Cover image for Spontaneous mind : selected interviews, 1958-1996
Spontaneous mind : selected interviews, 1958-1996
Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollinsPublishers, [2001]

Physical Description:
xix, 603 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3513.I74 Z476 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The interviews collected in Spontaneous Mind, chronologically arranged and in some cases previously unpublished, were conducted throughout Allen Ginsberg's long career. Always a candid and engaging subject, Ginsberg considered the interview an art form, as well as an opportunity to get his message across to many people, which, as a student of Eastern religions, he believed was his spiritual obligation. In these interviews, dating from the late 1950s to the mid-1990s, Ginsberg speaks frankly about his life, his work, and the events of his time.

Ginsberg's progressive and controversial views on politics and censorship dominate his interviews, from his conversation with the conservative William F. Buckley on PBS to his comments in the Dartmouth Review about U.S. policy in Central America to his testimony at the Chicago Seven trial. Ginsberg discusses his literary influences, including Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, and William Blake, and offers insights into his own poetry, particularly his innovations in rhythm, meter, and syllable emphasis. A well-known experimenter with drugs, campaigner for their legalization, and believer in their ability to expand consciousness, Ginsberg here describes his LSD trips and his marijuana highs, and explains how they influenced the creation of "Kaddish" and other works. And he talks about his personal life with candor, revealing details of his sexual affairs with fellow Beats Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Neal Cassady, and his longtime relationship with Peter Orlovsky.

Provocative and illuminating, Spontaneous Mind allows us to hear once again the impassioned voice of one of the most influential literary and cultural figures of our time.

Author Notes

Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of poet and teacher Louis Ginsberg. In 1948, he received a B.A. degree from Columbia University.

Ginsberg began writing poetry while still in school and first gained wide public recognition in 1956 with the long poem Howl. Howl has had a stormy history. When it was first recited at poetry readings, audiences cheered wildly. It was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books and printed in England. Before the printed copies could be distributed, however they were seized by U.S. custom officials as obscene. After a famous court case in which the poem was found not to be obscene, the work sold rapidly and Ginsberg's reputation was assured.

Regarded as the foremost port of the Beat generation (as group of rebellious writers who opposed conformity and sough intensity of experience), Ginsberg's work is concerned with many subjects of contemporary interest, including drugs, sexual confusion, the voluntary poverty of the artist and rebel, and rejection of society. He is a poet with a significant message, and his criticism of American society is part of a long tradition of American writers who have questioned their country's values.

Ginsberg received numerous honors, including a Woodbury Poetry Prize, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and a National Book Award for poetry. Ginsberg was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1995 for his book Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986-1992. Ever the Bohemian, he had numerous occupations throughout his lifetime including dishwasher, porter, book reviewer, and spot welder. He died in April 1997 of complications due to liver cancer.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Ginsberg pumped out poems for 50 years. Yet his greatest gift was for conversation. When he conversed, he used a, an, and the like any normal person, which makes his talk more readable than his article-deficient writing. When he conversed, he didn't goof off as he did when reciting, and that makes what he said more cogent than what he wrote. So this generous selection of Ginsberg interviews is the best introduction to date to his intentions as artist and public figure. He explains the combination of Charles Olson's conception of "projective" verse with Jack Kerouac's instructions in spontaneous composition that became his own poetic practice according to the maxim "First thought, best thought." He explains that he was in Chicago for the riots during the 1968 Democratic presidential nominating convention on a peacekeeping mission. He explains his lifelong lust for men and boys as a matter of healthy candor, of Whitmanian adhesiveness, of acknowledging beauty, etc. And he is convincing, especially when facing an unfriendly interlocutor, such as William F. Buckley and the born-again Christian who talked with him for the paleoconservative journal Chronicles. But he is convincing about his sincerity more than his wisdom--or so many may think, even as they nod appreciatively and murmur, "Oh, now I get it." --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ginsberg apparently approached each interviewer "as a future Buddha"; open to any opportunity for conversation, he answered every question, no matter how rude or peculiar. An unpublished 1983 interview here with Steve Foehr consists of one query about the relationship between art and commerce and Ginsberg's seven-page answer ("I simply hung on and tried to get it all written down," says Foehr); others fill only half of a page. The Beat master reiterates that all of his thoughts and expressions emerge from his 1948 auditory hallucination of the voice of William Blake, whose poetic rhythms, childlike innocence, social vision and volatile emotionalism infused Ginsberg's every utterance thereafter. Taken together, these interviews read like an immense jazz oratorio, with rising and falling riffs on prosody, politics, sex, hallucinogens, ecology, jazz, psychoanalysis, Buddhism and his favorite authors Blake, of course, and also Whitman, Pound, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams and Kerouac. Editor Carter, who worked with Ginsberg on one of the first gay cable television shows, provides helpful headnotes for all 30 interviews (culled from some 350), and a "Biographical List" identifies approximately 200 people mentioned in the text. If the 1972 Gay Sunshine interview is the most intimate of these pieces and the excerpt from Ginsberg's testimony in the 1969 Chicago Seven trial the funniest, the strangest entry is surely the 1988 Chronicles interview by John Lofton, who wanted "to confront [Ginsberg] with the Truth of God's Word." As Lofton tries to compel the self-described "excitable visionary Jewish Buddhist" to admit the error of his ways, Ginsberg demonstrates his essential sweet nature and his love of verbal Ping-Pong. Carter captures the best of his witty, generous chatter here. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introductionp. xi
Editor's Notep. xix
1950s Interview
Marc D. Schleifer, Village Voicep. 3
1960s Interviews
Ernie Barry, City Lights Journalp. 9
Tom Clark, The Paris Reviewp. 17
Barry Farrellp. 54
Bob Elliott, Freelancep. 67
William F. Buckley, Jr., Firing Linep. 76
Fernanda Pivanop. 103
Michael Aldrich, Edward Kissam, and Nancy Blecker, "Improvised Poetics"p. 124
Paul Carroll, Playboyp. 159
Bill Prescott, (untitled)p. 197
Chicago Seven Trial Testimonyp. 200
1970s Interviews
Mary Jane Fortunato, Lucille Medwick, and Susan Rowe, New York Quarterlyp. 245
Alison Colbert, Partisan Reviewp. 259
Yves Le Pellec, "The New Consciousness"p. 273
Allen Young, Gay Sunshine Interviewp. 303
John Durham, "The Death of Ezra Pound"p. 343
Ekbert Faas, from Towards a New American Poeticsp. 355
Michael Goodwin, Richard Hyatt, and Ed Ward, "Squawks Mid-Afternoon"p. 363
Peter Barry Chowka, New Age Journalp. 377
Paul Portuges and Guy Amirthanayagam, "Buddhist Meditation and Poetic Spontaneity"p. 398
1980s Interviews
Nancy Bunge, from Finding the Wordsp. 421
Helen, Flipside Fanzinep. 433
Michael Schumacher, Ouip. 434
Steve Foehrp. 444
Simon Alburyp. 452
John Lofton, Chroniclesp. 469
Josef Jarabp. 499
1990s Interviews
Thomas Gladysz, Photo Metrop. 523
Clint Frakesp. 532
Steve Silberman, www.HotWired.comp. 546
Afterwordp. 571
Acknowledgmentsp. 577
Biographical Listp. 583
Permissionsp. 596
Indexp. 597