cover image Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995

Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995

Allen Ginsberg. HarperCollins, $30 (560pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019294-5

""I got so mad I cut my beard and mailed it in an envelope to the district attorney."" Sometimes lovely, sometimes slapdash, and sure to appeal to his broad contingent of fans, this sprawling compilation of 154 ""essays"" (many run only a page or so) memorializes Ginsberg's stances, opinions, reactions, experiences and proclamations. Gathering reams of fugitive prose from magazines and anthologies, and excluding prose found in Ginsberg's books of poems, this is more an omnium-gatherum than a best-of, inviting readers to sort through and make their own lists. Ginsberg (1926-1997) had begun to organize what would become this book when he died; editor Morgan, who took over the process, divides the work by theme into eight sections. ""Politics and Prophecies"" fittingly opens the collection, giving full vent to Ginsberg's Blakean visions of '60s, '70s and '80s America: these essays both epitomize their times and retain the most interest for most readers now. Other segments address ""Drug Culture,"" ""Mindfulness and Spirituality,"" ""Censorship and Sex Laws,"" ""Autobiographical Fragments,"" Ginsberg's own ""Literary Technique"" and appreciations of other writers, from Blake and Whitman to Auden and Andy Warhol. Ginsberg's best poems look casual, but the rereader of ""Howl"" or ""Kaddish"" may discover complexity, tragedy and form curled up inside their excitable wildness: this is also true sometimes, but hardly always, for these prose pieces. Yet even at their most fragmentary and notational, these paragraphs, essays, lists, declarations and blurbs recall Ginsberg's other virtues: a welcoming energy, an ecstatic drive, a belief in the eternal value of saying, as soon as possible, just what he thought. (Mar.)