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I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private…

I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg

by Bill Morgan

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This is a story of one man’s struggle with life’s many cycles – intimate and nonjudgmental. Gordon takes us on a fascinating exploration of Ginsberg’s life, its many ups and downs. Despite his egotism, we get a glimpse of Ginsberg’s quasi-sainthood. Loyal and trusting, sometimes to a fault, Ginsberg’s story is also the story of all the Beat poets. Immensely readable, this book is not only a touching portrait, but a stunning tribute to a great man. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Indexed. See under Howl, and many subheadings under Howl. One reviewer said he felt this biography 'brings us closer...to the magnificent resonance of 'Howl.' '
  HowlAtCLP | Dec 13, 2009 |
Compared to many biographies I have read, I Celebrate Myself, has a rather strange structure. It literally follows Ginsberg from year to year (all chapter titles are simply years)and chronicles, with minimal commentary, what he did that year. In the side of the text are notes on what poems he wrote as the events were transpiring. The early years are in truly copious detail - the later years appear as though they were rapidly finished to meet a deadline. Somehow though - no doubt because Ginsburg's life was so inherently interesting - it works. The book is a moving, inspiring, and engrossing read. Morgan appeared to have been exposed to enough Ginsburg to see his flaws, and portrays both his character with honesty. ( )
  piefuchs | Mar 8, 2007 |


The poem that built, if not the ’60s, at least the era’s counterculture turns 50 next month. “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg’s great, bellowing yawp in the face of modernity, was first published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet-proprietor of San Francisco’s City Lights Books, in November 1956.

It was promptly banned.

A shipment of the books, which were printed in England, was intercepted by a port customs agent and impounded on charges of obscenity. The ensuing legal scuffle, which included testimony from poets, critics, librarians and cops--and an arrest for Ferlinghetti and one of his employees--is documented in one of four new books published in honor of the anniversary.

Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression, published, fittingly enough, by City Lights, contains documents, excerpts from trial transcripts, and photographs that bring to life with amazing clarity the controversy of the time. Reading “Howl” five decades on, after generations of imitators (and cable television), it’s easy to forget just how revolutionary the poem was. Howl on Trial puts the poem into the context of the soon-to-be-shattered emotional, sexual and cultural repression of the 1950s.

In spite of the uptight moral outrage of its customs agent, and the assertion of a local English teacher that “Howl” was “without literary merit,” San Francisco showed all the sophistication and good taste for which it has since become renowned. Along with cartoons of prudish police and editorials about “Orwellian” literary tastes, the trial had a judge who took the time to read both the law and Ulysses in order to get some perspective. Judge Clayton W. Horn (may his name be blessed by poets) found both the poem and its publisher “not guilty”--and, of course, “Howl” entered the literary canon.

Howl on Trial is one of three new offerings written or edited by Ginsberg’s bibliographer and literary assistant, Bill Morgan. Morgan, who spoke with SN&R by phone from his home in Vermont, noted that he’d been working on these books--the documentary collection Howl on Trial; a biography titled I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg; and a collection of Ginsberg’s early journals and poems, The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice--for the last 20 years. “The whole idea was to have them come out on November 1, which was the 50th anniversary of the publication of ‘Howl,’” he said.

Morgan noted that documenting Ginsberg’s life was fairly easy because the poet saved everything. In fact, Morgan first met Ginsberg while working on a bibliography of Ferlinghetti’s work. “I was looking for some obscure journals, and it was suggested that I contact Allen, because he was famous for having such a huge archive. And sure enough, he had these obscure magazines and things.”

In putting together his biography of Ginsberg, Morgan found it useful to refer to the poems. “Because Allen was crazy and dated everything he ever wrote, it became clear that he was writing about the things he was seeing and the things that were happening around him,” Morgan said. Ginsberg “never wrote poems that were just made up out of his imagination; it was always about things that were happening around him.”

From a reader’s perspective, perhaps the most useful device in I Celebrate Myself is a comprehensive series of column notes that place each instance of Ginsberg’s life in context with the poems he was writing at the time. The notes direct the reader to the appropriate poem (including page number) in Collected Poems, 1947-1997, published this week by HarperCollins. This allows the two volumes to be used together as a comprehensive literary biography--an extremely enlightening way to read Ginsberg’s work.

From Morgan’s perspective, looking at Ginsberg’s life through the lens of these new books reveals the essence of the poet he came to know as a true spiritual seeker. What Ginsberg was doing, throughout his life and his poems, was “looking for God,” Morgan said. “I wish there were a word other than ‘God’ I could use to describe it. Allen’s entire life was spent searching for some sort of spiritual awareness. He was always looking for something, and he tried everything.”

All the drugs, the sex, the experimentation that came to be considered the beat experience--and for which Ginsberg is often credited--are, in Morgan’s view, part of that search for God. “He wasn’t looking for highs; he was looking for a spiritual epiphany,” said Morgan. “He came closest to it, I think, in the last years of his life, in Buddhism.”

That search is documented--from its beginning, when an 11-year-old Ginsberg knew he would be famous and so kept a comprehensive journal, through his fierce struggle for artistic expression to a later life of spirituality--in these new books. Together, they are a chronicle of one of the best minds of a generation. ( )
  KelMunger | Nov 27, 2006 |
t has become almost a cliché for biographers to speculate about their subjects' psychosexual oddities. But speculation is not necessary when the subject is Allen Ginsberg, because the legendary beat poet and countercultural figure proudly proclaimed his psychosexual oddities, from his youthful incestuous impulses toward his father and brother to his little-requited infatuations with beat golden boys like Neal Cassady and his later eye for young male acolytes. Indeed, Ginsberg meticulously documented all his doings and feelings, and Morgan, his archivist and bibliographer, relies on that trove. Morgan does little to shape the material; each chapter, bluntly titled with the calendar year, simply recounts 365 days' worth of parties, debauches, quarrels and breakups, drug experimentation, all-night debates about literature and philosophy, dead-end jobs, knock-about travels, psychoanalysis, ecstatic Blakean visions, depressed funks, homicides committed by friends, jazz, poetry readings and Ginsberg's contemporary ruminations on all the above. The disorganized, onrushing flow of experience is occasionally eye-glazing, and Morgan offers disappointingly little interpretation of Ginsberg's poems. But Ginsberg and his gang—Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady et al.—are such vibrant, compelling characters that this mere straightforward chronicle of their lives approaches, as they intended, a fair imitation of art. ( )
  addict | Nov 18, 2006 |
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And what I assume you shall assume.
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you. 
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TO LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI for greeting Allen at the beginning of a great career
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In New York City, the first spring tees that blossom on the streets are the callery pears. To most people their fragrant petals herald the arrival of warmer days and signal the end of winter, but for the past nine springs their sweet bouquet has reminded three friends, Bob Rosenthal, Peter Hale, and myself, of the sudden death of the man we worked with, Allen Ginsberg.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670037966, Hardcover)

Published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Howl, the first full biography of Allen Ginsberg—from birth to death

Allen Ginsberg was America’s most influential poet since World War II, a figure who was in the vanguard of every popular movement of that time, from the emergence of the Beat generation to the countercultural revolution to the interest in Eastern spirituality. In this new biography, the first since the poet’s death in 1997 and the only one to cover his entire life, Bill Morgan creates the most complete portrait to date of Ginsberg.

Drawing on his unparalleled access to Ginsberg’s inner circle as well as on the poet’s journals and correspondence, Morgan offers a revealing portrait of a complicated and flamboyant character. Ginsberg was a tenacious man who was driven by ambition and curiosity; he was plagued by self-doubt and always longed for acceptance and recognition. He also had a genius for living and networking and for expressing himself candidly; his love for freedom and equality was uncompromising. Morgan examines Ginsberg’s life and his tremendous impact on society from many different angles: his political views, his battles with censorship, and his approach to drugs. He also provides a more accurate picture than previously told of Ginsberg’s search for love (including his complex relationship with his lifelong partner, Peter Orlovsky) and of his involvement with Tibetan Buddhism. This definitive and engaging life of Ginsberg also includes a unique feature—it lists the titles of Ginsberg’s poems in the margins so that the reader can see exactly what he was writing at any point in his life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:18 -0400)

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"Allen Ginsberg was much more than just one of America's most famous poets. As Bill Morgan writes in this new biography, the first since the poet's death in 1997 and the only one to cover his entire life - Ginsberg was one of our greatest citizens, a true American hero." "Drawing on his deep knowledge of Ginsberg's largely unpublished private journals, Morgan offers a revealing portrait of a complicated and flamboyant character. Ginsberg was a tenacious man who was driven by ambition and curiosity. He had an insatiable desire for fame and was always longing for acceptance and recognition, but was plagued by loneliness, depression, and self-doubt. He was compassionate, resourceful, loyal, and generous, and seemed to thrive on the madness of those around him. His story is also a love story, or at least a search for love that was rarely fulfilled.""Morgan sheds new light on some of the pivotal moments of Ginsberg's life - his years at Columbia University when he met Kerouac and Burroughs; his visions of William Blake in Harlem; his vow with Neal Cassady at an Oklahoma crossroads in 1947; his journeys to Mexico, South America, and India - and examines his tremendous impact on society from many different angles: his political views, his battles with censorship, his approach to drugs. He also provides a more complete picture than previously told of Ginsberg's complex relationship with his lifelong partner, Peter Orlovsky, and of his involvement with Tibetan Buddhism."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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