cover image The Letters of Allen Ginsberg

The Letters of Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg, . . Da Capo, $30 (468pp) ISBN 978-0-306-81463-1

In 1962 Allen Ginsberg wrote to Bertrand Russell: “All I know is, I've lived in the midst of apparent worldly events and apparent transcendental insights, and it all adds up to I don't know what.” Both the worldliness and the transcendence come through in these letters by the beat poet, published for the first time. As the poet's biographer and prolific literary archivist, Morgan has selected just 165 out of more than 3,700 letters. They offer a comprehensive look at Ginsberg's life, from his earliest letter to the New York Times in 1941 to his dying message to Bill Clinton requesting an arts prize “unless it's politically inadvisable or inexpedient.” Ginsberg wrote at length to just about anyone: Kerouac and other literary colleagues, of course, but also journalists and literary critics who failed (in his estimation) to fully appreciate what the beats had accomplished. The playful, experimental side of his personality comes through, from his youthful attempts to attract the attention of Ezra Pound to his experiments with LSD. Ginsberg's admirers will be glad Morgan has followed the poet's instructions not to “smooth out rough horny communist un-American goofy edges.” (Sept. 15)