Allen Ginsberg: Beginning of a Poem of These States,” Evergreen Review, No. 49, October 1967.
Yes, I’m an old hippy. But I generally think of myself as a bohemian, which was the term the late great Tuli Kupferberg, who died this week in New York, preferred. I met my first bohemian at around age 13, in 1964, when a Norwegian hipster who had just spent three years in New York City came to live on the university campus in Japan where my father worked. One day around then, my friend John K., who lived on the same campus, handed me a dog-eared copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
This was just around the time when I was learning about the music of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Memphis jug bands, and I devoured the book, several times. But living in Japan, 10,000 miles away from the action in places like the East Village and San Francisco, my primary avenue for learning about the beats and hippy culture was through magazines, especially the Evergreen Review. Sex, rock & roll, politics, poetry – it was all there. And ooh the sex. This particular issue had the text of a complete play by Michael McClure called The Beard that was just about as erotic as anything I’d ever seen, and I devoured that too.
In the same issue appeared a wonderful poem by Allen Ginsberg, whom I was by now familiar with from On the Road and his poetry: “Beginning of a Poem of These States.” It’s significant to me because its subhead is “Memento for Gary Snyder,” who lived in Japan for many years (overlapping with much of my time there) and whose own poetry I learned to love later on, especially after living for a spell on a commune in southern Japan that he started with a bunch of Japanese hippies and poets. As I read this, I can hear Ginsberg’s wonderful voice, and his clear tones and musical intonation.
So enjoy this little flash into our collective bohemian past, lifted from a medium – glossy, artistic magazines – that served as my connection to culture and politics back in the days before computers and rapid communications. Evergreen, I salute you! Allen Ginsberg, you sly poet you, still sneaking up on us after all these years. And there’s more to come from where this came from.