October 13, 2006KR BlogReading

Ghosts of Ginsberg

A few nights ago I had the opportunity to see a rare performance: the often overlooked (or at least less famous than some of her male colleagues) Beat poet Anne Waldman in collaboration with choreographer Douglas Dunn at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts in a one-night-only performance (or perhaps happening) that was marvellous, fascinating, frustrating, and invigorating in a way that only the Beats can be and in a way that seems to have disappeared from the serious public stage of poetry and into the depressed and adolescent halls of junior-high school imitations. If the Beats even live there at this point, of all places, which still would be better than nowhere. And whatever happened to the idea that artists in radically different media might want not merely to respond to one another but to collaborate? Of course, all of this puts me in mind of Allen Ginsberg.

Although he’s never too far from the sounds of contemporary American poetry, Ginsberg resurfaces with a new and more complete edition of the Collected Poems which will be available in a matter of days. Recently, too, Jason Shinder’s The Poem that Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years Later offers an opportunity to reconsider the legacy of a poet whose own work seems to militate against legacies at the same time that its idiosyncratic vision of America–its poetry and politics–has become more and more relevant.

So I’ll close with those first, fabulous lines from the Ginsberg poem that just barely crowds out my other favorites when I think of Ginsberg’s unmistakable sound, “A Supermarket in California”:

What thoughts i have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the side streets 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!”