On this day in 1926, Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, NJ. Precocious, an ideologue, and facile with words, the teenaged boy would write letters to the New York Times on the hot topics of the day: World War II and Labor issues. At Columbia University, Allen befriended a group of like-minded men—Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and John Clellen Holmes—who would later become known as “The Beat Poets” or “The Beat Generation.” Together, they saw a promising, new potential for America’s youth, outside the strictures of the current McCarthy-era boundaries.
Ginsberg’s most famous work was the poem “Howl,” published in 1957. In it, he denounced what he saw as the deleterious effects of militarism, capitalism, and social conformity in American society. He also included frank references to sexual activity (both straight and gay) which landed him in the middle of a high-profile obscenity trial. Ginsberg won the case and, no doubt, sold a lot more books because of it.
He was a fixture on New York’s left-wing political scene for decades, protesting everything from the Vietnam War to the War on Drugs. Ginsberg was a life-long smoker and contracted hepatitis from an unclean needle while undergoing medical treatment in the 1960’s. A couple of strokes, Bell’s Palsy, and, finally congestive heart failure affected him at the end of his life, the latter killing him on 5 April 1997.
The bookends above, a Wild Coyote, may not “Howl” loudly but they will make a statement on your desk, bookshelf or mantlepiece.