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March 01, 1985 - Image 19

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-03-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Friday, March 1, 1985

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19

work I like a lot and teach a
lot," says Ginsberg. His wife
was Marie Syrkin, a professor
of English at Brandeis Uni-
versity and the editor of
Jewish Frontier. The lines
quoted (above) are fromFather
Death Blues, which I wrote in
imitation of Reznikoffs poem
Kaddish on the Death of his
Mother."
Was Reznikoffs Kaddish an
influence on Ginsberg's Kad-
dish? Ginsberg says no, he
didn't know ReznikofFs work
at that time. "I knew a few of
his poems," he says. "I knew of
him through William Carlos
Williams." (Dr. Williams,
himself half-Jewish, wrote the
introduction to Howl.)
Ginsberg points out that
"there are a lot of Jewish ele-
ments in my poetry, like Kad-
dish itself, which is based
upon the rhythms of the Kad-
dish. I don't know if anybody
noticed it, but the basic
rhythm that runs through the
whole text, the pulsation of
rhythm, is very similar to the
one thing I do quote in Hebrew

eYisborach, v'yistabach,
v'yispoar, v'yisroman,
v'yisnaseh, v'yishadoi-,
v'yishallel, v'yishallol,
sh'meh d'kudsho, b'rich
hu.'
— that whole line. And if
you look through the poem you
realize that's the basic pulsa-
tion of the whole poem, that it
evolves rather like davening.
"The other element is that a
lot of my verse is modeled on
the verse of an English poet,
Christopher Smart, of the 18th
Century, who was sort, of a
religious fanatic and was a
brilliant translator of the
Psalms. He did a lot of Biblical
work and because of his deeper
rhythms wrote a poem called
Rejoice in the Lamb in what
\ was basically the rhythm of
the Psalms adapted into
English. You can see it in the
somewhat Biblical rhythms of
Walt Whitman also. But
Christopher Smart was my
model with Rejoice. That's the
model for the line of Howl."
Ginsberg takes great care to
make his point: "Not Whit-
man, but Smart. And via
Smart, the rhythms of the Old
Testament, the Hebrew poeti-
cal rhythms which did not in-
volve rhyme and meter like
English. Thus, the major
influence on my work, before
Whitman, was the Old Testa-
ment — for rhythms,
structures and forms, via
L Smart and the Bible.
"Most. people don't go
further back than Whitman.

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Ginsberg discusses his poetry and philosophy with Plymouth Canton
High School students.

I've been sort of talking about
it for years, but nobody picks
up on it. Scholars are not
scholarly. They've got these
fixed ideas about Kenneth
Fearing, Kenneth Patchen,
Robinson Jeffers, Carl
Sandburg and Walt Whitman,
and they don't go further back.
It always ends with Whitman.
"I like Whitman. He's a big
influence. But I read through
Whitman after I wrote Howl. I
read through Smart before I
wrote Howl.
"Look at my Bop Lyrics
written in 1949:
'Smart went crazy,
Smart went crazy.'
"That's Christopher Smart."
But how did Ginsberg get an
early exposure to Jewish
influence if his parents were
atheists and agnostics? "Be-
cause they were also radicals,"
he replies. "They had books by
Lion Feuchtwanger and Lud-
wig Lewisohn. Books like
Meyer Levin's The Old Bunch.
Jewish intellectual stuff. My
father's favorite poet was
Heinrich Heine.
"They were all somewhat
interested in I3er Borochov's
Marxist Zionism and the plans
for resettlement by the Jews in
Bessarabia. My mother came
to America from Russia in
1905 to escape the pogroms.
She came from Vitebsk, the
same town that Chagall
painted. She settled on Or-
chard and Rivington streets.
Her family had a small candy
store on the corner and they
made ice cream in the back
room. I live just a block away
from there.
"Then my family moved to
Newark. I had a great mat-
riarchal grandmother, Bubba,
who sort of ran the whole fam-
ily. I am still close to my fam-
ily today. I had a lot of aunts
and uncles. One of my uncles is

a well known psychologist in
Beverly Hills. He knew the
whole European group who
came over after the 1930s:
Isherwood, Huxley,
Stravinsky. I stay with him
now whenever I go to Santa
Monica."
But if anything makes
Ginsberg angry, it is the
thought of American Jewish
conservatives. He believes
"that element in American
Judaism — Commentary,
Podhoretz, Wattenberg, all
those conservatives — have a
very bad influence on rich
world Jewry. In a sense they
fulfill the prophecy of the
anti-Semites on the Jewish
cabal, the Elders of Zion and
all that.
"As I noted in the Birdbrain
poem:
Birdbrain
manufactured guns in
the Holy Land and sold
them to white goyim in
South Africa
Birdbrain supplied
helicopters to Central
American generals .. .
"— That's Israel."
But Ginsberg saves his
biggest salvos for Podhoretz.
"Among the Jewish conserva-
tives, one of the leading neo-
conservatives is Norman
Podhoretz. He got his first
energy kicks and public re-
nown attacking Kerouac in an
article in Partisan Review in
the late 1950s. The article was
called "The Know-Nothing
Bogeymans," in which he ac-
cused Kerouac of being un-
learned and living under no
discipline.
"The remarkable thing is
that it (the article) shows the
same authoritarian heavy
judgmental militaristic ten-
dencies of fighting for peace as
he exhibits now that he's gone

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