ALLEN GINSBERG, American poet was born on this date (d. 1997); Prophetic angel poet, best known for the poem Howl (1956), celebrating his friends of the Beat Generation and attacking what he saw as the destructive forces of materialism and conformity in the United States at the time. The influence of Ginsberg’s poetry on an entire generation was enormous. How Ginsberg and the other “beats” appeared to readers in the 50’s, still wearing flats and dress shields and seven crinolines, is hard to reconstruct, much less imagine. Sixty-plus years later, when today’s youth make the “beats” look as if they were wearing flats, dress shields and seven crinolines, it makes one wonder who the poetry, the pronunciamentos will hold up in the future.
The trouble with telling the truth – and Ginsberg was one of the most directly honest writers who ever lived – is that the truth dates much more rapidly than the elegant lie that rarely shows its age. W.H. Auden, who really couldn’t stand Ginsberg’s poetry, once visited by the beat poet who had come to Oxford to pay him homage. Auden, to cut the visit short, showed Ginsberg around Christ Church Cathedral, and, in parting, was horrified when the young poet – with the utmost sincerity – knelt and kissed his trouser cuffs. Auden, who knew more than a little about the elegant lie, once wrote that “Sincerity always hits me something like sleep. I mean, if you try to get it too hard, you won’t.” Of the two poets, it will be interesting to know whose work will survive the longer.
In 1954 in San Francisco, Ginsberg met Peter Orlovsky, (7 years his junior) with whom he fell in love and who remained his life-long lover, and with whom he eventually shared his interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Ginsberg won the National Book Award for his book The Fall of America. In 1993, the French Minister of Culture awarded him the medal of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (the Order of Arts and Letters).
Allen Ginsberg gave what is thought to be his last reading at The Booksmith in San Francisco on December 16, 1996. He died on April 5, 1997, surrounded by family and friends in his East Village loft in New York City, succumbing to liver cancer via complications of hepatitis. He was 70 years old. Ginsberg continued to write through his final illness, with his last poem, “Things I’ll Not Do (Nostalgias),” written on March 30.
Ginsberg is buried in his family plot in Gomel Chesed Cemetery, one of a cluster of Jewish cemeteries at the corner of McClellan Street and Mt. Olivet Avenue near the city lines of Elizabeth and Newark, New Jersey. The family plot, located toward the western edge of the cemetery at the far end of the walk from the third gate along Mt. Olivet Avenue, is marked by a large Ginsberg and Litzky stone, and Ginsberg himself and each family member have smaller markers. Though the grave itself and the cemetery are neither picturesque nor otherwise notable (Ginsberg’s grave is located near the rear fence of the flat cemetery, which is in the midst of an industrial area), and it has not become a major place of pilgrimage, there is a steady trickle of visitors as indicated by a handful of stones always on his marker and the occasional book or other item left by other poets and admirers.