Cultural Icons: Allen Ginsberg

A key figure in the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg was the prophet-like poet that significantly influenced a transcendental way of thinking, living and being. In response to the McCarthy-era, Post WWII America, Ginsberg and co. bonded over a non-conformist lifestyle, and sought a ‘New Vision’ for creativity inspired by the poetry of Yeats. Fuelled by this spirit (as well as hallucinogenic drugs) Ginsberg became, and remains, a true icon who encouraged becoming impassioned by what inspires you, and living in and appreciating the experiences of life.

Ginsberg was an influential in the poetry scene known as the San Francisco Renaissance, which later developed into the wider Beat Generation. His writing towards his ‘New Vision’ culminated in the iconic reading of ‘Howl’ at the Six Gallery reading, San Francisco 1955, which was recounted by Jack Kerouac in his novel The Dharma Bums. Ginsberg’s poems reel off into devotional free verse as meditations on visions of Blake, Whitman, Williams and Kerouac, life and death, and his concerns such as that of damaging capitalist systems; all in a deeply spiritual tone.

In addition to his literary activity, Ginsberg was an imperative figure in Gay Rights activism, free speech movements (having had his poem ‘Howl’ held under an obscenity trial), and took anti-Capitalist and anti-war stances (notably protesting against the Vietnam and Bangladesh Liberation wars). Allen Ginsberg remains an iconic cultural figure for the disillusioned that seek some sense of renewal.