(In response to "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg)
I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by sanity,
seen bold new visionaries resign themselves to clinical long-haul deaths,
drug-numbed to their own suffering, and everyone else’s;
seen raving revolutionaries give up, retire to minimalist Swedish-designed armchairs,
and never move again;
seen the horizon dim and draw ever closer,
and the tenacious lunatics with the wanderlust to stray beyond
become fewer and further between.
There are uglier destructive forces than madness:
Consider cognitive rehabilitation.
Consider absolutely nothing immeasurable.
Consider utter rationality.
Ritalin, lithium, risperidone, duloxatine. [I thought I heard a man speaking in tongues,
then I realised he was simply reading out loud from a pharmaceutical directory.]
Imagine a generation of loan brokers and loss adjustors;
Hicks gone these past seventeen years and Leary still alive;
sharks floating in formaldehyde;
all true human significance lost in pretentious symbols,
and no one raging.
No one raging for real.
Where are Plato’s maniacs now?
Where are their lunatic songs?
I hear only the steady, rational tapping of the accountants’ calculators,
occasionally, some lost and lonely *** crying out for one more shot,
and the PA system calling the next patient through, the doctor will see you now,
or asking would the owner of a light blue Honda Civic please move their vehicle,
as it’s blocking in a black Lexus full of lawyers with an ambulance to chase.
Is there really nowhere between here
and the bellow and buzz, the shiver and shriek of the asylum?
Someplace between this sterile, static, silent, windowless room
and the fizzing frenzy of the electroconvulsion suite,
there must be somewhere we might have paused and breathed and set up shop,
where we could have been happy – if we’d wanted to be –
and no more or less sane than we chose.
Dr Thompson saw it coming: the dawn of this new Age of Equilibrium.
He knew that football season was over, for good this time, and made his ballistic decision
to go stalk peacocks and hound Nixon through the Kingdom Hereafter,
assuring us, ‘Relax – This won’t hurt’.
He was right.
Safe and stable and sanitized, we can no longer follow your desperate, ***** verse.
Straitjacketed by reason, we perceive our world only in terms
of quantum and co-efficiency, of the logical and logistical,
of what can be conjured in the duration of the average commercial break,
of what can be computed to at least two decimal places.
We are the chemically castrated.
We are lobotomised by mutual consent.
We are the perfect ones: regular and moderate and so healthy, so functional.
We are the white strobing smiles of the toothpaste ads,
the poster children for good mental hygiene,
the footsoldiers of no more conflict.
We have lost our skill for the alchemy
that once distilled genius from the seething crucible of lunacy.
We medicate those whose vision would otherwise put our own to shame,
leave them as myopic and blinkered as the rest of us,
the breadth and depth and distance of their sight no longer a worry to anyone.
Give us back our madmen: we need them.
Give us back our crazed anthems, our burning shrouds, our leprous one-man-bands.
Give us back the fire and the filth and the fornication that kept us howling through
those endlessly polluted nights of Windscale and Watergate, McCarthy and motorcades, Hanoi and Hiroshima.
Please. Give us back our madmen.
I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by sanity.
This poem is featured in my collection, "Over Glassy Horizons", available here: > tinyurl.com/amz-ogh