Allen Ginsberg

by Anne Waldman

I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg
by Bill Morgan (Ginsberg’s archivist for the last 20 years of his life): Viking/Penguin, October

Howl on Trail: The Struggle for Free Expression
edited by Bill Morgan: City Lights, November

The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Early Poems, 1937–52
Da Capo Press, October

Collected Poems
to be re-issued by Harper Collins, October


Allen Ginsberg at Peter Orlovsky's Montgomery St. apartment, San Francisco, July 1955. Courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust.


Readers and audiences across the United States have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark book, Howl and Other Poems, since October of last year. This iconic text was first published in the fall of 1956 as number four in the Pocket Poets Series from City Lights Books. When a second edition was printed the following year in London, part of the shipment was seized by US Customs on obscenity charges. When this tactic failed (City Lights simply sidestepped Customs by printing another edition in the US), local police arrested publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore manager Shigeyoshi Murao, charging them with publishing and selling obscene material. This famous and controversial censorship trial came out on poetry’s side, with the judge ruling that the book was not obscene or without “the slightest redeeming social importance.”

Celebrations of the 50th anniversary reach a fever pitch this fall: with the publication of a new biography of Ginsberg, a book on the trial, and the re-issuing of several of this most radical and influential poet’s books and journals, the “social importance” of the work and its legacy are strong and audible. (Jerry Aronson’s salient documentary The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg is also available on DVD, and many recordings of Ginsberg’s readings and teaching from the legendary Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University are available on the Naropa Poetics Audio Archive.) Ginsberg was notoriously engaged in his vow to “keep the world safe for poetry,” as a cultural activist, Buddhist, and consummate citizen of the world who fought repression, censorship, prejudice, homophobia, and injustices of all kinds and was one of the most progressive, astute, and eloquent voices of the last century. “Well while I’m here I’ll do the work— / and what’s the Work? / To ease the pain of living. / Everything else, drunken dumbshow.”

—Anne Waldman

American culture
beat generation
Fall 2006
The cover of BOMB 97