Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey. As a teenager, Ginsberg began to write letters to The
New York Times about political issues such as World War II and workers’
rights. In 1943 Ginsberg graduated from high school and briefly attended
Montclair State University before entering Columbia University on a
Following graduation, returned home to Patterson, New
York, where for five years he worked for an ad agency in Manhattan.
It was also during this time that he began to study poetry under William
Carlos Williams, who became his long time mentor. Williams taught Ginsberg
to emulate the voice of the common American and to focus on strong visual
images. Ginsberg’s early breakthrough poems include “Bricklayer’s
Lunch Hour” and Dream Record.”
Upon leaving New York, Ginsberg
moved out to San Francisco, where he quickly
became a member of Beat poetry scene. On
October 5, 1955, Ginsberg led one of the
most important events in Beat mythos, known
simply as “The Six Gallery Reading.” That
night was Ginsberg’s first public
reading of “Howl”, his most
famous work. Following his beloved mother's
death in 1956, Ginsberg was inspired to
write what many believe to be his best poem,
“Kaddish,” an agonized rumination on her life and death.
Although, many people considered Ginsberg the leader
of the “Beat Generation,” he never once identified himself
as the leader. Later in his life, Ginsberg formed a bridge between the
Beat movement of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s. Ginsberg’s
poetry was strongly influenced by Modernism, Romanticism, the beat and
cadence of jazz, and his Kagyu Buddhist practice and Jewish background.
He often performed his poetry to music.
Ginsberg also made an intense study of haiku and the
painting of Paul Cezanne from which he adapted a concept important to
his work, a concept he called the “Eyeball Kick.”
is well-known to many for its opening line: “I
saw the best minds of my generation destroyed
by madness.” The full title of the
poem is “Howl for Carl Solomon.” Ginsberg
blamed the conformist society of post-World
War II America focused on material gain,
for the destruction of all those outside
of societal norms. Shortly after its 1956
publication by San Francisco’s City
Lights Bookstore, it was banned for obscenity.
The ban was later lifted and declared to
possess redeeming social importance.
Ginsberg won the National Book Award for his book “The
Fall of America.” In 1993, the French Minister of Culture awarded
him the medal of the Order of Arts and Letters.
Ginsberg died on April 5, 1997 in
New York City.
Sources: “Allen Ginsberg (1926 - 1997).” American
Jewish Historical Society, American
Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random
House, 1999). pg. 531-2, Wikipedia