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May 31, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 31, 2013 PAGE 11A By Emma Silvers Generationrosetopop-culture has a story about the time they j. the Jewish news weekly prominence; and the '80s and met Allen." of Northern California '90s, as a new generation of Irwin Allen Ginsberg was writers, artists and musicians born on June 3, 1926, in New- In 1976, Steve Silberman, surrounded thewriter, ark, N.J.; he grew up in nearby then a 19-year-old freshman It's a side of Ginsberg that Paterson, home of the poet at Oberlin College, took a bus fewofthepoet's casual fanshad William Carlos Williams, who to New York City to see Allen seenbefoi'e 2010,when the col- would later become a mentor. Ginsberg read. lection debuted at the National - While his father, Louis, was With Silbermanwas his first Gallery of Art in Washington, a high school teacher and boyfriend.Silbermanhadbeen D.C., and subsequently was published poet, Ginsberg was in the closet throughout high published in a book. closer to his mother, Naomi, school, one of many reasons Originally organized bya communist who struggled he drew inspiration from the the gallery's curator of photo- wit hmentalillnessthroughout outspokenly gay Ginsberg. graphs, Sarah Greenough, the her life. She spent much of his "I sat in the front row, and collection hastakenonnewlife youth in mental hospitals, and Allen comes out, and I had and weight in San Francisco, whenshewashomesometimes never seen a middle-aged man wherecuratorssoondiscovered took him with her to therapy look so happy and fully present thatalmosteveryaspectoflocal appointments.Thosewhoknew and awake and authentic, and civic culture has been touched Ginsbergsayshehadaprofound therewasjustnobullshitabout in some way by the poet. " influence on his life. him," recalls Silberman, 55, "Obviously he was an in- "I don't think people un- nowaSanFranciscowriterand credible figure in shaping derstandthe degree to which contributing editor for Wired San Francisco's history and Allen was impacted by his " Magazine."Irememberlooking culture--as a Jewish person, mother," says Alan Kaufman, atAllenandhavingoneofthose and as an incredible writer, a San Francisco-based poet profound turning points in my and as a figure in gay history and novelist who worked with life, and I thought, 'Wherever aswell,"saysCollenStockman, Ginsbergthroughoutthe'90s, that guy's gonna be next sum- the CJM's assistant curator, occasionallytravelingwithhim mer, I want to help him. I'll She designed the minimalist to conferences abroad. do whatever he needs--buy layout of the exhibit with the "In 'Kaddish,' you have him his milk, take his mail to the idea that the black-and-white describing in haunting, neck- post office.' photographs, including Gins- hair-bristling detail what it's "You could sayitwas almost berg's ink-scrawled captions, like to be with your mother aclassicalBuddhistexperience "shouldspeakforthemselves." on a Greyhound bus, trying to of recognizing your guru," he Staff at City Lights Books-- take her to an insane asylum, says."Ijustknewthatsomehow Lawrence Ferlinghetti'sNorth and there are all these ques- Allen's life and my life had deep Beach bookstore and publish- tions aboutwhy hewas saddled things to say to each other." _ ing house, which served as with that responsibility," says Silberman never imagined Ginsberg's literary home for Kaufman, whose memoir that 10 years later, while work- most of his career--helped "Drunken Angel" contains a ingforGinsbergasanassistant, Stockman conceive the best portrait of Ginsberg as a friend the poet would be barking at ways to make the show con- and mentor. "But then later in him for trying to add salt to a temporary, life, he surrounds himself with pot of kasha Ginsberg planned "Itwas reallyimpo~tant that and embraces peoplewhowere on serving--as an entire the exhibit not just become a crazy, or considered at that meal--to a dinner party made kind of nostalgic relic of some- time tobe crazy.He holdsthem up of agiflg memhers of the .thing that happened, so this close, triestorehabilitatethem, Beat generation. "People have was about keeping it active and encourages them." highbl0odpressure," Ginsberg presentinterms of[Ginsberg's] As a student at Columbia explained. An hour later, the effect on how we see the world University, Ginsberg met some younger writer watched as his today," she says. of the writers that would go mentor dumped halfabottle of- An audio area in which visi- on to shape the Beat move- soy sauce over the dish. tors can listen to five different ment with him, people who "If you caught him in the tracks of Ginsberg read!ng his became lifelong friends, such right mood, he would be the poetry--including "Kaddish," as Jack Kerouac, William oS. sweetest, gentlest person .,. the poem he wrote after his Burroughs, Neal Cassady and but people thinkofhim as this mother's death--incorpo- Gregory Corso. Buddhistsaint, acharacterwho rates his exhilarated, lyrical The close bond among this leapt from the pages of Walt performance style into the groupoffriends--andasenseof Whitman,"saysSilbermanwith experience. Stockman says it's intimacy inherent in everyday a laugh. "He was also an old, intentional that some of the moments, like a 1953 candid crabby, Jewish alter-kacker." sound will "bleed out a little" of Kerouac as he and GinsBerg Though widely known as from the headphones into the traipsedaroundtheLowerF_,ast a Beat poet, perhaps most fa- larger viewing space. Side, or a 1955 photo of Neal mously for his poem "Howl"-- Gravity Goldberg, public CassadyandhisgirlfriendNata- that celebration of radical programs director at the CJM lie Jackson laughing in frontof nonconformity, of free spirits workedwith Ginsberg's friends aSanFranciscomoviemarquis and of madness that became and contemporaries to create that reads"The Wild One"--is the center of a landmark First a slew of interactive program- perhaps the only constant in Amendment trial in SanFran- ming that will take place Ginsberg'sphotographs. cisco--Allen Ginsberg was, over the next three and a half "It was a mishpocha (fam- in fact, many things to many, months, including a four-day ily)," says Jonah Raskin, a San people. Hewas a-tireless politi- ~'Allen Ginsberg Festival" July Francisco poet and English calactivistwhowas arrestedat J.1-14 (http://ginsbergfestival. professor who has written both Democratic and Republi- com). The museum will co- extensively on Ginsberg. "And can national conventions. He produce that festival with City he kept them together in many was visibly, vocally queer at a Lights, San Francisco's Beat ways. These photographs deft- time when homosexuality was Museum, Lehrhaus Judaica, nitely tell that story. You can still listed as a mental disorder. Congregation Sha'a/, Zahav, tell how well he knew people. His writing influenced every- and the Stanford Humani- ...Therearemanyphotographs one from Thomas Pynchon to ties Center, among others, of Kerouac alone, and I think the Beatles to Bob Dylan. Panel discussions and read- Ginsberg always recognized He was also a geeky Jewish ings will feature Beat poets, what a lonely person he was." guy--a self-described "four- close friends of Ginsberg's and "He was the hub of the Beat eyed sissy"--from New Jersey, experts on his work, including generation," adds Kaufman, and a guy who really loved his Silberman, Bill Morgan (Gins- "and this was his tool for docu- friends. And, over the course berg's personal archivist), Alan menting his friends. He didn't of five decades, he documented Kaufman, David Meltzer and have the tool of prose, he was themthebestwayheknewhow.. Neeli Cherkovski. notanovelist.He references his ',Beat Memories: The Pho- "I know the literary com- friendsinhispoetryconstantly, tographs of Allen Ginsberg," munity in San Francisco, and but I think he needed another which opened May 23 at the I understood how important way to hold them close." Contemporary Jewish Mu-Ginsbergis to the community,- His friends, in turn, influ- seum in San Francisco and how deeply people-feel about enced C, insberg's life philos0- closes Sept. 8, showcases more him," says Goldberg of her phies. than 80 snapshots Allen took ongoing effort to get"every liv- ' fhen Allen was a youfig throughout his adult life. The ing Beat poet in the Bay Area" man and knew Jack Kerouac photosaregroupedintotwope- involved in the programming, at Columbia, there was a mo- riods: the early 1950s through "As you start talking to mentwhenJackwasleavinghis the mid-'60s, as the Beat people, yourealize.., everyone apartment building, and as he stepped down offeach step Jack sort of said goodbye to it, as if each step was sacred," says Sil- berman. "And I know that had a huge impact on Allen. I believe both his photography and his Buddhist practice came out of that insight: that ordinary, mundane reality--ordinary things and people--could be appreciated in a sacred way." Ginsberg moved to San Francisco in 1954, where he met and fell in love with Peter Orlovsky, a young poet and ac- tor who remained his partner until Ginsberg's death.In 1955, Ginsberg gave his first public reading of "Howl" at the Six Gallery, at 3119 Fillmore St. Kerouac would later describe the reading in "The Dharma Bums," depicting Ginsberg per- forming feverishly, drunkenly, arms outstretched in passion as he reads to an enraptured audience. After City Lights published "Howl" in 1956, the poem was banned for obscenity; the ensu- ing trial over the book's artistic value captured national atten- tion, landing the cover of Time magazine. Less well known: the interior of the apartment on Montgomery Street where Ginsberg wrote the. poem, the subject of one photograph in this collection. The 1960s and early,'70s saw Ginsberg becoming more involved with Buddhism and the Hare Krishna movement, while bridging gaps'between the Beat generation and Sum- mer of Love hippies. He's credited with coining the term "flower power,"andwas heavily involved in anumber of political movements, fromVietnamWa~ protests to the plight of Bangla- deshi war victims to gay rights and First Amendment issues. The first time Kaufman met Ginsberg, in the early '70s, the younger writer was an under- graduate at Queens College and heard that the poet would be reading at Columbia. "I go running overthere to see him, and run into the lecture hall, and he was in his Brahmin Hindu phase then, with long, flowing white robes and beads, and he's not reading," recalls Kaufman. ".He's just sitting on the floor playing the harmonium and saying these long expressions of'Om,' and the audienceis all hippies and everybody else is stoned and thrilled, and I was so upset." Kaufman approached Ginsberg as people filtered out and asked him why he wouldn't perform "Howl" or"Kaddish" or "A Supermarket in California." Ginsberg's response:Asmile, and the word "Om." And yet those who knew Ginsberg well say that, while he dabbled in other kinds of religion and spirituality, Juda- ismwas always an integral part of his identity. "Yiddish certainly never left hisvocabulary, and I don'tthink he ever left behind his Jewish perspective on the world," says Raskin, recalling in particular the physical movements Gins- berg would often make while reading--"like davening"--' and his notion of the poet's role as similar to a rabbi's. '~Vhich makes sense, if you think about it: who better to have for a rabbi than Alien Ginsberg?" says Raskin. "An unconventional rabbi, to be sure, but a rabbi nonetheless." In 1977, making good on Ginsberg died in 1997 at his promise to go wherever the age of 70, of liver cancer. Ginsbergwas, Steve Silberman A memorial held at San Fran- went to work as the poet's ap- cisco'sCongregationEmanu-El prenticeinBoulder, Colo.,atthe drew a who's-who of the West Jack Kerouac School summer Coast literaryscene. Poets Fer- writing program at the Naropa linghetti, di Prima, Waldman, Institute, which Ginsberg had Michael McClure, Gary Snyder co-founded in 1974. Thus andRobertHassreadalongside began a 20-year friendship in Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, which Silberman bore witness who led the service and read toGinsberg'spassions, demons "Kaddish." and idiosyncracies. Those who knew Ginsberg Silberman recalls a trip to say they still feel his impact-- San Jose when he was about the things he fought for, the 30andGinsbergwasnearly60. principles he stood for--in "He had so much more en- daily life. He would have been ergythanI did,"says Silberman. stunnedbythestridesthathave "He'd go from the bookstore, to been made toward marriage the TV studio for an interview, equality, according to several to the reading, andhenevergot friends. (He and Orlovsky ex- tired. He was just amazingly changed vows in a Foster's engaged with the world." Cafeteria in 1955, but the He could be welcoming and marriage was never formally accessiblealmosttoafault, says recognized.) Kaufman."Youcouldn'tcallup "I see his influence every- Saul Bellow or Philip Roth, but where," says Silberman."There you could always call up Allen would be no Bob Dylan, there Ginsberg.Youcouldjustgoover would be no '60s [as we know to his place, in fact, and people them] ... He laid the ground- did, all the time. And I think in work for the tremendous inter- part that came from a place of est in meditation, he looked always feeling like an outsider." at poverty with open eyes, he He Could also be prickly knewnottodependonwaiting and particular. On one occa- until the next world to make sion, he gave an "incredibly things right." articulate" interview to a TV And more than 15 years station, recalls Silberman, later, the perennial interest in then went to the restroom the Beat generation--most and became very upset over recently on display in the film the fact that one of his collar adaptations of "On the Road" buttons had been undone. "He and the story of the "Howl" could be really hard on himself trial, with James Franco as a over little things ... and then young Ginsberg--can be seen he could excuse other, bigger as evidence that Ginsberg's behaviors, likeignoringwomen thirst for life remains compel- in poetry classes." (A section of lingly contagious even to those the exhibit on women's role in whoaretooyoungtohaveheard the Beat movement delves into him speak. accusations of misogyny that The same authenticity, in- have been leveled at Ginsberg timacy and camaraderie that over the years, with a nod to he inspired and documented the women who made an im- among his friends--the feel- pact: Anne Waldman, Diane di ing captured in a snapshot of Prima, Carolyn Cassady and Ginsberg, Cassady, Fefling- others.) hetti, painter Robert LaVigne The 1980s saw Ginsberg and writer Bob Donlin with and the Beats attracting a new their arms around each other wave of interest from a new in front of City Lights-- will generation, with Ginsberg in keep Ginsberg's legacy alive, particular beginning to work Kaufman says. with young musicians like "I think that's why young Patti Smith and Bob Dylan. people love the Beat genera- Thelatter'sinterestinGinsberg tion so much: Whenyou read grew into a sort of father-son their books and their poetry, relationship, accordingtothose you're not just acquiring sto- who knew him. ries or information, you're Ginsberg's frenetic energy, acquiring friends. There's an however, did not weaken with attitude that just being pres- age. Kaufman recalls traveling ent in that moment, those to Germanywith Ginsbergand friendships; is enough. That's fellowwriter KathyAcker for a something you don't see too conferen~einBerlinafewyears much of in art or literature beforeGinsberg'sdeath."Allen these days. Was very frail at this time, and "Their poems did that, and he's wearing a tie and sports I think these photographs do jacket, looking very much like that too. They're saying, 'You theelderlyseniorpoet, andhe's belong among us. It doesn't holding the handrail to get up matter who you are. Come onstage," says Kaufman."And hang out.'" thenthe moment he starts EmmaSilversisastaffwriter reading, he just turns into a forj. the Jewish news weekly lion. He's jumping around, of Northern California, from his voice is coming from deep whichthisarticlewasreprinted within him,.and "his age just by permission. 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