Monday, 14 June 2010

Howling about Ginsberg

All the hoopla about Allen Ginsberg’s first photography exhibition started me thinking about that overrated blowhard.

(His photos are boringly unartistic, anyman’s snapshots.) Our only face to face took place at the Walt Whitman Center in Camden in the fall of 1975. I was chosen to introduce his $1500 speech because of my fifteen months of fame for raising money from the nation’s English teachers to repair his caving in mausoleum in Harleigh Cemetery. (I was stiffed for my $50 honorarium—Thanks, Frank!)

I was to show him the Whitman house and make him comfortable. He broke the ice with an arrogant inquiry about my qualifications re Walt. I humbly replied that I’d taught for twenty years. As we walked to the Whitman house I told him about the paradox that his mausoleum was falling down in the centennial year of the stroke that brought him from D.C. to Camden to live with his mother and brother George Washington Whitman. And that the English teachers annual convention was, providentially, in Philly that year, 1973.

I asked the Executive Committee if I could solicit cash with a sandwich board that on one side pleaded A BUCK FOR THE BARD’S BONES and verso SAVE WALT’S VAULT. They rather snootily replied, “Yes, if you abandon the meretricious rhetoric!” I didn’t, but the tight-fisted teachers coughed up $838 and we repaired his vault. (Scuttlebutt has it that it was Walt’s abstract late poetry (1891) that confused the masons laying the concrete.)

At the Beaver commencement that year I whiled away the longuers addressing Emily Dickinson postcards for the poets to celebrate. Buckminster Fuller, the speaker, asked me in the recessional what I’d been doing. I showed him an Emilygram. The next day his check for $100 arrived in the mail, last minute funding for our party!

The following birthday (May 31, 1974) we held a Graveyard Party for the local poets. I read my favorite, Dan Hoffman’s “On Crossing Walt Whitman Bridge” which chides the city for not honoring him. Beaver College Music chair Bill Frabizio, in his secular life Frank Sinatra’s must have flugel horn when he worked Atlantic City, composed a jazz suite “Perhaps Luckier” (Walt’s post Calvinist take on Death) for the NPR “All Things Considered” live broadcast.

At the Walt Whitman Liquor Store I bought nine (for the Muses)bottles of Great Western champagne (no French stuff for our hero)to loosen the poets’ tongues. Such anecdotage got Ginsberg off his high horse. As I wished him a safe journey home, he ruffled my hair sweetly like he suddenly wanted to make out. Yuck.

It recalled his feeling up Peter Orlovsky all too publicly at the Great Poetry Celebration at the Royal Albert Hall. What the hell’s wrong with that oaf I asked my wife Mary. It was our first trip outside the USA: June 1965. Mind me: I have nothing against same sex sex. The more the merrier! But discreetly.

My mother used to counsel me: Never eat if others can’t join you. His grossly feeling up Peter’s legs in that attentive crowd was gross and disgusting. The notion that anything goes when you’re liberating yourself is no more civilized than Sharia law. Allen is a false god.

Let me compare his grossness to another Columbia pioneer, Daniel Hoffmann. Take his latest work, “The Whole Nine Yards: Longer Poems (Louisiana State, 2009):

When both our bodies in one whole
Were joined, their grubbing histories
& our lonely souls’ imprisoned rant
Were swept immaterially aside
Unbearable exaltation shared
That throbbing unity of the sun
Until with death of boy & girl
Subsiding in the dark cocoon
Cradled in your curving thighs
And your head on my crooked arm
We were, unknowing, all we’d done,
As infants sleep before they’re born.

Some instant in that deep fond sleep
Nor felt, recorded, now unknown,
A seed was sown.
Deep in your warm down body’s weal
Two cells commingled: A soul leapt
From God’s eye forth, alive and tingling,
And all that while
We slept.
(This pious celebration of the silent miracle of birth ends. . .)
Three-personed, by continual love made one.

(It’s dedicated to his dead wife Liz and live child Kate.)

This hagiography of the “sainted” Beats fifty years after we’ve had time to evaluate them is grotesque. Scientists have protocols of evaluation. For humanists Anything goes, anytime.

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