- Series: Pocket Poets (Book 14)
- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: City Lights Publishers; 50th Anniversary ed. edition (November 23, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0872865118
- ISBN-13: 978-0872865112
- Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.5 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Kaddish and Other Poems: 50th Anniversary Edition (Pocket Poets) 50th Anniversary ed. Edition
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"Bill Morgan, Ginsberg's biographer, has provided the reader with as thorough an appreciation of context as we are ever likely to get." --The Forward/Zeek Magazine
About the Author
Bill Morgan: Bill Morgan (b.1949) is a painter and archival consultant who lives in New York City and Bennington, Vermont. He is the author of The Beat Generation in New York and The Beat Generation in San Francisco, I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg, and edited Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays of Allen Ginsberg, 1952-1995, as well as Ginsberg’s Book of Martyrdom and Artifice: First Journals and Poems, 1937-1952, and Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression.
Top customer reviews
It could be said that Ginsberg was both a product and victim of his time. A transitional figure when transgression was increasingly a means of establishing one's creative reputation. Throughout the work, Ginsberg's slaps at paper tigers, violates wilting standards of taste, and dispenses with fading taboos with ease of washing one's hands. Reading this book today, in our time of profitable exhibitionism and confession without contrition, seems entirely beside the point; it is often quaint, an artifact from a time when blue jeans were a mark of defiance.
Ginsberg attempts to speak at the volume of Whitman, but there are degrees of exuberance, and, in his case, he's merely annoying. He's like the man who arrives at a party already drunk and grows only more embarrassing. The words vomit and vomiting appear frequently, and one does not have to be a Freudian to suspect Ginsberg not only finds his memories revolting. Even free verse requires a certain discipline to demonstrate, if nothing else, a degree of sincerity.
I read the book to its end and then read each poem again and felt cheated. Kaddish is a kind of Beat Kabuki, its chaos, its incoherence, is part of its form, if not, ironically, its gravitational center. I grew bored with the poems' hipster attitude, namedropping, and Zen and Hindu references. All of it gathered and flung as if Ginsberg knew that no one was paying attention.
Yes, Kaddish is occasionally touching, but in Ginsberg hands even intimacy becomes a form of insinuation, which is to say, he manipulates his readers, so that it is his suffering and eventual "satori" that is the poem's subject, and the book, the map of his "hero's journey."
It's hard to criticize a work that asks to be read as a poem of mourning and that aspires to the level of prayer. But the more I read, the more I felt the entire work was a kind of hustle, and Ginsberg, a grifter playing on our emotions and deference of the sacred.
In the poem "Mescaline," the poet asks, "...who wants to be famous and sign autographs like a movie/ star." The answer is, of course, Ginsberg, who went on to construct a life with the deliberate intensity of a movie or rock star, and who would be famous and sign autographs like a movie star.
Over all, the poems share: facile politics, spiritual references without depth, confessions that don't feel heartfelt and pseudo-poetic speech, all combined with an adolescent's pleasure in vulgarity and profanity.
While I thought both the collection and the poem, "Howl" overwrought and self-regarding, the book had at least two poems, "A Supermarket in California" and "In the Baggage Room at Greyhound" I would read again. I found nothing in Kaddish I would revisit. "At Apollinaire's Grave" seemed both dishonest and strangely prescient. (It immediately brought to my mind the filmed, photographed and choreographed photographs of Ginsberg and Dylan at Jack Kerouac's grave site.) There is more than a little borrowed interest buried in Ginsberg's work.
The one piece that left me troubled and engaged was the short poem "The Lion for Real." It seemed to succeed in showing real feeling expressed in lovely language. But even when Ginsberg appears at his most sincere he seems to me rather predicable:
"The sadness is, that every leaf, /has fallen before.
Charming, yes, but when compared with David Ignatow's "I wish I understood the beauty/in leaves falling. To whom/ are we beautiful/ as we go," one sees Ginsberg's sentiments belong more to Hallmark than to posterity.
In an introduction to the poems, Ginsberg wrote: "Acknowledged the established literary quarterlies of my days are bankrupt poetically thru their own hatred, dull ambition or loudmouthed obtuseness." He then lists the many magazines where his poems first appeared, which suggests the "[poet] doth protest too much, methinks."
In terms of the man's ambition, it seems every bit as fierce and contemporary as that of his generation of Jewish lawyers, politicians and financiers, who broke through the barriers that kept them out of business and academic establishments. At a time when the establishment itself was shuddering, Ginsberg would push himself inside. That said, I think he was as surprised by his success as other committed careerists including Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol.
With Kaddish Ginsberg became more than a one-hit wonder; he would avoid obscurity, or worse, passing notoriety. He would be celebrated and become a celebrity. Become, in theory, everything he professed to disdain.
Especially telling is a "Note," printed above his acknowledgement. In it he informs us: "Magic Psalm, The Reply, & The End record visions experienced after drinking Ayahuasca, an Amazon spiritual potion. The message is: Widen the area of consciousness." For my part, I could not distinguish these poems from any in the collection. Ginsberg's tragedy was that he grew up not only to be a good son, but also a member of the establishment whose work would be part of the new canon.
Recommended. This is the deepest Ginsberg and the best of the beat writing, in my opinion. But is only the horror, in my reading.