Poetry – Allen Ginsberg and seeing the light
Poetry was destroyed for me by school. Firstly in Primary school there was the emphasis on memorising great chunks of turgid verse.
Each week we would be given a long poem by Wordsworth or Tennyson to learn by heart. You were called to stand and recite a verse. If you had not learnt it you had to stay in and miss your Physical Exercise. Now PE was something I really looked forward to and although I had a good memory I could not always be bothered to memorise the meaningless drivel, which is what most of the poetry seemed to be to my young ears. Many were the afternoons I spent watching morosely out of the window while the rest of the class were outside enjoying themselves.
Poetry did not get much better in Secondary school. We analysed the metre, rhyme and metaphor until the whole process was just a bore, a mechanical process devoid of passion. I did not want it any more. The only highlight was the whole class excitedly chanting the Jumblies.
Poetry was moribund. It was the stuff of the old and dreary. It had no connection with my life or the world I inhabited. This was the sixties. There was loud music, parties, girls, motorbikes and excitement. Who cared about daffodils? I was young, wild and drinking in life. All that stuff pertained to a boring old world of long ago.
Then a friend gave me a copy of Howl. I was seventeen and the words leapt out at me. We were up against the establishment; a mouldering old set of values, a dreary, grey bunch of old fogies who were shoving careers and exams down our throats, who wanted us to settle down in suburbia, mow our grass, wash our cars and have two babies just like they had done. It wasn’t a vision that appealed. It looked drab. We were screaming for colour!!
We were alive and wanted to live, to burn and to run free. We didn’t want shackles, restraints and cages.
The establishment hounded us from all sides and we laughed in their face.
Suddenly there was a poem for us, for the rebels. I saw the best minds of my generation trying to smash out of the cage, trying to piss in their petrol tanks, put sand in their gear-boxes. We didn’t not want a passport into that mortuary they inhabited. We wanted to live.
Allen Ginsberg – here was a guy I could understand.
I’d been bopping through those same negro nights, high on life, talking my head off, shouting up at the stars, drunk on being.
I devoured Howl like it was ambrosia from the gods.
I had discovered Allen Ginsberg. Poetry had come alive. We were all angel-headed hipsters looking for a mystical connection to the universe; wanting to make sense of it all.
Life was a wild journey and we had to wring every last drop out of it.
No more lawns to mow, cars to wash or careers to follow – this was a mad saxophone wail into the torment of the cosmos and I wanted my soul to be in that wail. I wanted to live.
There was a mind to explore, limits to transgress and all possibility to challenge.
I knew I had people to meet, places to go and minds to explore. There was ecstasy out there. There was truth, Zen and a whole teeming inferno to discover!
I had discovered Allen Ginsberg and he had opened my eyes.
Poetry was communication on a level that made sense at last!
Poetry could be about real life!
Poetry had passion!
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