Civil Liberties Learning from Allen Ginsberg


Beat icon Allen Ginsberg is getting a resurgence of attention, 13 years after his death at the age of 70. A movie based on the story behind Ginsberg's signature poem, "Howl," opens this Friday. It stars James Franco as the young poet embroiled in a 1957 obscenity trial over the poem, which ended in a landmark win for free speech. The movie is already garnering praise for animated sequences (made partially in Thailand) that put images to Howl's words. Director Rob Epstein noted that Ginsberg, a fan of Eastern religions, "would appreciate us outsourcing to a Buddhist country."

And an exhibition of Ginsberg's photography, "Beat Memories," played to enthusiastic crowds all summer at Washington-D.C.'s National Gallery of Art. Ginsberg had both a unique eye and unique access to a generation of literary heroes, snapping classic portraits like Jack Kerouac smoking on a fire escape and William Burroughs standing next to a sphinx at the Museum of Natural History.'s Nick Gillespie looks at why Ginsberg—a champion of gay rights, free speech, nonviolence, and drug legalization—still has a lot to teach us.

Approximately 2.30. Produced by Jim Epstein and Nick Gillespie

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  1. threadjack

    Speaking of Ginsberg and Radley Balko – Orlando police knock an 84 year-old veteran to the ground, breaking his neck and nearly killing him.

    Because, after all, he was presenting a threat of imminent death or serious injury to the officer, so use of physical force was, of course, entirely justified.


    1. I almost posted this to morning links, but didn’t because the guy kept putting his hands on the cop despite being told three times not to.

      1. Yes, the old dude should not have laid hands on the cop. But fer christ’s sake, he was an 84 year-old drunk. The cop couldn’t think of any other way to handle the dude beside tossing him to the pavement?

        What kind of real threat did this tottering old drunk present to the cop?

        1. When you are a cop with only a gun, a taser, handcuffs, a radio to call for backup, training in fighting techniques, and spend half of your life in a gym bulking up an 84 year old man that is drunk is scarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry!

    2. What is it about a gun and a badge that turns people into complete fucking monsters?

      Or, maybe monsters are attracted to a job where breaking an old guy’s neck gets you a pat on the fucking back.

  2. Love Ginsberg – great piece!

  3. I once met Judge Douglas Ginsburg and told him he was my favorite beat poet. He said that wasn’t him, but Allen Ginsberg. I then told him “well you’re a poet and you don’t know it!”

    1. He (Ginsburg) taught my contracts class in law school. Decent class. Seemed like a nice enough guy. I was totally unsurprised to learn later that he was a doper. Wish I’d known at the time.

  4. Thailand would be a good place to animate a NAMBLA member’s poems.

    1. Little twitching worm,
      How I long to know your taste,
      Shhh, it’s our secret.

      1. You’re a poet and you don’t realize it.

  5. Allen Ginsberg Vs. John Lofton

    My favorite part:

    GINSBERG: I would say there is a little element of S&M in your approach. Power.

    LOFTON: No. I would say this is more like the kind of sex you like.

    GINSBERG: And I would say this is the kind of power relationship you like, judging from your behavior.

    LOFTON: Well, that’s certainly what S&M is all about?power.

    GINSBERG: And you seem to like that don’t you? Have your sexual fantasies ever involved that kind of power relationship?

    LOFTON: No, not to my knowledge, I’m a Christian. So I don’t fantasize.

    1. You just got to the good part…

      GINSBERG: Do you ever have sexual fantasies?

      LOFTON: No.

      GINSBERG: None at all?

      LOFTON: No, I said I am a Christian.

      GINSBERG: You’ve never had any sexual fantasies!

      LOFTON: Before I was a Christian, I had them, absolutely.

      GINSBERG: And since you’re a Christian you don’t?

      LOFTON: No.

      GINSBERG: And when you had them, did they involve any dominance/submission fantasies!

      LOFTON: Mine were pretty orthodox heterosexual kinds of fantasies. But there’s no doubt they were bad. And I am so glad that Jesus Christ delivered me from them.

      GINSBERG: You have no erotic dreams now, at all, that you remember!

      LOFTON: None that don’t feature my wife, no.

      GINSBERG: Yeah.

      LOFTON: It’s an amazing thing what Jesus can do for a person.

      GINSBERG: Uh-huh.

      Is it me or does Lofton have a pre-internet internet troll-quality?

  6. I can’t believe he’s been dead for 13 years. I saw him read at NYU in my freshman year. I’m OOOOOOLD.

  7. I’d say all Ginsburg had to “teach” us is that if you’re a fatuous self-involved parasite you can still prosper, provided there are enough regular folks angry at feeling repressed to pay your bills.

    Absolutely, this is something to teach the kids. Why work for a living, when you can merely showcase your adolescent navel-gazing in public and call it art?

    1. Isn’t that what all art is?

  8. “…why Ginsberg ? a champion of gay rights, free speech, nonviolence, and drug legalization ? still has a lot to teach us.”

    Yeah, let’s turn to the most overrated hack poet of the twentieth century for sage political lessons.

    1. You rang?

      1. You ain’t nothing, baby.

    2. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by bad poetry…

  9. Ex-trooper crashes while texting, kills sisters, files for worker’s comp…..h-his.html

    1. Between the “overseas idiotic fucking narcotics act” story, and the one linked at the top of this page my nuts are way too sore to click your link.

      And, we still have Balko’s freedom nutpunch on friday.

    2. FUCK!

      “Mitchell was driving 126 mph in busy day-after-Thanksgiving traffic on Interstate 64 near O’Fallon while sending and receiving e-mails and talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone moments before the crash. Mitchell was responding to an accident near Lebanon, but help already was at the scene of the accident where Mitchell was responding, authorities said.

      Mitchell crossed over the median and hit the girls’ car head-on. He sustained severe leg injuries.

      After the accident, Mitchell was suspended with pay for nearly two years, drawing his $68,000 annual salary. He resigned from the Illinois State Police after pleading guilty to the criminal charges.”

      1. $136,000 vacation…

        Man, I need an ice pack. The boys are glowing purple.

    3. If I were the father of those girls, there would be no trial for that fetid bucket of sputum.

      Now, my trial, on the other hand…

    4. This should help, cop kills cop after cop1 asked cop2 to shoot him (with training weapon).

    5. Holy SHIT!!
      Just this year IL passed a no texting while driving law which ……… wait for it.

      Exempts cops.

  10. I never before realized how much David Cross looks like Allen Ginsberg in is later years.

  11. Wow, I never thought about it that way before.

    1. Man, with you it is just Wung Ting after another.

  12. Maybe one day there’ll be a Happy Meal with a commemorative Ginsberg toy.

  13. I really miss that bastard.

  14. not really a big fan of ginsberg( more of a genet guy myself) but shut with the self involved shit, u paleos. long live, cosmotarians (we’re the best kind!)

    1. *shut the fuck up with that self-involved shit…

  15. seriously though, i hate me some hippies as much as the next capitalism lover but you ex-republican libertarians need to get some culture. other then ayn rand.

    1. seriously though, i hate me some hippies as much as the next capitalism lover but you ex-republican libertarians need to get some culture. other then ayn rand.

      The irony. We rejected culture as an instrument for one to lord over the virtues and vices and subjective criteria of taste of others only to see our work assimilated into that very system by lords of another day with their own set of arbitrarily determined virtues, vices and subjective criteria of taste.

  16. Ginsberg’s signature poem, “Howl.”

    Quick, what’s his second-best-known poem?

    1. “Howl 2: Electric Boogaloo”

    2. Kaddish, or the one about seeing Walt Whitman in the supermarket

    3. Second-best-known, I’d say, is “America.” I like Ginsberg’s poetry, and he may have been an advocate for free speech, but he wasn’t exactly a libertarian. At least in my mind. Interesting choice, Reason.

  17. Director Rob Epstein noted that Ginsberg, a fan of Eastern religions, “would appreciate us outsourcing to a Buddhist country.”

    I read a story with attached letters from readers in Trycicle years ago, and the impression I got was that Eastern Religions weren’t a fan of Ginsberg.

    1. Some cited Ginsberg’s pedophilia as one of the many problems they had with him.

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