DHARMA LION: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg by Michael Schumacher
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DHARMA LION: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Strong, wonderfully absorbing life of Beat bard Allen Ginsberg (b. 1926) that breaks new ground in its critical analyses of the poet's work; by Schumacher (Reasons to Believe, 1988--not reviewed). Readers might think that after Barry Miles's massive and masterful Ginsberg (1989), an equally massive biography coming so closely behind is more than one has the stamina for--but no. Schumacher goes over the same events in Ginsberg's life as Miles did, and does so with an intelligence that bonds us to the emotionally battered poet. Unlike Miles, he cuts off his biography in 1980: The bulk of Ginsberg's major works had appeared by then (one should have 1985's Collected Poems at hand to follow the critical argument). Also, unlike Miles, Schumacher uses few interviews, hoping to avoid mythologizing by going to original sources contemporary with the events described--largely collected archives of Ginsbergiana and Ginsberg's voluminous letters and journals kept from childhood, which form a vivid autobiography of events as they happened. Ginsberg's genie sprang from the marriage of his poet father and mad mother--a wildly outspoken radical--and was unstoppered by Blake, Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and Jack Kerouac's spontaneous bop prosody. The young poet found his voice in ""Howl""--and what a voice it was. Schumacher takes us through the poem's drafts until it was shaped and given its final verbal lift and meticulously forceful imitation of spontaneity. One is struck time and again by Ginsberg's originality and the richly surreal syntax that opens doors to his most private experience. His Buddhism, raids on the political establishment, and Beat friends Kerouac, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, et al. get full treatment, as do his gay love affairs, especially with mainly heterosexual Peter Orlovsky. Ginsberg's bottomless aid to the bedeviled, learned in childhood, is stunning. Rings the doorbell on your heart, your brain, and your love of great verse.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
Page count: 752pp
Publisher: St. Martin's