If I were doing my Laundry I'd wash my ***** Iran
I'd throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa, put all the birds and elephants back in the jungle,
I'd wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,
Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,
Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos,
Flush that sparkly Cesium out of Love Canal
Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain Sludge out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,
Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little Clouds so snow return white as snow,
Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie
Then I'd throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent Orange,
Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out the tattletail Gray of U.S. Central American police state,
& put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an Aeon
till it came out clean.
Boulder, 26 April, 1980
Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997)
One of the most respected Beat writers and acclaimed American poets of his generation, Allen Ginsberg enjoys a prominent place in post-World War II American culture.
He was born in 1926 in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in nearby Paterson. The son of an English teacher and Russian expatriate, Ginsberg’s early life was marked by his mother’s psychological troubles, including a series of nervous breakdowns.
In 1943, while studying at Columbia University, Ginsberg befriended William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, and the trio later established themselves as pivotal figures in the Beat Movement. Known for their unconventional views, and frequently rambunctious behavior, Ginsberg and his friends also experimented with drugs.
On one occasion, Ginsberg used his college dorm room to store stolen goods acquired by an acquaintance. Faced with prosecution, Ginsberg decided to plead insanity and subsequently spent several months in a mental institution. After graduating from Columbia, Ginsberg remained in New York City and worked various jobs.
Ginsberg first came to public attention in 1956 with the publication of Howl and Other Poems.
“Howl,” a long-lined poem in the tradition of Walt Whitman, is an outcry of rage and despair against a destructive, abusive society.
Kevin O'Sullivan, writing in Newsmakers, deemed “Howl” “an angry, sexually explicit poem”, considered by many to be a revolutionary event in American poetry.
The poem's raw, honest language and its “Hebraic-Melvillian bardic breath,” as Ginsberg called it, stunned many traditional critics.
Richard Eberhart, for example, called “Howl” “a powerful work, cutting through to dynamic meaning…It is a howl against everything in our mechanistic civilization which kills the spirit…Its positive force and energy come from a redemptive quality of love.”
Appraising the impact of “Howl,” Paul Zweig noted that it “almost singlehandedly dislocated the traditionalist poetry of the 1950s.”
In addition to stunning critics, Howl stunned the San Francisco Police Department. Because of the graphic ****** language of the poem, they declared the book obscene and arrested the publisher, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Ginsberg's political activities were called strongly libertarian in nature, echoing his poetic preference for individual expression over traditional structure.
In the mid-1960s he was closely associated with the counterculture and antiwar movements. He created and advocated “flower power,” a strategy in which antiwar demonstrators would promote positive values like peace and love to dramatize their opposition to the death and destruction caused by the Vietnam War. The use of flowers, bells, smiles, and mantras (sacred chants) became common among demonstrators.
Sometimes Ginsberg's politics prompted reaction from law-enforcement authorities. He was arrested at an antiwar demonstration in New York City in 1967 and tear-gassed at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.
In 1972 he was jailed for demonstrating against then-President Richard Nixon at the Republican National Convention in Miami.
In 1978 he and long-time companion Peter Orlovsky were arrested for sitting on train tracks in order to stop a trainload of radioactive waste coming from the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant in Colorado.
Ginsberg's political activities caused him problems in other countries as well.
Another continuing concern reflected in Ginsberg's poetry was a focus on the spiritual and visionary. His interest in these matters was inspired by a series of visions he had while reading William Blake's poetry, and he recalled hearing “a very deep earthen grave voice in the room, which I immediately assumed, I didn't think twice, was Blake's voice.”
He added that “the peculiar quality of the voice was something unforgettable because it was like God had a human voice, with all the infinite tenderness and anciency and mortal gravity of a living Creator speaking to his son.”
Such visions prompted an interest in mysticism that led Ginsberg to experiment, for a time, with various drugs.
After a journey to India in 1962, however, during which he was introduced to meditation and yoga, Ginsberg changed his attitude towards drugs. He became convinced that meditation and yoga were far superior in raising one's consciousness, while still maintaining that psychedelics could prove helpful in writing poetry.
Ginsberg's study of Eastern religions was spurred on by his discovery of mantras, rhythmic chants used for spiritual effects.
During poetry readings he often began by chanting a mantra in order to set the proper mood.
In 1972 Ginsberg took the Refuge and Boddhisattva vows, formally committing himself to the Buddhist faith.
In 1974 Ginsberg and fellow-poet Anne Waldman co-founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics as a branch of Trungpa's Naropa Institute.
“The ultimate idea is to found a permanent arts college,” Ginsberg said of the school, “sort of like they have in Tibetan tradition where you have teachers and students living together in a permanent building which would go on for hundreds of years.”
Ginsberg lived a kind of literary “rags to riches”—from his early days as the feared, criticized, and “*****” poet to his later position within what Richard Kostelanetz called “the pantheon of American literature.”
He was one of the most influential poets of his generation and, in the words of James F. Mersmann, “a great figure in the history of poetry.”
Because of his rise to influence and his staying power as a figure in American art and culture, Ginsberg's work was the object of much scholarly attention throughout his lifetime.
In the spring of 1997, while already plagued with diabetes and chronic hepatitis, Ginsberg was diagnosed with liver cancer.
After learning of this illness, Ginsberg promptly produced twelve brief poems. The next day he suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. Two days later, he died.
How would Ginsberg have liked to be remembered?
“As someone in the tradition of the oldtime American transcendentalist individualism,” he said, “from that old gnostic tradition…Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman…just carrying it on into the 20th century.”
Ginsberg once explained that among human faults he was most tolerant of anger; in his friends he most appreciated tranquility and ****** tenderness; his ideal occupation would be “articulating feelings in company.”
“Like it or not, no voice better echoes his times than Mr. Ginsberg's,” concluded a reviewer in the Economist.
“He was a bridge between the literary avant-garde and pop culture.”