Sunday, January 2, 2011

More Allen Ginsberg Than You Would Want to Know

The Steiny Road Poet entered 2011 with just a few more pages to read of Bill Morgan's I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg. It's a funky biography by a man who worked closely with Ginsberg and on Ginsberg's vast archive of works.

Morgan's bio of Ginsberg is funky because it is not totally objective. Still, Morgan's spin on Ginsberg doesn't get in the way of the documentation which is extensive. The Steiny Road Poet walks away from this record of years that she could not put down understanding a much bigger picture of the Beat poet whom she personally experienced as a tremendously generous person and, much more surprising, filling in gaps in her understanding of what happened in America from 1950-1990 and how it affected her.

And no, she didn't know that Ginsberg had more than a passing acquaintance with Paul Bowles. Those familiar with Bowles and the Beats have seen the 1961 photo of them together in Tangier. She knew from Paul Bowles himself that he had visited with the Beat writers when they visited William Burroughs in Tangier. However, Bowles was careful to say, and said it in the interview the Steiny Road Poet and two journalists did with him in 1982 (see Conversations with Paul Bowles p. 128), that he was not involved with Beat writing.  In 1961, Bowles invited Ginsberg to spend a week with him at a house in Marrakech. (In I Celebrate Myself, Bill Morgan claims the house belonged to Bowles—see p. 333, but that may be confused with the house he owned in Tangier.)  In 1993, Ginsburg made one last trip to see Bowles. Bowles, who died in 1999, outlived the younger Ginsberg by two years.

What led to Ginsberg's death was Hepatitis C that he had contracted in South American in 1960.  More surprising is that he did not contract the AIDS virus over his life time of multiple sex partners and this bio does not skimp on the outrageous sexual adventures of this son of a high school teacher. Another surprising fact about Ginsberg is that he always went after straight men. His life time partner Peter Orlovsky was a straight man who had many girl friends but Peter came from a family challenged by mental illness. Eventually mental illness and severe drug addiction plagued Orlovsky and his relationship with Ginsberg.  

Articles on Ginsberg by Karren Alenier
Photos of the Beat Poet, Allen Ginsberg
Howl: Absorbing Poetry through Film
Howling in the Nation's Capital
Playing the Hydrogen Jukebox