Allen Ginsberg & The Trickster – Almost There!

Well folks, yesterday we reached the golden 70,000 words and now its on to the next ten, and however many after that it takes to make this sucker perfect (although I know deep down it’ll never be perfect — this is the torment of all writers).

I have been attempting to step back from this work even as I approach the end in order to give myself some much needed perspective over what chapters need tuning, which ones need total rework, and which ones don’t make any sense at all. It’s days like this that I wish I had Ginsberg’s network of writers and best minds to mail copies to (email probably now — loses some magic but also causes less grief over handwriting (and when it came to poor handwriting, the Beats were worse than doctors)) and receive feedback and honest, tough-love commentary from. Their system really was amazing! I know the bad rumor about the Beats is that they worked and worked without revision (thereby bypassing the need for some to consider their work as actual literary and/or poetic triumph). However, this is simply not true — even Kerouac gave his work thought and thought and thought. Although both Kerouac and Ginsberg are famous for having sat down and started writing, they didn’t just sit down to their first typewriter ever and write the first words they’d ever written. Ginsberg, after all, had been journaling extensively and intensely since he was eleven years old, writing on every scrap of paper he could tear off and reading every book around, considering every new idea that came across his plate.

And perhaps that’s just what I need to do — a good bout of journaling journaling, the kind that doesn’t take place online but which allows you to scrap and shove everything off your worldly desk and create a new, safe, and adventurous place for yourself, for you to remind yourself of the very best parts of you as well as unleash some of the very worst.

The goal for this week is to finish reading this Sherman Alexie book, journal for twenty minutes everyday, remind my fiance why he’s perfect, and reach 78,000 words. Hold onto your skirts ladies, as W. Carlos W. said, we’re goin’ walkin’ through hell (and hopefully somewhere a bit nicer as well!)

Keep on keepin’ on!

The Allen Ginsberg Papers

New York, New York is actually not my favorite place in the world — people aren’t angrier or ruder there than anywhere else, they just seem more isolated, ironically enough. Or perhaps I’m simply more isolated there. Either way, E.B., K.P.B., and I all made it safe and sound via Bolt Bus (our driver took real pleasure in calling everyone aboard “family” the entire time). From there, making it up to the Butler Library for our research passes into the Rare Manuscripts & Books section of the library seemed as though it would be easy enough but to our surprise:

“Sorry, we don’t have partnerships with JHU or GWU, so we can’t give you passes.”

This left us all rather astonished considering that A) it’s a library, not a bank or a club or a religious sanctuary and B) I had the print-out of an email discourse I’d shared with one of the Rare M&Bs Librarians detailing how I would be able to acquire a visitor’s pass.

Of course, when I explained this to the lovely gentlemen they were quick to say, “Oh, well we can let you into that department, sure.”

In other words, random visitors cannot come in to utilize regular old library books, but if we want access to your rare and irreplaceable documents, there’s no problem! Needless to say, there was plenty of flabbergast and hufflepuffling on our way upstairs — why in the world should these texts and resources be holed up in an elitist ivory tower to begin with? What were they frightened of? That there would be a rash of book thievings? Or maybe they just don’t want anyone but Columbia students to use their bathrooms — university libraries and their toilets! 

At any rate, from there things were smooth sailing all the way into the Allen Ginsberg Papers.Image

I was fortunate enough to get to spend the entirety of the afternoon there (despite their early close hours due to Spring Break), sifting through Ginsberg’s letters to Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, his father, Lionel Trilling, his brother Eugene, and vice versa.

Of course, what I was most excited to see was what types of literary magazines and political papers Ginsberg had kept lying about his apartment; I wanted a fresh angle on his thought processes, interests, and pastimes. And good ol’ A.G. didn’t disappoint —

The fellow kept everything from amateur, small-time small-time lit mags to freaky coloring books (given to him by fans) to grassroots political periodicals from a variety of small towns (often featuring him or another Beat) to lit mags dedicated entirely to LGBTQ materials. I felt as though I were meeting A.G. anew (although I will say I do not have a “Well, I met A.G. when…” story — it’s only through his words and biographies that I’ve come to have my own scholarly, literary crush on the guy). 

His letters were also, of course, a wonder on every page (even on those where he discussed the more “normal” business such as borrowing money from his father (Louis Ginsberg) or congratulating his brother on his first baby). Many of his letters are already published as books (check out: The Letters of Allen GinsbergJack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters or — my personal favorite — The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder) but many remain unpublished. Of course, when you visit a Special Collections or Rare Manuscripts library, you are typically allowed to take digital, no-flash photos of the materials which means that I now not only have the pleasure of housing many of these letters in my own (digital) files but that I also have plenty of time now (sort of) to try and decipher handwriting so garbled  it could be that Ginsberg had actually dictated to a Coyote, the poor Old Man scrawling down notes as best he could between claw, paw, and pencil.

Anyhoo, we’re on our way back from the bustle, cigarette smoke, and towering towers of NY to home home again Maryland where the further research and sifting through of these new files may commence.

And while some may argue that this is why all archival materials ought to be digitized — I must beg to differ. There is something magical about going to an archive and handling the primary documents your subjects created — it brings you closer to them, to the project and process. For example, during my work today I came  across a note A.G. had scrawled across the inside of an old, empty matchbook and I could see from the scruffing and scratching of the paper that each one of those matches had been well struck, possibly for one of those iconic cigs blowin’ smoke around his typewriter as his fingers flew about “Howl.” I swear in that moment I felt as though I could both hear and smell A.G. strikin’ up that final match whether for cig, joint, or warmth, see the little light dancing a soft glow across his beard. There is something about being there and handling the materials yourself that makes the whole process suddenly seem deeply real and freshly important to at least the primary person you’re sharing the research with — your subject.

Anyway, folks, the q’s from this morning still stand —

What most intrigues you about A.G.? What would you be most interesting in learning more about regarding A.G.?


What title do you think might be a good, official fit for the book?

All business aside, I hope you all have smashing St. Patty’s Days!

Be safe & Keep on, keepin’ on

Getting Published

So, the goal for this book (Howling) when it started was really just for me — a lowly undergraduate — to explore the poetry of Allen Ginsberg as well as my burgeoning interest in Native American Studies.

Then things got out of hand (as they always seem to do) — wonderfully, horribly, morbidly out of hand. McFarland Publishing picked up the book and, like every first book for everyone who loves writing, I accepted, bouncing and cheering — the lighting in the kitchen that day was absolutely perfect for the moment, triumphant and bold. Of course, I accepted (of course) not realizing quite how wild things could  get — how I might come to question and fear myself as a non-Native attempting to write about and utilize the Native trickster Coyote through my analysis of “Howl” given my inability to escape my Euro-American-cultural-colonizer-whitewashed-knowledge base; how I might do the hearty works of Ginsberg, hearty works as “Howl,” a grand disservice through my attempted interpretations and close readings; how I might bore any future readers; disappoint past teachers and colleagues; insult possible future colleagues; humiliate myself; ruin my writing career before it even gets started; offend someone; insult someone; speak to no one..

Sometimes I think about this project, this project coming forward, the manuscript due a month and a half from now for peer review, set to be published in the middle of 2013, and I just dream about Delicious Connotations, my true hope (“pride and joy” ought to be reserved for works that are a fair bit better than this one), that was published ages upon ages ago in the wondrous little publication,  Ellipsis, out of Salt Lake City. Even if this one crashes and burns, perhaps I can always just lay low in Utah and write under a quirky pen name like Ruby Brew.

Anyway, I’m in the throes now — trapped between an angry email from G.V., encouraging emails from G.S. and G.M., old letters from A.G., uncertain emails from some old pal professors, final papers for my own MA work, a personal project reinterpreting Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, and a killer ripping deadline for some reviewers (however generous and kind) to slice my book’s throat and scrawl critiques across the sky with its blood. All and all, things are looking up, I think.

I’ve nearly completed the first full full draft — 65,000+ words, 200+ pages (reaching up for 75,000 as the approximate goal), no blood but definitely a few tears, some cold sweats, and sickly yellow-scented nightmares. It looks like another scotch for the evening, maybe mixed with some hot chocolate and hot, curried chick peas and green beans — looking forward to another day of typing not-so-covertly in the office and wishing for the solace of the Peabody, where the writers go but cannot go (apparently, despite it being a public library, the toilets are private for JHU kiddos only — bear this in mind researchers the next time you sit down with a Diet Coke for company at the Peabody).

Keep a head up, keep looking forward (with a few peeks around), and I’ll keep sending out all the best vibes that I can.

Looking forward to Howling: Allen Ginsberg & The Trickster in “Howl” in 2013!!

A strange journey through the worlds of writing and publishing

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