Allen Ginsberg

It was Allen Ginsberg’s birthday the other day. He would have been 94.

Allen loved our part of the world. He kept a compound just north of the Catskills for decades. He spent many retreats at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, where he’d read on a regular basis. He read and sang with his friend Ed Sanders at the Bearsville Barn. One of the great cultural events I’ve ever attended was an event at Columbia-Greene Community College, where he had an SRO crowd chanting in tears, welcoming the beauty of mortality.

“AH” was how he’d inscribe his books, the letters within a simple flower risen from a skull. He’d take the time to listen to everyone who approached him, and he had a prodigious memory for people’s names and faces.

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There was something in the sky, this week, that reminded me of the April 1997 morning when we heard Allen Ginsberg had died. It was preternaturally hot, with splotches of dirty snow still spotting the landscape. We walked through the cemetery that surrounded my house and out through the long plateau of fields that signaled our Catskills valley’s long history to an old maple by a fast-racing brook. We sat on moss, among newly rising field grass and the first burst of spring flowers, and read from his collected poems.

Ginsberg could be a messy poet, but like his predecessor Walt Whitman he always wrote and spoke from the heart, from a perspective that balanced current affairs with something more eternal, be it painful or cathartic.

I don’t like the government where I live
I don’t like dictatorship of the Rich
I don’t like bureaucrats telling me what to eat
I don’t like Police dogs sniffing around my feet

We recited from a little known work, “Capitol Air,” that some of us remembered hearing being performed before a punk audience with the Clash during their 1980 stand at Bond’s in Times Square.

Aware Aware wherever you are No Fear
Trust your heart Don’t ride your Paranoia dear
Breathe together with an ordinary mind
Armed with Humor Feed & Help Enlighten Woe Mankind

There are so many who could help us through these times: political leaders, moral leaders, poets, family. Summon whom we can, I say. Summon them all, so we can make it through to that flowering “AH.”

Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.