friday feast: soup to the beat

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.

Allen Ginsberg toured with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975-76

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.

So in honor of the “starving artist” who may live inside of you, I share today some soup that really beats. You didn’t think I’d forget to bring the soup, did you? Picture Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg sitting in their run-down, dingy apartments, or in numerous cafeterias around Times Square sipping from cracked coffee mugs, puffing endlessly on cigarettes. 


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?

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)
(serves 4)

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.)

28 thoughts on “friday feast: soup to the beat

  1. I’m with you on the no leeches or hypodermic needles, but I would tolerate an all-night party, as long as I was invited, and the company was good.
    His chowder is in a museum? Really? That little fact is going to be swimming around in my head all day…


  2. TadMack says:
    As always, J, your free-ranging musings amuse me. I wasn’t born quite in the Beat era… missed it by fifteen or twenty years — but the echoes still reverberate through everyone’s teens and twenties; why must all that brilliance only come from the fringe, and from fringe behavior? And you’re exactly right: I’m too lazy for all the work of cold water flats and dishevelment. So I must find my fringe within. I quote Vonnegut to myself, and am at peace. (Mostly.)
    “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut


  3. What an awesome post. It really resonated with me. And the picture of Ginsberg & Dylan — how I want to be right there between them, a little behind, quiet, but listening.


  4. “What have you written lately that would merit freezing your soup someday for posterity?”
    What a *great* line. Like Sara, I will have the image of his soup in a museum on my mind for a long time.
    I love the Vonnegut quote, too, TadMack.
    It’s funny … though I’m now the epitome of almost everything I used to shun in my semi-fringe days, I find that it still takes a rebel spirit, a willingness to be counter-cultural, to fully embrace all the nuances of my faith. God laughs at me daily, I’ve no doubt. 🙂


  5. Karen Edmisten said:
    “What have you written lately that would merit freezing your soup someday for posterity?”
    What a *great* line. Like Sara, I will have the image of his soup in a museum on my mind for a long time.
    I love the Vonnegut quote, too, TadMack.
    It’s funny … though I’m now the epitome of almost everything I used to shun in my semi-fringe days, I find that it still takes a rebel spirit, a willingness to be counter-cultural, to fully embrace all the nuances of my faith. God laughs at me daily, I’ve no doubt. 🙂


  6. I haven’t read all that much Beat poetry, mostly only the widely anthologized works. Ferlinghetti seems to resonate more with me than the others. This past week when I read more of Ginsberg’s stuff, I felt compelled to take a serious bath. Seaminess is unseemly.


  7. Re: TadMack says:
    Love that Vonnegut quote! It’ll be my new mantra. Okay, you’ve made me feel even more ancient than I really am. I wasn’t born in that era either, only encountered the Beats in college. Still, like you said, the reverberations prevail, no matter when you were born. That’s really saying something about the power of poetry, and literature in general!


  8. Re: Karen Edmisten said:
    Thanks for your thoughts. I tend to think that the absence of a “rebel spirit” is resignation. There are very few people who don’t grow more conservative with age (even the staunchest counter culturists). Ginsberg spent his early poet years eschewing the establishment,but as he grew older, he sought recognition from those very people he had turned his back on. Imagine asking for a lifetime achievement award! Or selling your work to Stanford University for $1 million. Wasn’t this a sellout? Like someone said, even Ginsberg needed health insurance.


  9. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a bowl of soup,
    Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a rolling hoop,
    Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a ton of lead,
    Wiggle – you can raise the dead.
    ~ Bob Dylan

    What a GREAT post, Jama!
    I wish I could go into my studio right now and capture ALL the visuals swimming in my soup brain. All the people you mention enjoying a BIG bowl of SOUP!
    I always wished I could be on the edge too… I did get close to some of the things you described… the drugs, the dirt, the late nights… but it always like there was a fence. Like you’d take a walk to the edge but there was always a fence. the fence around my mom’s suburban home. the fence around the schoolyard. the fence that was the last subway stop.
    And I could never get past those “fences”.
    And part me didn’t want to. Cuz it was a little scary beyond the fence. Romantic. Poetic. Exciting. but scary….


  10. Ha–that’s funny! Yeah, the whole feel of it just isn’t me. Plus I love short poems. Definitely *not* a characteristic of beat poetry.
    I’m going to check out a couple of Ferlinghetti poems–thanks.


  11. What about the opium-taking Romantic poets? Each era has its excesses. Artists are compelled to experiment, to push the boundaries all the time. Going over the edge without meaning to, however, happens all the time — with disastrous results.


  12. Hey, if Dylan’s soup wiggles, I’m going to wiggle mine.
    I know exactly what you mean about those fences. Since you’re a musician, you were probably exposed to a lot of temptation. One starts out with pure intentions, a personal vision. Out in the real world, there are others who might share your vision, but a questionable lifestyle may be part of the package. You are forced to make a choice, compromise. Question is, will you spend the rest of your life wondering what if?


  13. Hip food?
    I’m not sure what I would have imagined hip food to be, but I probably would never have picked soup. Seems a little too comforting for a non-conformist, doesn’t it? Maybe it was a security blanket. There was also Warhol’s obsession with soup cans- was he a 2nd generation beatnik?


  14. Wow! I’m a day late to the party and the soup’s still on the stove, steaming away! Great post, Jama!
    I bet he had no idea his leftover soup would be in a museum, which makes me wonder, what of me will linger when I’m gone? I hope the “soup” I make is so good that it gets gobbled up in memory of me!


  15. cloudscome says:
    I never could stand that poem “Beat”. I guess that’s the point, right? I do love the picture of Ginsburg and Dylan walking down the road together. And I am going to try this chowder! Soup seems the perfect food for poets/artists.


  16. “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.”
    I think the Beats varied in their vision of what they did want. I recall Ginsberg and Snyder having very clear ideas of the society they wanted, and being politically (as well as artistically) active toward that end. Kerouac not so much–though I suppose his Buddhist days were his most visionary.
    I’ve been thinking about the role of drugs and partying in literary movements, because I’m reading about the Algonquin Round Table right now, and a lot of them were alcoholics. That reminded me of the Beats (hence the relevance to your post!), and I started wondering if these people were good writers because of or in spite of their chemical excesses? I hope it’s in spite of, being an abstainer myself!


  17. Thanks for your insights. I’m the least familiar with Snyder’s work. I will have to investigate further!
    You bring up a fascinating question which I’ve always wondered myself. I’ve speculated that many writers need alcohol or drugs to cope with the pain and loneliness of the craft. The intense introspection required/turning oneself inside out, is oftentimes frightening and traumatic. And then there is the desire to transcend reality or expand the mind in some way — to achieve the trance-like state of “being in flow.”
    But I’m leaning toward these writers being good writers in spite of their excesses. They had to have that talent to begin with. When you’re in your own head all the time, maybe you “think” you need a crutch.


  18. Snyder was younger than many of the other Beats, but he definitely hung with them, influenced and was influenced by Ginsberg, Kerouac, etc. He focused a lot on nature and human beings as part of nature.
    I favor the “in spite of” view too, re drugs–it’s hard enough to write when clear-headed. I can’t imagine trying to do it while hung over or wasted. Of course, that debate could occupy another whole blog post in itself!


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