too long
to be disappointed.
Rabbits are wondering
if they ought to have
changed their wardrobes;
sparrows are anxious
in their dust baths;
I crunch around
in the yellow leaves
of a confused oak tree.
A healthy storm is good for the nation’s
temperament but, as a matter of course,
I’d rather not carry an umbrella
in the middle of summer.