Friday, March 1, 1985
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
S T !
PO E ll
poet Allen Ginsberg
attacks on the
BY ALAN ABRAMS
Special to The Jewish News
So you thought only Ariel Sharon
had a bone to pick with Time maga-
zine? In February, Time announced to
the world that poet Allen Ginsberg
had joined the mainstream of Ameri-
can life — as if he had ever set himself
apart from it. As most people know, for
four decades Ginsberg has been per-
haps the most American of living 20th
Century poets, the quintessential
voice of his generation.
Ginsberg was in Detroit recently
for a reading in the Lines series at the
Detroit Institute of Arts. He also ap-
peared before a group- of students at
Plymouth Canton High School.
Ginsberg is still smarting from
the wounds inflicted by Time essayist
R.Z. Sheppard. "Time can be mean and
very often inaccurate," says Ginsberg,
citing several factual errors in the
story. "They bend facts unconsciona-
bly," he added. Time was so hung up
on the Yuppie angle, that's all they
could talk about, instead of looking at
The Time essay was precipitated
by the publication of Collected Poems
1947-1980, a massive 837-page compi-
lation of Ginsberg's work, preserved
and presented chronologically by
Harper and Row. If there were any lin-
gering doubts regarding the applica-
tion of the term "genius" to Ginsberg,
at 58 a near-elder statesman of poetry,
they are quickly dispelled by the
briefest reading of this book.
But Ginsberg quickly corrects
himself. "They (Time) did look at the
poetry and declared it an unconvinc-
ing historical oddity.' To substantiate
this, they quoted one line from Howl:
Moloch! Moloch! Robot
apartments! invisible suburbs!
skeleton treasuries! blind
, capitals! demonic industries!
spectral nations! invincible
"Then they left out the rest of the
granite cocks! monstrous
"By leaving out monstrous bombs,
which is a contemporary problem, they
can declare it obsolete and archaistic.
They amputated the line in order to try
and prove their point. That really is
unfair journalism as - well as being un-
ethical and anti-literate to doctor my
verse line to fit their view. The one line
which they quoted, they bowdlerized
"So what can I do? Write them a
letter? No, it's too much trouble. They
had to do that because they had once
declared that I had a poetic voice like a
woman crying hysterically in the back
of a police car, and they used to call me
`wild-eyed poet Allen Ginsberg.' So
now they can't go back on their judg-
ment and say, 'well, we were wrong.'
They have to say I was wrong.
"However, Kaddish they now say
is a masterpiece. They never attacked
that. They never even reviewed it to
begin with," chuckles Ginsberg.
But he's not ready to let up on
Time's Sheppard. "Commerce. Mar-
ket. Mainstream. It was funny that he
got really hung up on that and tried to
use that to deny the 30 years of work
except (for) saying that one or two
things were masterpieces."
Ginsberg quotes from the article.
He knows it by rote: "It requires vision
and careful work to make a life, let
alone leave a literary legacy . One
can see it in his (Ginsberg's) eyes: one
wide and innocent, gazing at eternity;
the other narrowed and scrutinizing,
looking for his market share."
"That was rather cruel," says
Ginsberg. "Look at my face. I have
Bell's Palsy. So one eye and one part of
my mouth is a little distorted.
Paralyzed. So 'one eye narrowed and
scrutinizing, looking for his market
share' is a little like kicking a cripple."
_ But a mutual dislike for the edito-
rial practices of Time may well be the
only intense emotion shared by
Ginsberg and Ariel Sharon. Ginsberg
is as outspoken on the subject of Israel
as he is about journalistic indecencies.
He visited Israel for three months in
the 1960s and recently was invited
back by Israeli poet Nathan Zack to
organize a poetry reading. "Zack
wanted me to bring (William) Bur-
roughs over," Ginsberg says, "and also
Gary Snyder, who is Hebrew- Ameri-
can. Only recently, with all the inter-
nal conflict between the hawks and the
sort-of pacificists in Israel, have the
Israelis begun to discover the value of
the Beat Generation-pacificist-
ecological-back to nature-interna-
"Kaddish was translated very
poorly when it was published in Israel
some years ago. When I went there, I
wasn't very much used by them (the
Israelis). I really didn't ever read there
although they had invited me. They
were nice to me, but there was also a
certain amount of resistance to me.
Maybe it was the version (of me) they
got from Time magazine, sort of
`what's this nice Jewish boy doing
messing around with all those goys?'
They didn't know what to make of us
(Ginsberg and his colleagues in the
Beat Generation — writers like Jack
Kerouac, Gregory Corso and Neal
Cassady). It wasn't Zionist, wasn't
Communist, wasn't socialist, wasn't
American. We didn't have money."
But what about now? "I would like
to go there," replies Ginsberg, "a? -
though in some ways I'm afraid to. I
don't want to get into that tangle of
minds. When I visited with Martin
Buber in 1969, one thing we both
agreed on was that they should not
have done 'an eye for an eye or tooth for
a tooth' with (Adolf) Eichmann. Kil-
ling Eichmann set a bad example for
violence. I think they should have sent
him to a kibbutz and let him work it