“Ginsberg is both tragic and dynamic, a lyrical genius, con man extraordinaire
and probably the single greatest influence on American poetical voice since Whitman.” ~ Bob Dylan
“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”
~ Allen Ginsberg
So. When was the last time you howled at the moon?
Or ran “starving, hysterical naked,” around Whole Foods, shopping for peaches, penumbras and images?
When was the last time you killed a porkchop? Or spied Spanish poet, Garcia Lorca, down by the watermelons?
I mean, don’t you usually see Walt Whitman “poking among the meats in the refrigerator?”
And you call yourself a poet?
This whole bohemian/beatnik/hippie/non-conformist thing has always perplexed me. Growing up to Allen Ginsberg, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, e.e. cummings, Ken Kesey, and Tom Wolfe, made me yearn to become “one of the best minds of my generation.” Supposedly, that would call for eschewing the bath, speaking in metered obscenity, taking to the road, and, of course, inhaling.
Freeing oneself, unleashing creativity, is something all writers and artists aspire to. And the bohemian life, where one is unfettered by petty concerns, such as earning a living or abiding by the law, has long been romanticized in literature and the media. At least that’s the impression I always got. Any room in the car, Neal Cassady? Pass the Jack Daniels, Bob. There was a time I’d jump at the chance.
But now, being cool sounds like too much work. Oh, I still love jazz. And black turtlenecks. And I still dream about living in Greenwich Village, or Soho, or wherever else the cutting edge artists hang out these days. But there are conditions. No cold water flats or cigarette smoke. No dirty mattresses, drunken neighbors, or neon signs. No all night parties, leeches, or hypodermic needles.
According to Ann Charters (The Portable Beat Reader, Viking 1992), “The New York Beat writers were a wild group with firsthand experience of life on the fringes of society. Pushing themselves with various drugs to the emotional edge and beyond, Burroughs, Ginsberg, and Kerouac created visionary works of autobiographical fiction and poetry unprecedented in American literature.”
Wow. Conscious raising, no doubt. Lasting influence, definitely. So how does an average suburbanite like me, living in mainstream society, pick up the gauntlet? Why does notable innovation always seem to come from the fringe?
When I consider the Beat lifestyle — the protests, arrests, murders, drugging, promiscuity, and total disregard for authority, I know I could never be like them. Yet the ideals they stood for — free expression, beatitude and transcendence, anti-commercialism, no big business or industrialization, friendship and brotherhood, are all ideals I believe in. I just wish that instead of railing against everything they didn’t want, they had a clearer idea of what they did want. Idealism, without purpose or direction, is a heavy cross to bear. That could drive anyone to drink.
What do you think they ate most of the time?
Hello. When Jack Kerouac banged out On the Road in a 20-day marathon, he lived on coffee and Lipton’s pea soup!
And Ginsberg had several references to soup in his poetry:
“I sup my soup from old tin cans
And take my sweets from little hands
In Tiger Alley near the jail
I steal away from the garbage pail.”
(from The Shrouded Stranger)
In Howl, he describes some of the so-called “best minds”:
“. . . who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or soup,
. . . who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of the Bowery,
. . . who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet borsht & tortillas dreaming of the pure vegetable kingdom,
. . . who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown soup alleyways and firetrucks,
. . . ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time . . .”
Alas, on the morning of March 19, 1997, Allen Ginsberg made a big pot of fish chowder. He shared it with a few friends, then put the rest in the freezer. Two weeks later, he died of liver cancer. He loved soup so much that he installed a special ledge outside his kitchen window so he could cool his 12-gallon stockpot. The remaining two jars of this poetic fish chowder can be found at the Jurassic Museum in Los Angeles.
What have you written lately that would merit freezing your soup someday for posterity?
FOR ALLEN GINSBERG
by XJ Kennedy
Ginsberg, Ginsberg, burning bright,
Taunter of the ultra right,
What blink of the Buddha’s eye
Chose the day for you to die?
Queer pied piper, howling wild,
Mantra-minded flower child,
Queen of Maytime, misrule’s lord
Bawling, Drop out! All Aboard!
(Read the rest of the poem here.)
(Read Things I’ll Not Do, a poem written 3 days before Ginsberg’s death.)
**For more about Whitman ogling meat and neon fruit, see Ginsberg’s A Supermarket in California.
COD CHOWDER (Whole Foods recipe)
3 slices bacon, minced
1 organic onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 T flour
1 pound red boiling potatoes, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
2 cups chicken broth
2 (8-oz) bottles clam juice
sea salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound cod, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen corn
1 cup half and half, heated
Heat a heavy pot over medium heat and add the minced bacon. Cook until the bacon is golden brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the crispy bits and reserve, leaving the fat in the pot.
Add the onion, celery, thyme, and bay leaves to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.
Add the potatoes, chicken broth and clam juice and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender yet still firm, 5 to 7 minutes.
Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the cod and corn. Do not stir. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and allow the chowder to sit for 10 minutes (the fish will finish cooking during this time).
Return the chowder to heat and stir in the cream, gently to avoid breaking the fish into small pieces. Season to taste. Bring chowder to serving temperature over gentle heat, uncovered. Sprinkle reserved crisped bacon on top.
NOTE: Soy milk may be substituted for those with milk allergies/lactose intolerance. This makes the chowder less “rich,” but still tasty.
WARNING: Though howling is recommended during preparation, this may result in an uncontrollable desire to play the bongos in the nude.
Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at The Book Mine Set.
(thanks to Pat Solley, Soup and the Beat Generation, e-Soupsong 16: August 1, 2001.)