“The way to point to the existence of the universe is to see one thing directly and clearly and describe it. . . . If you see something as a symbol of something else, then you don't experience the object itself, but you're always referring it to something else in your mind. It's like making out with one person and thinking about another.” —Ginsberg speaking to his writing class at Naropa Institute, 1985
With “Howl” Allen Ginsberg became the voice of the Beat Generation. It was a voice heard in some of the best-known poetry of our time—but also in Ginsberg’s eloquent and extensive commentary on literature, consciousness, and politics, as well as his own work. Much of what he had to say, he said in interviews, and many of the best of these are collected for the first time in this book. Here we encounter Ginsberg elaborating on how speech, as much as writing and reading, and even poetry, is an act of art.
Testifying before a Senate subcommittee on LSD in 1966; gently pressing an emotionally broken Ezra Pound in a Venice pensione in 1967; taking questions in a U.C. Davis dormitory lobby after a visit to Vacaville State Prison in 1974; speaking at length on poetics, and in detail about his “Blake Visions,” with his father Louis (also a poet); engaging William Burroughs and Norman Mailer during a writing class: Ginsberg speaks with remarkable candor, insight, and erudition about reading and writing, music and fame, literary friendships and influences, and, of course, the culture (or counterculture) and politics of his generation. Revealing, enlightening, and often just plain entertaining, Allen Ginsberg in conversation is the quintessential twentieth-century American poet as we have never before encountered him: fully present, in pitch-perfect detail.
About the Author
Michael Schumacher is author of the acclaimed biography of Allen Ginsberg, Dharma Lion, and editor of The Essential Ginsberg. His books Torn in Two: The Sinking of the Daniel J. Morrell and One Man’s Survival on the Open Sea, November’s Fury: The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913, Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and Mr. Basketball: George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers, and the Birth of the NBA are also published by Minnesota.
"With a knowledge born out of personal interviews conducted with Allen Ginsberg himself, Michael Schumacher understands more about Ginsberg’s poetry than anyone alive. This book presents Ginsberg’s own words in a thought-provoking, entertaining, and intelligent way. It is destined to be a perfect companion to any study of Ginsberg, the poet."—Bill Morgan, author of The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation
"Michael Schumacher has dug deep and come up with a treasure trove of Ginsbergian thought—on topics ranging from sex and drugs and rock & roll to the genesis of "Howl" and On the Road. We even get a writing how-to via the transcript of a Naropa classroom discussion between Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, and William S. Burroughs. This fascinating compendium is the perfect addition to the Beat canon."—Holly George-Warren, author of A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton and editor of The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats
"Schumacher provides an introduction to First Thought that ought to make Ginsberg fans scream with joy."—San Francisco Chronicle
"First Thought reacquaints us with a wonderfully authentic person and poet."—PopMatters
"The collection is genuinely worthwhile."—Rain Taxi