Saturday, 16 July 2011

Great Ginsberg! A selected Ginsberg worth reading!

I came across a selected edition of Ginsberg's poems published in the UK by Faber and edited by Mark Ford and at last I've found a volume which goes beyond Howl and Kaddish (just about), and does justice to Ginsberg's great talent.

Previously, I struggled with Ginsberg's own selected poems, published in Penguin, which, at over 400 pages, suffers from the inclusion of too many poems that reflect his monotonous ecstatic self-absorption. In contrast, Ford has sifted Ginsberg's work down to a few essential nuggets. About two thirds of it consists of work from the two great collections, the rest covers the period from 1962 - 1997 (the poet's death). There are only two poems from the 1980's, three from the 1990's, but, as a result, the reader gets to focus in on marvellous poems such as Wichita Vortex Sutra, Wales Visitation, and that accidental masterpiece Mugging, which records an unexpected trauma that forced him to set aside self-indulgent habits and write with the intense honesty - and hurt - which marks out his best work.

This honesty is supported by a style of writing which often eschews metaphor for accumulations of concrete nouns, dialogue and quotes from the media. However, the concrete details are those apprehended by the poetic consciousness (and sometimes varied by the telegraphic insertion of abstract forms which testify to the poet's spiritual state) The nouns work by accretion and overall the force and rhythm of his poetry is achieved through psalm-like rhetoric.

So rather than read me, read this. His best poetry is full of humanity, and, if not always completely free of humbug, endearingly free of pomposity - truly, he managed on occasions to achieve a universalising egotistical sublime. I should also add that the best of the political verse makes Poundian bricolage readable and enjoyable - quite a feat!

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