Alen Ginsberg Beat poet, dies Leading voice in generation of dissent is silenced at 70.


NEW YORK -- Allen Ginsberg, the poet laureate of the Beat generation whose "Howl!" became a manifesto for the sexual revolution and a cause celebre for free speech in the 1950s, died early yesterday. He was 70 and lived in Manhattan.

He died of liver cancer, said Bill Morgan, the poet's friend and archivist.

Mr. Morgan said that Mr. Ginsberg wrote right to the end. "He's working on a lot of poems, talking to old friends," Mr. Morgan said Friday. "He's in very good spirits. He wants to write poetry and finish his life's work."

William S. Burroughs, one of Mr. Ginsberg's lifelong friends and a fellow Beat, said:

"He stood for freedom of expression and for coming out of all the closets long before others did. He has influence because he said what he believed."

As much through the strength of his own irrepressible personality as through his poetry, Mr. Ginsberg provided a bridge between the Underground and the Transcendental. He was as comfortable in the ashrams of Indian gurus in the 1960s as he had been in the Beat coffeehouses of the preceding decade.

He was known around the world as a master of the outrageous. He read his poetry and played finger cymbals at the Albert Hall in London; he was expelled from Cuba after saying he found Che Guevara "cute"; he sang duets with Bob Dylan; he chanted "Hare Krishna" on William F. Buckley Jr.'s television program.

The narrator in Saul Bellow's "Him With His Foot in His Mouth" said of Mr. Ginsberg: "Under all this self-revealing candor is purity of heart. And the only authentic living representative of American Transcendentalism is that fat-breasted, bald, bearded homosexual in smeared goggles, innocent in his uncleanness."

Allen Ginsberg was born June 3, 1926, in Newark, N.J., and grew up in Paterson, N.J., the second son of Louis Ginsberg, a schoolteacher and sometime poet, and the former Naomi Levy, a Russian emigree and fervent Marxist.

His brother, Eugene, named for Eugene V. Debs, wrote poetry, under the name Eugene Brooks. Eugene, a lawyer, survives.

Recalling his parents in a 1985 interview, Mr. Ginsberg said: "They were old-fashioned delicatessen philosophers. My father would go around the house either reciting Emily Dickinson and Longfellow under his breath or attacking T. S. Eliot for ruining poetry with his 'obscurantism.'

"My mother made up bedtime stories that all went something like: 'The good king rode forth from his castle, saw the suffering workers and healed them.' I grew suspicious of both sides."

Allen Ginsberg's mother later suffered from paranoia and was in and out of mental institutions; Mr. Ginsberg signed an authorization for a lobotomy.

Three years after her death in a mental hospital, Mr. Ginsberg wrote "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956)," an elegy that many consider his finest poem:

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village,

downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I've been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph

the rhythm, the rhythm -- and your memory in my head three years after -- .

"Kaddish" burnished a reputation that had been forged with the publication of "Howl!" three years earlier. The two works established Mr. Ginsberg as a major voice in what came to be known as the Beat Generation of writers.

Mr. Ginsberg's journey to his place as one of America's most celebrated poets began during his college days. At first, he attended Montclair State College. But in 1943, he received a small scholarship from the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Paterson and enrolled at Columbia University.

At Columbia he fell in with a crowd that included Jack Kerouac, a former student four years his senior; Lucien Carr and William Burroughs; and later, Neal Cassady, a railway worker who had literary aspirations. Together they formed the nucleus of what would become the Beats.

It was also at Columbia that Mr. Ginsberg began to experiment with mind-altering drugs, which would gain widespread use in the decade to follow and which Mr. Ginsberg would celebrate in his verse along with his homosexuality and his immersion in Eastern transcendental religions.

If the Beats were creating literary history around Columbia and the West End Cafe, there was a dangerous undercurrent to their activities. Mr. Carr spent a brief time in jail for manslaughter, and Mr. Ginsberg, because he had associated with Mr. Carr, was suspended from Columbia for a year.

In 1949, after Mr. Ginsberg had received his bachelor's degree, Herbert Huncke, a writer and hustler, moved into his apartment and stored stolen goods there. Mr. Huncke was jailed, and Mr. Ginsberg, pleading psychological disability, was sent to a psychiatric institution for eight months.

At the institution, he met another patient, Carl Solomon, whom Mr. Ginsberg credited with deepening his understanding of poetry and its power as a weapon of political dissent.

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