Ginsberg at Megatripolis,
to Allen Ginsberg by Lee Harris
(19 October 1995)
It was on the 11th of
June 1965, over thirty years ago, that I first heard Allen Ginsberg at the International Poetry Reading
at the Royal Albert Hall in London. We turned up in our thousands to hear
some of the best poets of the Beat Generaton.
When Allen Ginsberg stood up to read his poems you could
feel an electric charge in the air. There he was, like an Old Testament prophet,
with his long dark hair and bushy beard, his voice reverberating with emotional
intensity. Never before in that hallowed hall had such outrageous and colourful
language been heard. Someone shouted out from behind me, "Go back to the gas
chambers". I saw a couple scurrying out with their children. Hearing Allen
that first time was a revelatory and illuminating experience.
That event and his presence
in London that summer, helped kindle the spark that set the underground movement
alight in the mid-sixties.
But it was ten years
earlier, on the 13th of October 1955, in San Francisco, at the first public
reading of "Howl" that Allen Ginsberg achieved fame and notoriety.
Micheal McClure, one
of the poets reading that night, later told Allen that "Howl" was his "metamorphosis
from a quiet brilliant burning bohemian scholar, trapped by his flames and
repressions, to epic vocal bard".
A decade earlier, during
his student days, at Columbia University in New York, he formed life long
friendships with Jack Kerouac,
William Burroughs and Neal Cassady. During those
early days in New York the seeds were planted that would influence the literature
and life-styles of young people for years to come.
I next saw Allen Ginsberg in London during the "Summer of
Love" in 1967,when the flower children were in full bloom, at two memorable
events. The Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation at the Roundhouse in
Chalk Farm, and at the Legalise Pot Rally in Hyde Park, where a policeman
stopped him chanting and playing his harmonium, as it broke park by-laws.
Earlier that year, in
January 1967, Allen together with Timothy Leary chanted mantras at the Human Be-In
at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco where thirty thousand people assembled
for a "Gathering of the Tribes", with music supplied by The Grateful Dead
and Jefferson Airplane.
Allen Ginsberg was accepted as an elder statesman
of the Counter-Culture, one of the few older people the hippies thought they
It was purely by chance
that I went along to hear Allen and his long-time lover Peter Orlovsky, at
the Roundhouse one cold November evening in 1979, and was touched by Allen's
spiritual warmth and gentle serenity.
I came away with two
books that would lead me on a great voyage of discovery. One of them was "As
Ever" the collected correspondance of Allen and Neal Cassady, dating from
the forties to Neal's tragic death in the sixties. The other was "Indian Journals",
Allen's notebook writings, dream fragments and night thoughts written during
his trip to India with Peter in 1962/3.
As you can imagine, it
is a great privilege for me to help bring Allen Ginsberg to Megatripolis in Heaven, and introduce
him to a new younger audience, here in the heart of London, a short distance
as the crow flies from the street where his beloved William Blake wrote "Songs
of Innocence",two hundred years ago.
I shall always remember
Allen's rendering of "Who Be Kind To" at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965. Let
me quote a fragment of the poem:
"Tonite lets all make
love in London as if it were 2001 the years of thrilling god."
Bom Bom Mahadev! Welcome
Allen Ginsberg .
"If you missed
this event, you missed a moment of history. Ginsberg was in fine form at the
tail-end of a hectic visit to London. The place was packed, the audience mixed
(mostly NewGen with a representative sample of Beats, Postmoderns, and media
Notables), and the atmosphere electric. The question-and-answer session --
held upstairs after the formal reading of poetry -- was filled to overcapacity,
temperature hitting fainting level... and what was originally scheduled to
be an half hour stretched to an hour, ending at the stroke of midnight. Both
Ginsberg and audience transcendent.
"A film crew captured
the evening's action (tentatively to be broadcast on channel 4), and Anne
Cosentino handled the live internet coverage. If you missed this live, don't
miss it on the wire (we'll post any broadcast dates)". --Henry W.Targowski (in Mark/Space , friday 20 October
Look at some exclusive
video stills from the event.