cover image Family Business

Family Business

Allen Ginsberg, Louis Ginsberg. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, $37.5 (452pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-107-1

This volume behind the clunky title and unkindly high price presents some of the most astonishing correspondence in American literature. Throughout his adult life, poet and cultural icon Allen Ginsberg exchanged regular letters with his father, Louis, himself a moderately successful lyric poet. They conversed freely about politics, philosophy and poetry (the book offers fascinating insights into the Ginsberg masterpieces Kaddish and Howl); they fought fiercely but without bitterness over Communism, the Arab-Israeli conflict and Vietnam. If such father-son arguments were typical of their era, few can have been so colorfully and affectionately expressed. Allen's letters (he addresses his father as ""Louis"" and ribs him for his ""Polonious[sic]-like tirades"") are marked by the vivid, freeform, punctuationless imagery of the beats. Those of his father, surprisingly the more deft correspondent, are wry and campily pedantic: he describes avant-garde poetry as ""yawns ticked out in deranged verbiage"" and delights in outlandish wordplay (""the hippies want pot in every chicken""). The letters themselves are sensitively edited, Schumacher (author of Dharma Lion, a well-received biography of Ginsberg) supplying biographical context where needed and including a few judiciously chosen interviews and articles. In the end, for all their virtuosity, the Ginsbergs' literary talent emerges as the lesser gift in comparison to their honesty and mutual affection. Anyone interested in either Ginsberg, the beats, American poetry or the '60s should not miss this ferociously tender and comical collection. (Sept.) Forecast; With widespread, favorable reviews, this should have peak sales early on and settle in for a nice steady flow.