Tag Archives: on the road

Allen Ginsberg

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Today is the anniversary of the birth of Allen Ginsberg.

I first heard of Ginsberg in the 10,000 Maniac song “Hey Jack Kerouac.”

Of course, the song is mostly about Kerouac.

You chose your words from mouths of babes got lost in the wood.
The hip flask slinging madman, steaming cafe flirts,
in Chinatown howling at night.

Then Ginsberg gets his mention.

Allen baby, why so jaded?
Have the boys all grown up and their beauty faded?

 I’d never heard of Jack Kerouac, so I looked him up my 1979 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia. He wasn’t there! Then I looked him up in the index and found a mention of him in the short article on the Beat poets. Did I learn about Allen Ginsberg in that encyclopedia article? I don’t remember, but where else would I have learned about him? (Our young, hip, [closeted] teacher never mentioned the Beats when we covered American Literature in 11th grade English class.)

Somewhere in my teenage life, I discovered Allen Ginsberg and grew to love him. William S. Burroughs was a really weird, really old guy and Kerouac’s work never turned me on. (Hey! Want to know what life’s like on the road? Quit reading Kerouac–or Blaize Sun, for that matter–and go spend some time on the road!) But Ginsberg? Ginsberg was a poet. I didn’t always understand what he was talking about, but the way he put words together stirred my heart.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Ginsberg,

Irwin Allen Ginsberg (June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997) was an American poet and one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the counterculture that soon would follow. He vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism and sexual repression and was known as embodying various aspects of this counterculture, such as his views on drugs, hostility to bureaucracy and openness to Eastern religions.[1]

Ginsberg is best known for his poem “Howl“, in which he denounced what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States.[2][3][4] In 1956, “Howl” was seized by San Francisco police and US Customs.[1] In 1957, it attracted widespread publicity when it became the subject of an obscenity trial, as it described heterosexual and homosexual sex[5] at a time when sodomy laws made homosexual acts a crime in every U.S. state. “Howl” reflected Ginsberg’s own homosexuality and his relationships with a number of men, including Peter Orlovsky, his lifelong partner.[6] Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that “Howl” was not obscene, adding, “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemisms?”[7]

My dearest association with Ginsberg came in the early 90s. One of my closest friends called me up from where she went to school across town and told me Ginsberg was going to speak at her university. On the appointed night, she borrowed her mom’s car, disentangled me from my controlling boyfriend, and drove us across town to hear the man read poems, his poems and the poems of William Blake.

I remember Ginsberg reading

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

After intermission, Ginsberg invited the audience to sit with him on the stage. I would have been too shy to go up there alone, but my friend pulled me along, and I shared a stage with Allen Ginsberg. I was so young and naive; I didn’t even fully understand the great energy I was enveloped in.

A few years later, when Ginsberg died, some poets I knew were absolutely heartbroken. I wasn’t a poet yet, and I didn’t understand how they could hurt so deeply for someone they didn’t really know.

What I realize now is that anyone who’s read Ginsberg knows him. The man exposed his heart in every poem he wrote. He didn’t try to hide or sugarcoat. He laid himself on the line with every word.

I understand now that I owe Ginsberg a tremendous debt. I couldn’t be the writer I am today if he hadn’t come before.

One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned is Illuminated Poems a collection of Ginsberg’s poetry, illustrated by the fantastic artist Eric Drooker. It’s one of the few books I miss owning.

“Hey Jack Kerouac” lyrics from http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/10000maniacs/heyjackkerouac.html.

First stanza from “The Tyger” from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/43687.

Dispatch from the Road

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It happened just about the way I thought it would.

On Friday morning (as I was eating breakfast), my boss showed up at the campground and told me that I could leave on Sunday. Basically, I had to work the rest of Friday, then on Saturday, and then I was done. Originally, I was supposed to leave the next Thursday, but I was so ready to go and happy to leave earlier than planned.

The maintenance guys had gotten the yurts completely down and hauled away the day before. My main job in the campground was to ensure the yurts weren’t stolen, so with them gone, the highers-up decided that I could go too.

Also, the gates to the parking lot were to be closed and locked on Sunday. On Monday the Forest Service was to close the trail in order to cut 149 hazard trees. With the trail closed, there was no need to have the parking lot open and no need for a parking lot attendant.

I had the van packed with all of my belongings except my bike by early Sunday afternoon.

On Monday morning, I got up around 5:30, after a restless night of little sleep; I typically don’t sleep well the night before a trip. I loaded the bike into the van and drove off into the dark.

I left the mountain as the night was dying* and met the daylight as I drove along the river.

I saw a fox in the middle of the road, its canine eyes shining in the brightness of my high beams. It didn’t run from the van, but walked briskly down the yellow line. I followed it slowly for several yards, excited to watch it. It was the first fox I’d seen all summer. I didn’t even know foxes live on that mountain, but now I can say confidently that they are there.

Later, once the sun was up, I moved into the desert and passed through a forest of Joshua trees. I wasn’t sure those crazy plants were Joshua trees until hours later when I did a Google image search. It was also hours later when I realized I should have stopped the van and taken photos of them. I was so hellbent on getting out of the desert while it was still somewhat cool, I didn’t even think about stopping.

I made it to the highway exit travel mecca ( with a Pilot truck stop, a Love’s truck stop, a Flying J truck stop, AND a TA truck stop, as well as about twenty-five food and drink options) around noon. I did my laundry at Pilot, then caught up on my email at McDonald’s. I slept in the parking lot of the Flying J, which was fine except for too much light and too much noise. It’s going to take some readjustment to sleep in civilization.

I’m at McDonald’s again, using the free WiFi and electrical outlet to write this dispatch. I was going to try to do without coffee today, but when I realized I was falling asleep while writing, I decided to get some. When the young woman behind the counter asked for 75 cents for my small coffee, I realized she’d given me the senior citizen price. My vanity clashed with my frugality, and I had to decide if I should  tell her I won’t qualify as a senior citizen for at least another 15 years (60 is the senior citizen milestone, right?) or take the discount. Frugality won, and I took the discount with silent dignity.

Shortly, I will get back on the interstate and head to MegaBabylon to visit friends. As I walk through the parking lot, I will probably notice once again how big and wide and open the sky seems here, then remember it’s because there are no trees to frame it.

* I stole the image of dawn as the night dying from Robert Hunter’s lyrics for “Sugar Magnolia.” I was listening to the song as I went down the mountain, and this time when I heard that line, I was hit by Hunter’s brilliance.