A new book rounds up some of the poet's forgotten gems
His most famous poem, “Howl,” has become synonymous with the 1950s Beat Generation, but Allen Ginsberg’s countercultural worldview wasn’t confined to just one decade. In fact, as Bill Morgan, the editor of Wait Till I’m Dead—a new book of Ginsberg’s uncollected poems—points out, Ginsberg was “a steady and prolific poet… he wrote incessantly for more than fifty years, from the early 1940s until a few days before his death in April 1997.” Tackling subjects like race, drugs, sex and inequality, Ginsberg’s work delves into the lives of society’s underdogs, those looking to carve out their own less-mainstream niche in the American dream. The following sampling of poems from Wait Till I’m Dead may be lesser known, but they’re no less provocative. Before you dive in, check out this audio clip of Ginsberg himself reading “Howl.”
How many people have been busted?
How many people, their doors broken down,
dragged weeping in their nightgowns
to the station?
How many boys been slapped around
by midnight cops downtown
in the colored section?
How many musicians pushed out of jobs?
How many students kicked out of school?
How many businessmen hiding paranoiac
behind their doors afraid of disgrace
by narco bulls
hiding behind guns and badges
with their ignorance and misinformation?
How many cats shaken down beaten up &
asked for payoffs by Treasury fuzz?
How many pounds of pot seized & sold on black market by cops?
How many scholars and doctors pressured,
warned, blackmailed, prosecuted?
How many newspapers radio stations bombarded with
dopefiend T-man propaganda?
What divine congressional investigation will ever undo
all these decades of calumny, injustice,
“Busted” from WAIT TILL I’M DEAD: UNCOLLECTED POEMS © 2016 by The Estate of Allen Ginsberg. Originally published
in High Times, no. 225 (May 1994), p. 36. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove
Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
Spring night four a.m.
Garbage lurks by the glass windows
Two guys light a match
Smoke rolls over Eighth Street where
Spade queens walk lipsticked looking for a taxi
Spoon out their handkerchiefs
Coughing against the black dust rising up
Out of Imiri Baraka’s latest volume of poems
The Whole Earth Catalogue up in flames
The water pumps methods for making home-made
The crackling red fires running over the San Francisco
Herbert Marcuse exploding in flames
Howl, fiery volume after volume
Over the precipice
Fire spreads through the Skira catalogues
The Rembrandt canvas girl
Brown holes appear in priceless Van Goghs, Roman
Smoke covered smudged Venus de Milo
Up on the front in embers Andy Warhol’s Philosophy From
A To B
Tennessee Williams autobiographical life in ashes
William Carlos Williams’ poetry follows him
To a white dusty grave
Shakespeare himself leaves not a rack behind
—New York City, ca. May 6, 1976
“Spring night four a.m.” from WAIT TILL I’M DEAD: UNCOLLECTED POEMS © 2016 by The Estate of Allen Ginsberg. Originally published in Villager, vol. 44, no. 20 (May 13, 1976), p. 2. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.