Voices and laughter could already be heard at the top of the stairs of the gallery space as various pictures of Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac greeted visitors of the Beat Museum Tuesday night, the night of what would have been Irwin Allen Ginsberg’s 88th birthday. Museum founder, Jerry Cimino held a celebration at the Beatnik shrine in San Francisco for the late Ginsberg. Friends and admirers shared memories along with personal poetry readings all evening.
Odd hats, long skirts and scruffy beards were a part of what made the Beat Museum crowd. The attendees’ appearance was just as interesting and thought-provoking as the poetry delivered by those honoring the late poet.
“Allen was like an uncle to me. A grumpy uncle, but … an uncle,” reminisced Neeli Cherkovski, a poet and the event’s host, who opened the night with small anecdotes of his beloved friend.
“One thing I’ve learned and kept from Ginsberg was in his honoring of the people of before,” said poet A.D. Winans, who read a piece of his work. His delivery emulated the unique and impressing reading voice of the late Ezra Pound.
Poet Dee Allen began his opening monologue with idolizing words for “the late Buddhist, Jewish, queer Allen Ginsberg,” and the introduction drew smiles from the room. His animated reading of “Who Runs America?” was a highlight of the night and he expressed his wish to have had the eyes and ears of those in the room who had personally met Ginsberg.
Some of the speakers didn’t personally know Ginsberg, but were introduced to his work through interest in others who emerged out of the Beat generation such as Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.
“I didn’t really know Ginsberg, but I loved Kerouac,” said Cimino. “When I first was able to meet Ginsberg I immediately asked, ‘Do you think Kerouac was a prophet?’ He responded with, ‘Not any more than another who simply spoke the truth.’ If it wasn’t for that introduction to Ginsberg and the rest of the Beats, this Museum wouldn’t be here.”
One of the favorite speakers of the night was Kaye McDonough, who spoke in place of the scheduled Alan Kaufman. McDonough, a poet and professor at Quinnipiac University, is also the widow of Gregory Corso, the youngest of the Beat writers. Her laughter and enthusiasm lit up the room as she described the couple of times she met with Ginsberg.
“I met Allen and Peter (Orlovsky) on the corner of Broadway and Columbus,” she said with a luminous smile. “Gregory convinced Allen that I wasn’t feeding our baby properly because I was only breast feeding him at that point. Both were intrigued with the idea that they should feed him real food –– meat.” Laughter rose in the room and quieted as she continued with a poem by Kaufman that was dedicated to Ginsberg.
Cherkovski ended the night with a short anecdote about Ginsberg’s supportive father, who encouraged his son’s nontraditional career as a writer. “Allen had a poet father, Louis, who loved everything Allen did,” he said. Ginsberg himself became one of the fathers of a new form of writing. The Howl for Ginsberg event ended as a success in honoring the voice of a literary revolutionary and beloved beatnik.
Melanie Jimenez covers music. Contact her at [email protected].