Allen Ginsberg: Poetry as Protest

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Words: 1598 |

Pages: 4|

8 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2022

Words: 1598|Pages: 4|8 min read

Published: Apr 11, 2022

The late 50s – early 70s of the 20th century were not easy and turbulent time in the history of the United States. It was the time of radical changes in the society and in people’s perception of the world. In this period the activity of the U.S. population, especially young generation, increased and growled up in numerous mass movements and protests for civil rights. Of course, in the past, the Americans fought for reforms in their country, but never before the USA did not face such a fierce protests against racism and segregation, against women’s inequality, and the spread of nuclear weapon, against the Vietnam war, for support of gay rights, and for different social transformations. All this moods and events showed that serious changes are needed in the political, economic, and social spheres and directly affected the national policy, changing the lives of millions of American citizens.

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The ongoing changes in the society did not leave indifferent many public figures and creative people of that time, having a great impact on their activity and creativity. Certainly, culture always reflects the era and the most important problems in our world. And literature, the first of all arts, comprehends and responds to everything that happens around. Not only different events and history affect the authors and their works, but also the creativity of writers and poets can influence the life of the individual person and whole society too.

One of the authors whose creativity reflected that complex, contradictory time was Allen Ginsberg, one of the most famous and cult poets in the American literature of the second half of 20th century. He was not only the most scandalous poet of that period, he was also open gay, provocateur, and social activist, a bellman of the youth movement, and guru of the counterculture. Allen was expelled from Columbia University for obscene poems and love affair with his friend, he took drugs, and was treated in a mental hospital, he could strip naked in front of his audience, he was often arrested for protest activity. Definitely, Allen Ginsberg was a brilliant and extraordinary figure of American culture. His poems, which often were written under impact of marijuana and LSD, influenced the worldwide of certain parts of American society.

Allen Ginsberg penetrated in the history of global culture as one of founders and ideological inspirer of the Beat Generation culture. Authors of this counterculture proclaimed in their works the ideas of the personal freedom, free love, they denied the lows and values of bourgeois society and existing culture. Their art ,certainly, played important role in the spread of protest ideas. Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” became the hymn of the Beat Generation and the most significant work of this culture. Poet regrets his generation from the first lines,

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…” (Ginsberg, p. 126). The “Howl” is like a stream of thoughts and feelings of whole generation, it’s a protest against all existing laws, it’s the cry of the soul, the howl of most truthful and passionate poet of Beat culture.

In 1977 in the interview for New York Times, the reporter commented that Ginsberg’s poetry “seems so admiralty attached to the world', Ginsberg answered that he would rather the word “involved”, and explained that “ involved means present in the middle of, with complete awareness, and active”. It’s true, his creativity, his civic position, and whole his life were involved, active, and not independent. It made the American poetry more mass and socially significant.

Socio- political topics were central to the Ginsberg. His poetry was a revolt against the foundations of society, he showed everything honestly and without embellishment :

“Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ash and and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!” (Ginsberg, p 131).

His America is not prosperous and happy. It is showing from the inside out, often ugly, with all her intolerance of society, with the cult of the dollars, and the loneliness of a person. Certainly, it can not be denied that nobody wrote about these problems before Ginsberg, but there was no authors before him or after, who would speak about these social sores so openly and fiercely:

“America when will we end the human war?

Go f*ck yourself with your atom bomb.

… America why are your libraries full of tears?

… I’m sick of your insane demands.” (Ginsberg, p.146).

If even the author did not directly invoked the revolution in his poems, he meant the spiritual revolution, revolution of consciousness, a rebirth, and renunciation of everything that deprived a person of the freedom.

Generally, A. Ginseng didn’t exist taboo topics, forms, words, and methods of expression in his poetry. He achieved full freedom in his poems which could not find in real life. Ginsberg’s poems, written in rough language, don’t obey the traditional rules of the poetry and they are devoid of classical poetic forms, rhythms, content. His poems are more like poetic prose which is difficult for perception, however, his poetry found her reader among creative persons and ordinary people. Allen Ginsberg wrote about everything that worried him-about politics, religion, human relationship, and homosexuality, about the search for oneself in this world.

Steve Bloom, a photographer and writer, gives his evaluation A.Ginsberg work in the article “Allen Ginsberg and the 60s Movement”:

“Ginsberg’s poetry can be appreciated by those with a broad range of views, not just

those who after with his personal politics, precisely because he does what any good

(or other artist) ought to do in order to delve into social questions of all. He tells

us an artistic truth about that social reality, or at least makes the best attempt he can

to do so. He works hard to paint an honest and deeply human picture.”

In the 60s, he became on the one of the most revered author in American literature and an idol of youth movement. This happened not only because poetry had never such big respect and popularity as at that time, but also because his philosophy and civil position were reflected not only in his poems, and also actively defended in the social and political activity. Poet participated, probably, in the majority of nonviolent movements and protests that struck the USA in the post-war time, he advocated the freedom of speech, legalization of marijuana, he took participation in in protests against the Vietnam war, for the protection of the environment, and others. Allen Ginsberg lectured at colleges and universities, supported different movements in other countries. He was one of the first who declared his non-traditional sexual orientation, and honesty said about this in his poems. Also he participated in action in defense of gay rights. Ginsberg was a member of AWAVW organization which was created in 1965 by American poets Robert Bly and David Ray.This organization hold readings and meetings of poets in the universities, parks, cafes and participated in peaceful marches and protests against the Vietnam war. In the book “ I Celebrate Myself. The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg” Bill Morgan recalls that “every reading that Allen gave drew even lager crowds that the one before. On a cloudy day in March he read at a Central Park rally to twenty thousand young demonstrators, one of the largest audiences of his career.' It was during an antiwar march in 1967 in New York when he was arrested.

The problem of Vietnam war deeply touched poet and found expression in his poetry collections “Planet News” and “The Fall of America' for the last of which he got he U.S. National Book Award for Poetry. In the poem “Wichita Vortex Suntra” author would like to end the senseless war by the magical power of his words and voice:

“l lift my voice aloud,

make Mantra of American language now,

I here declare the end of the War!” (Ginsberg, p.407).

In numerous protests A. Ginsberg wanted to influence the destructive phenomenons by reading his poems and singing mantras. He did this very provocatively and then he had problems with the authorities very often. For example, once in an antiwar march on Washington, he was arrested for chanting a Buddhist mantra when demonstrators tried to lift the Pentagon in the air , using their power of thought. But despite all his participation in the bid amount of protests, he never invoked for violence in his poetry and political activity. On the contrary, Allen Ginsberg was the pacifist and chanted the love to everyone and everything. Precisely Ginsberg created the slogan “Flowers Power” in 1965, becoming founder of that movement, philosophy which offered the demonstrators to take with them flowers, toys, or candies on the demonstrations to show peaceful character their movements. They contrasted power of flowers songs , and music with the power of destruction and aggression. Later the hippie movement made this ideology the central in their culture.

There was the case when Allen Ginsberg dissuaded from aggression pro-war bikers “Hells Angels' who wanted to disrupt the antiwar march, spending a fun party with several bikers, listening to Bob Dylan’s music, taking the drugs, and singing the Buddhist mantras.

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Whatever Allen Ginsberg did — wrote or read his poems, participated in different protests, sung the mantras, taught the students, etc. — he always remained honest, passionate, and not indifferent. Therefore, he became an outstanding figure of the American literature whose poetry is studied in the leading universities, whose influence on his generation was great. His poetry, his worldview, and whole his life lefts significant imprint in the history of the rebellious 60s, in the culture of Beat Generation and hippy., in the creativity of many talented people, in American and world culture.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Allen Ginsberg: Poetry As Protest. (2022, April 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from
“Allen Ginsberg: Poetry As Protest.” GradesFixer, 11 Apr. 2022,
Allen Ginsberg: Poetry As Protest. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Feb. 2024].
Allen Ginsberg: Poetry As Protest [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 11 [cited 2024 Feb 28]. Available from:
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