Literary archivist Morgan (Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation in America, 2011, etc.) collects the correspondence of Ferlinghetti (Blasts Cries Laughter, 2014, etc.) and Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), beginning with Ginsberg’s first publication Howl and Other Poems (1955).
Limiting his comments to background information, Morgan lets Ginsberg’s personality emerge above and beyond what his poetry reveals. In addition to his work as a leading poet and painter, Ferlinghetti founded City Lights Books in San Francisco, a haven for beat poets and other countercultural writers. Their relationship, during which he published much of Ginsberg’s work, lasted for the next 25 years. The letters are a perfect picture of the San Francisco Renaissance and the rise of the beat poets, with Ginsberg at the top of the heap. Not only was he the best, but Ginsberg also knew everyone and their work. He ceaselessly recommended writers to Ferlinghetti, who tended away from the Buddhist-inspired poets toward the more European-inspired ones. While there is some discussion of editing problems, these letters are much more tuned to both men’s work, the “hip” generation that experimented with drugs and the poetry that was influenced by their use. The big New York publishers often tried to lure Ginsberg away, but Ferlinghetti’s defense of Howl and Other Poems against obscenity charges ensured Ginsberg’s loyalty, as well as their friendship. Ginsberg was not only a poet; he was a world traveler who kept copious journals, many of which were later printed. He was also totally honest about his drug use and noted which works were accomplished under the effect of a specific substance. Having some familiarity with both men’s work is actually unnecessary, as their lives and outlooks come through in this compilation of their correspondence.
A good primer to convince readers who have not experienced the work of Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg to give them a try.