This title of this blog post comes from a quote from Alan Ginsberg’s letter that Professor Z posted earlier tonight. I love the tone of the letter, so matter-of-fact and unabashed. So Whitmanian. Ginsberg would rather explain his whole thought process behind the poem than have it be misunderstood and ineffective. I get the sense from Ginsberg that he too believed, in his very heart, that his poetry had the capacity to affect the nation. In the letter, Ginsberg responds to the question of why Supermarket in California deals with Walt Whitman:
“He was the first great American poet to take action in recognizing his individuality, forgiving and accepting Him Self, and automatically extending that recognition and acceptance to all- and defining his Deomcracy as that. He was unique and lonely in his glory- the truth of his feelings- without which no society can long exist. Without his truth there is only the impersonal Moloch and self hatred of others.
Without self-acceptance there can be no acceptance of other souls.”
He recognized the turning point in American society, the new Democracy, that was embodied in people such as Walt Whitman, in his rugged, naked, unashamed glory. I found a quote from Michael McClure, a fellow beat poet, on Ginsberg’s first public performance of Howl at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. I love the level of drama and intensity; it makes me so wish I could have been in this crowd. How profound!
“Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America”
I can imagine Ginsberg standing up on the stage and reading this poem to a rapt audience. For a few moments everyone in the room is with him as he brings them together through his words. And yet he is so solitary there on the stage, in his angst.
I love the idea of being unique and lonely in your glory. Poets often lead such lonely lives; but not in a sad way, in a way that they live such complete existences on their own attempting to translate their experience into words. It really takes some meditation, some alone time. It is the kind of lonely you can be in a crowd, surrounded by people. It is the kind of loneliness that comes from belief in one’s mission The Beats embody this aspect of the Whitmanian life to me. I think of Walt, toward the end of his life, old and sick and slowly dying amidst piles of books and paper- his life’s work. That is all there was at the end.