Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
An outspoken member of the Beat Generation, he drew at once attention with his first work, Howl, whose free verse was borrowed from Whitman and in which he attacked the evils of materialism in modern America. The singer of all American civil battles, he was often criticized for the content of his works considered, in the States, too provocative. At their best, his poems are characterized by sadness, compassion, social denunciation and even religious meditation.
Allen Ginsberg was born in 1926 in Newark, a small town in New York. He came from middle-class Russian Jewish immigrants. His father Louis, was a teacher English and a poet himself; his mother, Naomi, was a militant communist. He was educated at Paterson High School and Columbia University. After a clash with the university authorities he as expelled from college, but returned and completed his degree in 1948. In these years in New York he met Kerouac and in the late 1940s they constituted the nucleus of what later came to be the Beat Generation. Ginsberg suffered considerable anguish because of his own homosexuality and his mother's recurrent bouts mental illness, which led to her confinement for long periods in a mental hospital. He refused to settle into a regular job, and drifted with various friends across the U.S.A. This shifting group wandered nomadically from Columbia University to Denver, Berkeley and San Francisco, which eventually became its base.
The publication of Howl in 1956 made him famous, especially among the younger generation, and attracted a great deal of publicity, mainly through an attempt by the San Francisco Police to have the book banned as obscene, In 1950s Ginsberg travelled in Asia, Europe, and South America; he led pacifist marches against U.S policy in Vietnam and to support the Civil Rights Movement. He also gave lectures on Zen and readings of his own poetry and that of his fellow Beats.
After 1972, however, Ginsberg began to reduce his socio-political commitment, became a Buddhist and devoted himself to the "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics" in Denver. The 1990s saw a revival of interest in his poems and greater attention was once again paid to his poetic production as a whole. He died in 1997.