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Allen Ginsberg

(1926—1997) American poet


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(1926–1997)

US poet and leading figure of the Beat group of writers, who first came to prominence in the 1950s.

The son of poor Jewish immigrants from Russia, Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey, and educated at Columbia University, where he studied under Lionel Trilling and Mark Van Doren and won prizes for his poetry. At William Burroughs's apartment near Columbia he met Jack Kerouac and others with whom he was later associated, and in 1948 had several mystical experiences that had a lasting effect. He moved to San Francisco and in 1956 published Howl and Other Poems. This volume, successfully defended against a charge of obscenity, epitomized the Beats' attack on the smugness of the 1950s. Owing much to Blake and Whitman, it signalled a break with the academically respectable verse of the day and the dominant influence of the New Criticism, inspiring an alternative culture of visionary experience, drugs, and oriental forms of religious meditation. Kaddish and Other Poems (1961), an elegy for his mother usually considered his best work, and Reality Sandwiches (1963) followed. A talented performer, Ginsberg won an immense international following in the 1960s. He was instrumental in reviving poetry as a popular spoken art and played an effective role in various movements of the time – for civil rights, peace, gay liberation, and so on. His later work, including The Fall of America (1972), Mind Breaks (1977), and White Shroud, Poems 1980–85 (1986), is relatively tranquil and hardly compares in intensity to his earlier books. Together with a number of former Beat poets, he was associated with the Naropa Institute of Buddhist Studies and the Arts at Boulder, Colorado, for much of his later career. His Collected Poems appeared in 1988 and the first instalment of his voluminous journals in 1995.

Subjects: literature.


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Works by Allen Ginsberg