Proof that Poetry Can Be about Assholes

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he Book of Martyrdom and ArtificeThe Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems, 1937-1952
by Allen Ginsberg
DaCapo Press. 523 pages, $27.50

 

Collected PoemsCollected Poems, 1947-1997
by Allen Ginsberg
HarperCollins. 1189 pages, $39.95

 

I Celebrate MyselfI Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg
by Bill Morgan
Viking. 702 pages, $29.95

 

IN 1949, alerted by his friend William Burroughs that his name had appeared in compromising letters seized by police in a drug raid, a 21-year-old Allen Ginsberg worried where to secure his journals and manuscripts of poems lest authorities suddenly descend upon his own apartment and confiscate these records of his drug experimentation and of his inner conflicts over his homosexuality. His father, he confessed at the time, “had once warned me against committing anything to paper that ‘I would have cause to regret,’” but such advice proved inimical to Ginsberg’s nature. Rather, as he wrote of the protagonist in a projected autobiographical novel, Ginsberg’s impulse was always to make “total confession” and show even “his asshole to the world.” Such naked self-revelation, he became convinced, was the only way to disrupt the mechanical functioning of a tightly repressed society.

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