On with the poem

April 09, 1997|By Andrei Codrescu

NEW ORLEANS -- Alan Ginsberg, old courage teacher, is gone. I met Allen in 1966 when I was 19 years old, fresh out of Romania. I knocked on his door in the Lower East Side in New York and brashly presented my baby-dissident credentials to the President of Poetry.

Far from being startled, the poet gave generously of his time and made me welcome to the language, the country and New York. We spoke French because my English was nonexistent, and he loaded me with books of poetry he thought I should read and study.

Always the teacher, always generous, Allen Ginsberg was not only the most famous poet in the world, but the kindest as well. Over the years, it was always a privilege to bask in his light, to revel in the privilege of knowing him, to follow his passions. He was beloved of four generations of American poets, beginning with the one he founded and promoted, right down to the youngest of the young, children my son's age, who love his work more than any other poet's.

He inspired rebellion and backed it with the wisdom of the age and the genius of a pacifist, benign, visionary spirit. He brought us all into a family of great souls that included the Buddhist writers of the sutras, William Blake, and his twin soul, Walt Whitman.

Allen Ginsberg was America's best ambassador for the kind of democracy Walt Whitman extolled, and he deplored, cursed and lamented the failings of public men to live up to that ideal. He lashed out against the wrong-headed war in Vietnam, he deplored the stupid official drug policies of the government and lobbied for sexual liberty. He defended the powerless at every turn, and at the same time he showed us all how to live without fear, with joy and courage.

Ginsberg believed in the power of poetry and was the mentor and protector of poets outside the mainstream. He founded the Jack Kerouac Institute of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, as an antidote to the establishment that belatedly honored him but denied his comrades and his heirs.

He led the charge magnificently, a warm and intimate human being who understood the deep spirituality of the everyday and the long vision of who we are.

I am sorry that he did not see the end of a century whose spirit he embraced, but his job is far from done. As long as Allen Ginsberg was alive, we were all sort of immortal. Now we can put away such foolishness, and get on with the poem.

Andrei Codrescu edits ''Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Letters & Life.''

Pub Date: 4/09/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.