Posted by: cochinblogger | February 5, 2011

Remembering Allen Ginsberg

In Keith Richard’s autobiography, which was reviewed in a recent issue of Tehelka magazine, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg is referred to as an “old gasbag who sat around playing a concertina badly and making om sounds, pretending he was oblivious to his socialite surroundings.” Now, that’s a harsh description.

Curiously enough, there’s a reference to Ginsberg in the next article too, in which Srimati Lal remembers her father, P. Lal, the pioneering publisher based in Calcutta. Srimati writes: “I remember returning home one afternoon from school to see a genial, bearded tall white man cooking macher jol (fish curry) merrily in our kitchen. “This is the Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg,” Baba quietly informed me.

And just yesterday, I read this humorous piece on Ginsberg: The Karma Bum

However, the best Ginsberg anecdote I’ve read is from the autobiography of the poet Dom Moraes, My Son’s Father. This is a brilliant book, studded with unforgettable sentences, written when he was in his thirties, I think, in which he covers the period up to when he completed his university studies in England. His love-hate relationship with his mother, Beryl, who became insane when Dom was yet a boy, is sensitively and honestly portrayed.

Here are a couple of examples of his writing:

“Then, to my utter astonishment, my mother slapped me. It was not a very hard slap, but she had never done it before, and I couldn’t understand it. I never understood it, till years later, with slow strokes on a bed, I first nailed a woman to her cross.”

“Term was not yet over, and the next few days were an orgy of farewells. Though my friends and I knew we would meet again, we knew also that we would never have quite the same absolute relationship; the world would take that away from us.”

And here is the Ginsberg anecdote:

As summer put flowers back in the college quadrangles, Ginsberg and Corso announced their impending arrival. I went up to London to collect them, having previously arranged readings at my own college, at New College, and at a couple of other places. I was astonished to find them in the care of Archer. “Oh well then, you see.” Archer explained. when they were out of the room, “I was introduced to them at a party. Charming chaps, what? And really talented, I think so, too … I can sense it … ” and he waved a vague hand into the air.

They were exactly the same as in Paris. Allen Ginsberg mostly remote and dreamy, with bursts of volubility; Corso mostly voluble, with spells of silence. England, to him, was the home of his heroes, Chatterton, Blake, and Shelley, and Shelley’s particular home to him was Oxford. He made me promise to show him Shelley’s statue at University College, and perhaps then help him to find Shelley’s rooms.

On the train going up, in a spirit of anticipation, the poets rolled marijuana cigarettes and proceeded to smoke them. The compartment filled with a distinctively odorous smoke. Fortunately, we were the only occupants, but then, to my horror, the ticket collector arrived. Smoke billowed back at him as he opened the door, and he sniffed it with a faintly puzzled air on his large ruddy face. “”Funny smell,” he observed. “American cigarettes,” I explained hastily. “These gentlemen are from America.” The ticket collector observed, “I’ve never smoked one of them American cigarettes.” “Try one,” invited Gregory, and ignoring my frantic gestures of appeal, presented him with a fresh marijuana cigarette. “Thanks very much,” said the ticket collector, and, dubiously sucking at this novel kind of nicotine, he moved on.

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