The Beats

I don’t think I have mentioned that I like the “Beat poets”. Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) is one of my favorites. He was born in Newark, New Jersey. He attended Columbia College, where he studied with Lionel Trilling, Mark Van Doren, and Meyer Shapiro. Jack Kerouac authored “On the Road” and based his character of Carlo Marx on Ginsberg.


One of Ginsberg’s most famous poems is “Howl” which he read at the Six Gallery in San Francisco’s North Beach in 1955. He was heckled by a guy in the audience and uttered the battle cry of the Beat movement. The poem was banned.  Everyone wanted to read it.


At one reading, a man asked him, “What do you mean, nakedness?” Ginsberg responded by stripping off his clothes in response. Ginsberg did study with Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s maxim, ” First thought, best thought.” to express his philosophy about composition.


A Supermarket in California, 1955                  

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full-moon.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!

What peaches and what penumbras!  Whole families shopping at night!  Aisles full of husbands!   Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! — and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?


Allen Ginsberg, the Beat generation

Allen Ginsberg, the Beat generation







I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.

I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops?  What price bananas?  Are you my Angel?

I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following  you and followed in my imagination by the store detective.

We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, processing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.


Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close in an hour.  Which way does your beard point tonight?

(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)

Will we walk all night through solitary streets?  The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?

Ah, dear friend, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?







Later photo of Allen Ginsberg.

Later photo of Allen Ginsberg.