I cried at the news of Allen Ginsberg's death. It was on NPR news April 5, 1997, during the drive to Newark Airport to pick up my dad after one of his many business trips that year. Listening to the radio in stunned silence, I didn't notice the tears rolling down my cheeks until my mom and brother started looking at me strangely.
In this essay, my favorite living poet eulogizes his predecessor.
Buffalo, New York
April 6, 1997
When Allen Ginsberg died last Friday night, the shock was instant and profound. His fellow poets had so long turned to his generous attention and response for a sense of their own validity---as I had certainly for years. He told me we first met in 1949 but my real sense of him begins with a time we shared in San Francisco in the early '50s, when our lives were still young and intimate. Then, as continuingly, it was his singular care for his fellows, men and women, that struck me as wondrous. How tender, kind, he always was!
I think we would make a useless mess of all that time and place and what came after, were we to see it now simply as some drug-inspired, free-love determined indulgence, with Allen its charming yet tainted Pied Piper. Those who remember the adamant loneliness of the post WWII years, "the lonely crowd" which was all of us, the seemingly endless wars then continuing, the paranoia, despair, the public deceits, the separation of young and old, of ordained authority and outcast will know well the Ginsberg of that same time, whose "Howl" was an immense opening and relief of private terror. He had an absolute commitment to reduce the paranoia, as he put it, to bring literal humanness to a recogition of its own delight, its simple sweetness, its factually collective person.
Year after year he worked to realize this vision of our world, a common world of people far beyond any tedious insistence on their possible divisions and privileges. His Buddhism was so inspired, to clear the mind of greed and regret, to open to that "heaven which is everywhere about us..." Endlessly he returned to the moral place of order and belief---as in his protection of the young at the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago, or his adamant protest of the Vietnam War, or his care for the old folks sitting in on classes at Brooklyn College, or his patience with his austerely confused peers at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Or his persistent looking after his fellow
writers and friends, thoughtful and tireless always.
He was not ever pious or removed from where all were of necessity. He never gave to the world a condition other than its own human fact. People were never "more" or "less" in an isolating scale, but were people, gifted, needy, inept, genius, all one. William Burroughs speaks perceptively of his candor. It was like the first, relieving freshness of spring comes in through an open window.
It would be so harshly disappointing now---given one must realize that he is no longer here to be called on, or spoken to, or asked, or recognized---if all we could make of this dear man and what he gave us were a lurid replay of forties mindwash and propaganda. Drugs were not his point or preoccupation. Gay politics, despite his committed support and respect, were not either. He wanted a freedom for us all, a recognition that could bring us home, the guilts and arguments and painful oppositions finally let go of. That burden is always in his writing, in his determined clarity of detail, in the care he has taken to understand. Don't ever let that be forgotten.
Out the plane window brown gas rises to heaven's blue sea
---how end the poetry movie in the mind?
how tell Kabir Blake & Ginsberg shut their ears?
Folded in silence invisible Guru waits to fill his body with Emptiness
I am leaving this world, I will close my eyes & rest my tongue and hand.
(from "Guru Om")