Shanah Tovah. This is not a religious piece, but I do want to acknowledge that the direct subject of this piece, the leftist poet who made it possible, had a rich experience with his Jewish heritage, which he turned into many great works of art. I do love the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, and I love the kind, brave man that he was.
For present purposes, I am focusing on the fact that in 1986 he wrote a swell poem for Bernie Sanders, which I will go into in a minute. But first, I want to talk a little bit about the transitory, which I will try to relate back to Ginsberg’s poem for Sanders.
A couple of years after Ginsberg wrote his poem for Sanders, around the same time I was becoming a democratic socialist in my heart, I was on a long road trip back from a quiet religious retreat in Kentucky with a close friend. As people comfortable with each other can do in the middle of night, we talked about everything that came to our minds, with free-flowing thoughts energized by the stars, the highway, and our appreciation for each other’s companionship at that moment in the journey of life.
After a while we became silent, and in the light of the dashboard, on a scrap of paper, I wrote a Howl-inspired poem. I have it somewhere. Its contents aren’t what matter for present purposes (although I remember it had quite a few “Molochs” and said something personally meaningful and bittersweet about this being “no monastery I live in” in my real life. Still a pro-choice Christian contemplative and democratic socialist decades later, I continue to wrestle with how to be contemplative, politically-active, and a real world wage-earner.) Then I told my friend that I’d written this poem, would he like to hear it? He said yes, and for the next few minutes I, for a unique time in my life, soulfully read cool stuff I’d just written that blew my buddy away.
It blew him away so much so that a couple of weeks later he asked me to do a repeat performance. We were hanging out drinking beer on a Friday night with this handsome and cool Buddhist guy who looked and acted like he was straight out of The Dharma Bums. My friend knew him because my friend had always wanted a Volvo and this guy restored old Volvos at a concrete storage unit on the edge of town. (I don’t think my friend [the capitalist pig!] ever got a Volvo, but I can’t really remember at this point and forgive him if he did–at least it would have been recycled I guess.)
Flattered that my friend had such appreciation for my poem to want me to read it for this real life Kerouac character, I whipped it out (the poem). My friend must have suggested in advance that I bring the poem along, as I don’t think I’d been carrying it around with me generally waiting for the chance to recreate the moment in a command performance. Well anyhow, I flopped. The Buddhist guy was polite but obviously unimpressed, and truth be told, my heart was not in it. It, the height of my creativity, was a poem that was meant to blow someone away only one time, in the middle of the night somewhere on a highway in the Deep South, not a timeless masterpiece like Howl.
Perhaps Ginsberg’s hastily-written poem for Sanders is somewhere on a vast continuum between my late night amateur Beat composition (or yours) and the masterpiece Howl. In any event, it does say something special about the transitory that I want to riff on. Continue reading