Allen Ginsberg - Biography and Works

Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey. He was educated at Columbia University. After spending much time in Greenwich Village with William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and other Beat writers, he moved to San Francisco, where Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Press published Howl and Other Poems (1956) - its title poem functioning as a condemnation of bourgeois culture, an introduction to the emergent counterculture, a celebration of sexuality, and a manifesto for the Beat Movement. Howl uses vivid images and long, overflowing lines to illuminate Ginsberg's thoughts as an angry indictment of America's false hopes and broken promises.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

Before dropping out of the workaday world, Ginsberg held a variety of jobs, and has since traveled across England, the Far East, and the United States; been active in radical politics; and taught at a variety of schools. He has closely studied Zen Buddhism and such Western mystics as William Blake. His work frequently has an elegiac quality, mourning not a world that has disappeared, but one that has failed to reach its inherent potential. Ginsberg’s prosody derives from the extended verse-libre lines of Walt Whitman and Christopher Smart and the organic forms of William Carlos Williams (his most important mentor).

Ginsberg is one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century America. He is usually regarded as the spokesman for the Beat Generation of the 1950s. He was born into a fairly typical middle-class Jewish family. His father was a poet, but the stability of his home life was shattered by the mother’s periods of mental illness. She was finally put in a mental hospital until her death in 1957. Ginsberg himself spent eight months in the Columbia Psychiatric Institute in 1949, and madness, along with visionary alleviations, became a central image in his poetry. Ginsberg first book, Howl (1956) was initially seized by the government under obscenity charges, but the charges eventually were dropped, and the book is now recognized as the first important poem of the Beat Movement.

In the United States young people looked to Ginsberg as a guide through the turbulent 1960s, and although some of his early poems were written under the influence of drugs, in the early 1960s Ginsberg renounced drug use as a form of inspiration. His participation in political protests was reflected in his poetry. He often took up social causes such as gay rights and, later, environmental issues. Religious philosophy also influenced Ginsberg, and he drew on Jewish and Buddhist ideas in his work and in his lifestyle. Ginsberg was mentally much disturbed by the life which he had encountered during those first years after the First World War as it was exhibited to him in and about New York City. William Carlos comments on Ginsberg that the latter in the poet who has gone, in his own body, through the horrifying experiences described from life in these pages. Williams remarks that the wonder of the thing is not that he has survived but from the very depth love to celebrate without looking aside in these poems. It is a Howl against everything in our mechanistic civilization which kills the spirit, assuming that the louder you shout the more likely you are to be heard. Other volumes of Ginsberg’s poetry include Kaddish (1961), a long poem mourning his mother; Reality Sandwiches (1963); Planet News; (1968); Collected Poems, etc.

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Shrestha, Roma. "Allen Ginsberg - Biography and Works." BachelorandMaster, 31 Oct. 2013,

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