Within a quarter-century, however, Ginsberg had become America’s most famous living poet, attracting a congregation in which common readers mingled with political activists, students of oriental philosophy and a variety of social casualties. Wordsworth’s famous pronouncement — “We poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness” — appears to have been put into reverse by Ginsberg. The open homosexual and Blake-inspired visionary took every opportunity to demonstrate that candor triumphed over shame — by taking off his clothes at a poetry reading, for example. Madness to gladness was his determined course. If the world seemed reluctant to follow, the solution was obvious: change the world.
Yet letters written in the late 1980s to his longtime partner, Peter Orlovsky, and to his friend and fellow poet, Gregory Corso, suggest that Ginsberg, a man of great geniality and natural generosity, trailed the old discontents behind him. They turned up in the form of other people’s drug and alcohol addictions, pathological self-centeredness and occasional violence. In June 1987, he issued an ultimatum to Orlovsky, who had socked the psychiatrist R. D. Laing on the mouth during a get-together in Colorado, leaving Laing with “a big blue swollen lip.” Orlovsky’s recollection of the event was dim, therefore Ginsberg felt obliged to remind him:
“You poured milk and apple juice over the harmonium as well as R. D. Laing. . . . A teapot lid was broken, tiny fragments, no vacuum cleaner yet and I was too injured to get thing straight till now. One cigarette burn on rug, one on hallway linoleum. My shin got kicked when you overturned the coffee table while I was sitting on the couch watching you and Laing go at it.
Yeah, it's sort of a cautionary tale though:
“The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder,” also edited by Morgan, is much taken up with discussions of meditation and Oriental studies, on which Snyder appears as the master, Ginsberg the willing disciple. The two men met in Berkeley in 1955 and took part in the famous Six Gallery poetry reading at which Ginsberg gave the first notable reading of “Howl.” After the event, which served as an informal coming-out reception for the Beat Generation in San Francisco, he published “Howl and Other Poems,” which became the subject of an obscenity prosecution, then moved to Europe to join forces with William Burroughs. Meanwhile, Snyder entered a Japanese Zen monastery, embarking on a course of study that would last until his return to the United States permanently in 1969.
You gotta be sedulous to do this stuff.