In the 17th Century a biography was defined by John Dryden as the “history of mens live” (Abrams, 22). However, now the name “connotes a relatively full account of a particular person’s life involving the attempt to set forth character, temperament, and mileau, as well as the subjects activities and experiences”(Abrams, 22). An example of a biography is Allen Ginsberg since he was an influential poet and political activist. In other words, he was a social protester that believed in equality for everyone, and not just a selected few.
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3rd 1926 in New Wark, New Jersey. His father, Louise was a school teacher and a poet known for his word play. For example “Is Life worth Living? It depends on the liver, and I have got no axiom to grind”(Jones, 1). His mother on the other hand was a radical communist who idolized Stalin. Also, his mother was in and out of mental hospitals throughout her life. He has stated that his mother makes up bedtime stories that all went something like this: “The good king rode from his castle, saw the suffering workers and healed them”(Jones, 1).
At the age of fifteen, he writes to New York Times indicated to them a variety of political issues such as WWI or workers being treated unfairly in the workplace. For example he writes “One can gather infinite consolation by speculation as to what will happen to those Congressmen when they go to Hell”(Jones, 1). As a result, he wanted to change the laws to favor working class people, so that they could be treated as an equal.
In 1943 Allen Ginsberg left Paterson, New Jersey so that he could attend the University of Columbia in hopes to save the working class. Although he had great ambition at the University of Columbia, he did remain a student on and off until 1948. One of the reason is that in 1945, Allen Ginsberg was suspended from school since he wrote on his window that the “Butler has no balls with Kerouac”(Ball, xiii). As a result, he moved with Kerouac in a communal apartment across the street. During his years at this University, he met Lucien in 1943. After meeting Lucien, he introduces Allen to his other friends such as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassidy, Herbert Huncke, and classmate Lucien Carr (Ball, xiii). Even Burroughs was an important person to his life since that was Allen’s mentor who introduced him to Mayan codices and the works of Spengler, Korzybski, and Celine.
He gives up the Study of Law to pursue a career in writing. He studies literature since he knows this is what he wants out of life. Also he was influenced by other poets such as William Blake, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos. As well, Allen edits the Humor Magazine: The Jester, on the debate team and involved with the literary society.
During the same year, 1945, he was training as a merchant seaman for the war. However, the US dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ended the war and changed history forever. Therefore the training camp was closed.Allen Ginsberg did experiment with marijuana and Benzedrine in front of Time Square with Kerouac and Burroughs. According to all of them, “they were attempting to realize the live poetry of a New Vision” (Jones, 3). Later on this group of people were known as the beat poets since they were trying to come up with new visions of poetry. In other words they “were In the midst of post-war conservatism, these young writers had become disenchanted and were experimenting with new forms of communication”(American Masters, 1). Hence the beat poets started a revolution in social protest even know it was not planned, it just happened.
Early 1947, he meets Neal Cassidy where they start to have a relationship together. They did travel to Texas to visit Burroughs and Herbert on numerous occasions. Although Kerouac was affected by Allen’s relationship with Cassidy, he was able to use him as a character model in On the Road and other novels (Ball, xiv). However; during the following summer Allen was meeting Neal Cassidy at the airport where he was greeted by Neal and his girlfriend. Hence, they still remained close friends in the end.
Allen Ginsberg does have a criminal record since he was arrested for being in a car with stolen goods in April, of 1949. Instead of going to jail, Allen Ginsberg attended a mental hospital since he pleaded insanity. This was the same year that Allen Ginsberg graduated from Columbia.During his years at the Mental Hospital, he met Carl Solomon. Later, Carl Solomon introduces him to French surrealist writing. In the end, they both wrote well together at the Institute. They wrote a number of rhymed poems in Ginsberg’s The Gates of Wrath (Ball, xv).
In 1955, he begins the poem Howl which will be discussed later in the blogs. Unfortunately, his mother dies in 1956 as he is becoming popular in his own life. A letter did arrive to him two days before she died. The letter said “the key is in the window, the key is in the sunlight in the window – I have the key – get married Allen don’t take drugs… Love, your mother” (Jones, 5).
In the 1960’s, he is using social protest to get his point across in the United States. Also, he is preaching to a psychedelics gospel, gets kicked out of Cuba, and Prague, Protesting the War at a Chicago convention in 1968 and testifying at a Chicago seven. Although he has done many social protest, these are just a few examples of his life experiences. He definitely has an impressive FBI file, as a result of him being a political activist. In reference to a discussion of Ginsberg’s FBI file, Herbert Mitgang writes:
In a memorandum from J. Edgar Hoover to the Secret Service in 1965, Ginsberg was cited as an “Internal Security– Cuba” case, and a potential threat to the president of the United States. On the document, stamped Secret’, Ginsberg was listed as “potentially dangerous” and a “subversive,” with “evidence of emotional instability (including unstable residence and employment record) or irrational or suicidal behavior,” as having made “expressions of strong or violent anti U.S. sentiment,” and as having “a propensity for violence and antipathy toward good order and government.” All such items were checked on a form in his file (Jones, 6).
The poem “America” will be discussed in a later blog because this is significant piece of work regarding social protest. Allen Ginsberg in this poem complains to the people the problems that were happening to America society during the fifties and sixties. He dies on April 5th, 1997 as a result of liver cancer in the East Village of New York City. However before he died he wrote a variety of short poems including “On Fame and Death”. In that poem, he wrote that he wish somebody would say at his funeral that “he gave great head” (Jones, 6).