South American Journals: January–July 1960
by Allen Ginsberg
Edited by Michael Schumacher
University of Minnesota Press
352 pages, $29.95
WRITERS of the Beat Generation—that “pack of oddballs who celebrate booze, dope, sex, and despair,” Time magazine once quipped—drew freely upon their own lives as they wrote their novels and poetry. Keeping journals was an important literary aide-memoire for many of them. Of all the Beats, Allen Ginsberg was undoubtedly the most prolific notebook keeper. Ever since William Carlos Williams turned him on to carrying around a notebook to jot down “whatever I heard and saw,” Ginsberg always had a journal of some kind close at hand.
The journals that he kept for the six months when he roamed South America, from January to July 1960, are a case in point. Ginsberg had already been to Latin America—to Cuba and the Yucatán—back in the early 1950s, where “like Shelley in Italy,” he once told Jane Kramer, he “was busy poking around … absorbing that kind of antiquity and sense of transience and thinking up big long poems.” His second Latin American trip, which was occasioned by a poetry conference in Chile, continued that tradition.
Philip Gambone, a regular contributor to The G&LR, has been keeping a gay journal, now numbering over 125 volumes, since 1968.