An American Werewolf in London

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

-Allen Ginsberg

The train that galloped up to the platform this morning, normally crammed with humanity, was empty but for the discarded newspapers lining the window ledges. I thought I had missed the memo about the start of the zombie apocalypse. Turns out the kids have gone back to school, and the tourists have gone home. So I spent some time on my morning commute thinking about the similarities between poets and werewolves.

Culture, like poetry, is so often about what gets transmitted between the lines. It is not, I decided, the bankers and CEOs who normally sit across from me on the train who hold the most cultural power. What we learn on our mothers’ laps goes deep, to a visceral level. What gets passed down, mother to child through generations, forms the culture of a people. Mothers, therefore, are also “unacknowledged legislators” creating and replicating the very “operating system” of a society — its culture.

Moving from California to London certainly feels like I have switched operating systems. Apart from the obvious fumbling as I seek to find where they’ve moved the new buttons and menus, this shake-up gives me the opportunity to discover what is universal among computers — er — people. Contrast is one powerful way to heighten perception and uncover commonality in the quest for what is essentially human.

I have also discovered, however, that poets are not entirely human. Continue reading…

The Poets Are Pros Now, Like the Software Coders

Oracular spontaneity is rare these days, and heartfelt, inspired sloppiness underrated. The poets are pros now, like the software coders, and they function smoothly as nodes in the great network. Ginsberg was always a bug in the machine, though, and the chaos he caused rang alarms that brought repairmen. […] Silence … the one mistake Ginsberg never made. And because of the work he left, the life he led and the care that’s been taken preserving them, it’s one that he probably never will.

 —  Walter Kirn, Howler
(thanks to The Page for pointing it out)

Again, the pairing of poetry and code is here intended to leave a bad taste in the mouth. Yet precision and compactness are what make poetry great. Not the extracurricular antics of the poet.

To me Ginsberg seems to go down in history more for being a poet (among so many other things) than, in fact, for his poems. The spirit of the man came through his work, but he was indeed larger than life and certainly more than any page could contain. Iconoclast. Witty. And positioned at the crux of dramatic social change.

To me his work seems less perennial and transcendent than, say, Whitman — and to my mind is more relevant to history books than poetry anthologies. Still, he could teach us all a thing or two about “oracular spontaneity” (well put!) and the pleasures of being oneself in writing as in life.

Why must we make a dichotomy between being free and exacting in art?