Ball has shaped these raw, revealing "journals" — gleaned from a dozen sources, including pocket notebooks and a large 1954 desk calendar bearing Ginsberg's random jottings — into the essential record of the questing, wild-eyed, lustful young poet's sexual, spiritual, and literary odyssey. The entries embrace the period from Ginsberg's early San Francisco days to the bittersweet arrival of the Beat Movement as a media curiosity. As early as the summer of 1954, when he was still lusting after Neal Cassady and before his romance with Peter Orlovsky, Ginsberg had "recognitions...crucial to the writing of Howl." These writings and poetic ramblings are peppered with "Howl"-like phrasings: "drunken naked apartments"; "bursts of tropic artichoke energy." He records his dreams, usually frank and frustrated sexual encounters, in detail. He also confesses real sexual episodes with Cassady, Orlovsky, women. Of more interest, perhaps, are his ruminations on poetry and process, his copious reading lists, his comments on friends such as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, and others. He marks the day in October 1955 when he debuted "Howl, Part 1" at the Six Gallery as the day when "the San Francisco Renaissance and a new American poetry were born." His early West Coast days and his sojourns to Mexico and Morocco have received ample attention. But manifest in his 1957-58 ramblings through Paris, Venice, and London is his profound sense of alienation, his cultivation of the notion of poet-as-expatriate, so evident in his work. On his return to the US and the media circus stirred up by Kerouac, he notes that his journal writing has "become too unspontaneous" and resolves to focus more on writing "loose poems," which fill hundreds of pages. "Only poetry," he notes, "will save America." Ball has illuminated and brought cohesion to the fragmented and often hallucinatory ruminations and ravings of a mad, genius poet. An important document has been added to the Beat canon.
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