'Material Wealth: Mining the Personal Archive of Allen Ginsberg'

  • by Mark William Norby
  • Tuesday December 19, 2023
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Author Pat Thomas
Author Pat Thomas

Singer-songwriter and actress Marianne Faithfull reported that "Allen Ginsberg tried teaching me how to give a blow job; he said it was like prayer."

The incident took place between 1988-89 at the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado where Faithfull lectured and performed on songwriting. Ginsberg co-founded the Kerouac School, as it's known colloquially, in 1974 along with fellow Beat poet Anne Waldman. The school is located on the campus of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

The blow job line is just a small sampling of the plethora of rich moments collected in "Material Wealth: Mining the Personal Archive of Allen Ginsberg" (powerHouse Books, November 1, 2023 $58.00), compiled by Pat Thomas and with an introduction by Anne Waldman.

An event flyer included in 'Material Wealth: Mining the Personal Archive of Allen Ginsberg' (courtesy powerhouse Books)  

An expansive book, it's worth owning for anyone interested in San Francisco history, especially those interested in the significant contributions of the Beat Generation and how it paved the way for the hippy movement in the 1960s.

A collector's coffee table book of Ginsberg's art, drawings, photography (he was a lifelong photographer in addition to being a poet) and every type of memorabilia imaginable — concert tickets, political and concert posters, broadsheets, previously unpublished Ginsberg from his personal archive including journal entries and thoughts on Dylan's 'Idiot Wind,' plus a special pocket containing unseen poems from Ginsberg's personal collection titled, "First Thoughts, Best Thoughts: notes to self: naked and authentic, 1974-75."

Personal photos included in 'Material Wealth: Mining the Personal Archive of Allen Ginsberg' (courtesy powerhouse Books)  

Thomas, a counterculture historian, archival music producer, and liner-note writer, went to great lengths to compile the project by combing through the Allen Ginsberg Collection at Stanford University. Thomas has also just completed a CD to accompany the book set to come out March 2024 titled: "Material Wealth: Ginsberg's voice in poems and songs 1956-1996." The CD features musical accompaniments by Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elvin Jones, Lenny Kaye, Philip Glass, David Mansfield, David Amram, Arthur Russell, and more.

In the book, Dylan quotes Ginsberg saying, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness." Some of those members (not necessarily mad but reaching in their work toward something like madness) are featured in Ginsberg's photography collected in "Material Wealth," including Beat poets and novelists William S. Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner (until his death in 2021) of San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore and Publishers, Diane di Parma, Janine Pommy Vega, Michael McClure, Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Rexroth, Ginsberg's lifelong partner Peter Orlovsky, Charles Bukowski, Anne Waldman, and many others.

Highly prolific in creating poetic pontifications and known all over the world, Ginsberg traveled extensively across continents with particular interest in India. As a radical hippy and Beat poet, Ginsberg spent two years in San Francisco and had a deep commitment to Ferlinghetti's City Lights Publishers, bypassing many offers from large publishing houses in favor of the independent press City Lights.

Event flyers included in 'Material Wealth: Mining the Personal Archive of Allen Ginsberg'  

An activist, raconteur, explicit and no-holds-barred proselytizer on gay sex, a man with a big heart, fathomless spiritual connection to Buddhist philosophy, and a fanatic meticulously saving letters, postcards, draft notes, manuscripts, not only his own but also fellow singers, journey companions, agitators, and friends. Ginsberg also played a role in the 1940s and 1950s as a literary agent distributing the works of Burroughs and playing a role assisting in the distribution of the work of Kerouac.

Patti Smith fans will be delighted to find a copy of Smith's first concert poster. A 1974 copy of a concert ticket to Bob Dylan and The Band includes Yoko Ono's phone number scribbled on the flipside. Rare posters of early Beat Generation readings in San Francisco in the 1950s, and still more the next decade in the 1960s particularly capture Haight-Ashbury and the hippy era. Other photos include Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Philip Glass, Norman Mailer, Iggy Pop, Don Cherry, Robert Frank, and Johnny Depp.

Of note is Ginsberg's legendary, celebrated free verse poem "Howl," a poem that carries the spirit of Old San Francisco using verse paragraphs to emphasize the thematic nature of the Beat poetry writing style. "Howl" centers on Ginsberg's observations and life experiences in the modern world. You can find a free online copy at Poetry Foundation.

A news clipping collage included in 'Material Wealth: Mining the Personal Archive of Allen Ginsberg' (courtesy powerhouse Books)  

Of particular importance in "Material Wealth" is the section that covers the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, which tells how the Kerouac School came into being. Located on the campus of Naropa University, Naropa was founded by the Tibetan Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche who, when he landed in the United States for the first time said, "Take me to your poets." Under Trungpa's guidance and along with Ginsberg, Waldman, John Cage, and di Parma, a poetics department at Naropa University was established.

The intent of Naropa's poetry department: "To teach meditators about the golden mouth and to educate poets about the golden mind." Today, that same school thrives as the Kerouac School bringing to light "a dynamic, ongoing exchange of ideas about the history and legacy of the Beat Generation ..." Thomas stated.

The school aims foremost to be an "outrider" — an outrider in this context being outside the academic mainstreams of poetry, yet not 'outside' the worlds of poetry. "You ride Parallel."

Pat Thomas will be joined by Peter Hale, Executor at the Ginsberg Estate for the launch of "Material Wealth," in appearances at City Lights Bookstore on Wednesday, January 24, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco; and at Mrs. Dalloway's on Thursday, January 25, 2904 College Ave, Berkeley.


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