Mind Breaths: Learning Buddhism from Allen Ginsberg
By Marc Olmsted
Poet Allen Ginsberg’s most beloved persona seems to be his white pajama’d post-India look. Beard and hair now long, already infused with LSD high priest Tim Leary’s political cry to become an ecstatic saint, it is the image that is most often used of him even to this day, whether dancing at the 1967 Human Be-In in San Francisco’s peak of the hippie Summer of Love, or chanting from his San Francisco apartment on Fell Street with finger cymbals, circa 1966. Ginsberg would also return from India with an extra small harmonium, an actual child’s training instrument that allowed him to chant the Hindu and Buddhist mantras he’d heard and learned, most specifically the Hare Krishna mantra years before the Krishna Consciousness movement even hit American shores, then spearheaded by Swami Bhaktivedanta.
Allen later admitted that he never actually learned to meditate: “The problem I had in India was that I didn’t know what to ask for. I went there looking for a teacher and I saw many swamis, but I didn’t know enough to ask them for a meditation practice. Which was the simplest way in? What kind of meditation do you do, and can you suggest a practice? I was too dumb to ask that.”
Though he had been declaring himself a Buddhist, his poem ‘Angkor Wat’ (1963) reveals a significant confusion:
“I’m taking refuge in the Buddha Dharma Sangha / Hare Krishna Hare Krishna / Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hara Rama / Rama Rama Hare Hare”
Though the temples themselves are a mix of Hinduism and Buddhism, Allen’s own mix foreshadowed the general hippie acid aesthetic that would prevail; quite simply: “What’s the difference?”
Allen had long proven interested in Buddhism, probably drawn by the humanist and complex philosophical elements and in particular, the beliefs of his friends Jack Keroauc, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen. Gordan Ball’s East Hill Farm: Seasons with Allen Ginsberg offers a clear account of the late 1960s. Already calling himself a ‘Buddhist Jew’ as recorded in Ball’s book (22) (and variations of this declaration elsewhere), the altar he builds in the attic has just about every religion under the sun (75). In 1968, Ball recounts Ginsberg on William F. Buckley’s TV interview program, Firing Line, repeating a Tibetan Buddhist exorcism mantra and then chanting the Hindu Hare Krishna mantra with his harmonium only a few minutes later. This mixture of non-theism and theism, of no fixed reference point (Buddha’s anatta) and a soul, will be seriously challenged in a few short years under Tibetan lama Chogyam Trungpa’s tutelage.
As for “What’s the difference?”, the difference seems to have made itself clear by his car accident in upstate New York in 1969,which really propels him deeper into Buddhism’s First Noble Truth: Suffering Is Everpresent. The accident broke Allen’s hip. As Ball mentions, Ginsberg then gave an East Village Other interview where he asked rhetorically what happens if “you get carcrashes instead of cocksucks?” (442) – “I gotta get a new metaphysics. Body’s too unreliable.” Ginsberg wrote Ferlinghetti at the time of his accident (157). Likewise, to Charles Olson “…- nausea hip to rib for a day and night realizing the body’s a collapsible pain trap & couldn’t get past that. How’d I get into this body-stump?…” (118)
The comforts and implications of a creator god and an eternal self would not survive in Ginsberg’s metaphysics. Nor would the notion of a permanent high experienced by that eternal self. Buddhism’s Second Noble Truth is the source of suffering is a grasping selfhood, disembodied or otherwise. The Third Noble Truth is Nirvana, or the Cessation of Suffering. This cessation is caused by cutting through the illusory self. The Fourth Noble Truth explains the 8 steps necessary for that cessation.
Allen’s own metaphysics began in 1948. Ginsberg, after masturbating and drowsing off one leisurely afternoon, suddenly heard Blake’s voice reading, “Ah Sunflower.” Ginsberg himself explained the Blake vision at length in a 1966 Paris Review interview:
… and simultaneous to the voice there was also an emotion, risen in my soul in response to the voice, and a sudden visual realization of the same awesome phenomena. That is to say, looking out at the window, through the window at the sky, suddenly it seemed that I saw into the depths of the universe, by looking simply into the… sky. The sky suddenly seemed very ancient.
How did he know it was Blake? Well, it seemed like Blake and was followed by an epiphany, a non-drug-induced psychedelic experience in which the cityscape of Harlem lit up with a vibrant and near-microscopic detail. The experience reoccurred two more times in the same week, once in a bookstore with the same sudden psychedelic brilliance and later on the Columbia University campus where the Creator-God seemed to be present as a sinister, even alien, being who threatened to devour the young poet. After that, Ginsberg turned away from his expanded awareness in a kind of recoiling horror, recounted once more from his “mad tyger” mid-1990s memoir, “And I had a sense of the black sky coming down to eat me. It was like meeting Yamantaka without preparation, meeting one of the horrific or wrathful deities without any realization that it was a projection of myself, or my nature, and I tried to shut off the experience because it was too frightening.”
Despite the horrific nature of this visionary experience, he continued his pilgrimage over the years, reading D. T. Suzuki in the early and mid-fifties (He would later visit Suzuki with Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky in 1958) and studying Chinese and Japanese Buddhist painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He exchanged many letters with Kerouac about Buddhism from 1954 on, his interest at this point appearing largely intellectual, as the following dialogue circa 1955 between the fictionalized Ray Smith (Kerouac) and Alvah Goldbook (Ginsberg) in The Dharma Bums suggests (Kerouac, 1959, 28-29):
“Well” (sigh), “as for me, I’m just going to go on being Alvah Goldbook and to hell with all this Buddhist bullshit.”
“You’ll be sorry some day…There is no me, no airplane, no mind, no Princess, no nothing, you for krissakes do you want to go on being fooled every damn minute of your life?”
“Yes, that’s all I want, I thank God that something has come out of nothing.”
So Ball correctly says that Ginsberg began his Buddhist studies prior “Howl” (77), but they were purely intellectual and part of a sort of omnivorous Gnosticism that would eventually include Hinduism and to a lesser degree, the Sufi path.
In 1958, dentist chair ether suggested to Allen that the world is a dream or illusion, which again is not the philosophical property of Buddhism alone. By the 1960s, he had already pursued the Blake experience of expanded awareness with a variety of psychedelic drugs. In 1960, on yagé (ayahuasca) in the Amazon, that same sinister God seemed present again: “. . . I began to get high – then the whole fucking Cosmos broke loose around me, I think the strongest and worst I ever had it nearly – (I still reserve the Harlem experience, being Natural, in abeyance. . . .).” Two years later, a holy man in India told him “Take Blake for your guru.” But it wasn’t until that same year in India when he met His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, head of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, and asked him what to do about the bad drug trips that he kept having that he received sustainable wisdom: “If you see something horrible, don’t cling to it. If you see something beautiful, don’t cling to it,” was Dudjom Rinpoche’s non-judgmental advice. Ginsberg remembered this advice all his life as extremely significant, i.e., beyond drugs to an application to phenomena and thought itself. In his poem, ‘The Change: Kyoto-Tokyo Express,’ written as he returned from India in 1963, he declared his need to return to his own body rather than transcend it: “. . . Come, sweet lonely Spirit, back / to your bodies… / …Till my turn comes and I /enter that maw. . .” This foreshadowed his formal Buddhist sitting practice begun under Trungpa’s mentoring in the early 1970s. Still, Allen’s ‘The Change’ in no way is an easy work, due to a development during this period of his oeuvre – psychedelic syntax. This was a logical extension of Kerouac’s influence, an effort to record the mind as is, further influenced by drug experiments and observations of mind during those experiments. So Ginsberg was attempting to get to the roots of language and image and they arose in his mind and as he had observed under psychedelics, but did not necessarily feel that the connections between synaptic flashes were important. Later, under the influence of Trungpa and a return to the objectivism of William Carlos Williams, he would not only make sure he was understood, but that his students did not imitate this style of self-involved recording of mind’s movement. For me, this is the real manifestation of Ginsberg’s own Buddhist poetics, as he himself took on both its meditation practice and theory.
Ball refers to Ginsberg’s poem, ‘The Change’, as a rejection of Blakean visionary grasping for “Zen Buddhist ordinary mind set in everyday reality (77).” One can see ‘The Change’ as some level of acceptance of being in a body, rather than tripping out. Still, Ginsberg’s proclamation of mutual tenderness and its fulfillment was his substitution for visions in 1963, not this ‘ordinary mind’ solution of uncontrived ‘calm abiding’ Trungpa later suggested to him.
Startling to anyone interested in Tibetan Buddhism, Allen’s early Indian explorations led to personally meeting some of Tibet’s refugee heaviest hitters. Besides Dudjom Rinpoche, Ginsberg would also meet the Dalai Lama, the Sixteenth Karmapa, and even the very young Chogyam Trungpa (which he completely forgot about until he saw a photo Gary Snyder took years later). Still, Allen mostly wanted to talk about LSD. The Dalai Lama wanted to know if it gave x-ray vision, pointing to a suitcase as example. Though often regarded as a sort of Zen joke by most readers, my own Tibetan teacher told me there were a variety of rare, obscure formulae in Tibetan medicine that were said to actually give you such powers. So the Dalai Lama’s question was trying to get at to what the drug actually did.
In 1969, Ginsberg began formal meditation practice an hour a day after tutelage with Hindu master Swami Muktananda, in response to the increasingly violent language of leftist politics (Ball, 371).
Allen would again meet Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche by kismet on the streets of NYC borrowing Trungpa’s cab in 1970 for his own cancer-sick father, Louis, and the habit of sitting meditation would serve him well, though he would eventually switch from closed-eye silent mantra style to open-eyed attention to breath, which he found more grounding, less tripped out. (Ginsberg, 2001, 381) Ball quotes Ginsberg’s personal shift in 1972, “My guru, Tibetan Lama Chogyam Trungpa, suggested I try a different one…‘Ah!’ Which is appreciation of the spaciousness around us. Chanting Om so aggressively didn’t intrigue people to enter that space, but probably just mystified them (442).” Ginsberg said in his lecture ‘What the East Means to Me,’ given at Kyoto Seika University in 1988 that Trungpa also added about his Hindu mantra chanting: “You can get them high, but you cannot ground it in any practice.” Also, again from Allen’s ‘Vomit of a Mad Tyger’: “AH was just a good old American Fourth of July sound, like ‘Ah, fireworks.’ “
The Tibetan letter AH literally means primordial openness.
By 1974, Ginsberg would be including chanting AH and Trungpa’s meditation instruction as part of his own public performances. As mentioned, the 1970s show a transformation from Allen’s psychedelic syntax to the more direct objectivism of his old mentor William Carlos Williams – simple journalistic image that most can understand, perhaps even 100 years from when they were written. As previously stated, this is also the profound influence of Allen’s Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa. The objectivism is coupled with a haiku-like appreciation without grasping, which also echoes Jack Keroauc’s haiku and sketches from his own discovery of Buddhism in the mid-’50s. The poems and attention are much smaller, quieter, and more easily overlooked, exemplified by this passage from the poem ‘Why I Meditate,’ dated July 10, 1981:
I sit because No because
I sit because I was unable to trace the Unborn back to the womb […]
I sit because I had a vision also dropped LSD
I sit because I don’t know what else to do like Peter Orlovsky […]
These lines reveal Ginsberg taking an objectivist perspective – not trying to describe the ineffable but focused instead on the immediate physical reality. The critique of LSD from this new perspective is that, however inspiring, as long as there is a perceiver of visions, drug-induced or otherwise, one remains still stuck in this ‘pain-trap.’ Even when the perceiver seems to have transcended into the intensity of the perception or experience, the likelihood of a subtle self remaining is strong. Thus, “I am everywhere, I’m one with everything,” even when that ‘I’ is not conscious of itself. The Buddhist rebuttal is present even in the Second Noble Truth. There is perceiving, but no perceiver. The seeming perceiver is the problem, the source of grasping, the aspect that wants to stay high.
Grasping the connections between Tibetan (i.e., Tantric or Vajrayana) Buddhism and Beat practices can help one understand why the Beat movement continues to draw individuals interested in answering life’s Big Questions. The attraction of the philosophy and practice of Tantric Buddhism for many of the Beats lies in Buddhism’s exploration of the nature of awareness. Tantric Buddhism also presents a sacred view of phenomena itself coupled with a deep empathy for all sentient beings that occupy it. Many in the Beat literary movement explored this sacred view with the same empathy or compassion that Tantric Buddhism embodies. As with Zen, it shares the archetype of the Divine Madman. It also allows an enlightened view of sexuality. But perhaps what is most significant is the light that the Tantric notion of enlightenment sheds on one of the Beat principles of creativity: spontaneity. Indeed, an interesting parallel exists between Buddhist spiritual practice and Beat creative writing. “Mind is shapely, art is shapely”, Kerouac said. If the mind is mindful, the art will be mindful – or, in the highest philosophical context of Tantric Buddhism, one just needs to recognize that the mind is already ‘shapely’; in other words, unclouded awareness itself is naturally mindful, so art from natural mindfulness is then spontaneously ‘accurate.’ There are so many spontaneous songs of realization in Tantric Buddhism, they have their own name: doha.
Tantra itself is a Sanskrit word for ‘continuity,’ perhaps most easily understood and paralleled in Zen Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo where he states that there is no secular world. This is perfectly intuited in Ginsberg’s ‘Footnote to Howl’ with its litany and list of “Everything is holy!”
Written records of both Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, according to current academic history, show up approximately 800 years after Buddha’s death. Though Hindu Tantra certainly does not have the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths at its foundation, it does share this view of ‘no secular world,’ as well as similar iconography and even some of the same adepts and deities. In Buddhist Tantra, these ‘deities’ are not regarded as entities, but as manifestations of primordial awareness, essentially empty in nature like a rainbow. Visualization of deity and mantra are used in the same way as the breath, as a support for the mind. Trungpa Rinpoche was quite strict about introducing visualization and mantra to the advanced student only, so the student would not regard them theistically. Hindu Tantra is less explicit about the essential nature of deity, but there is evidence that its own greatest masters understood this lack of solid existence as well. Hindu Tantric scholars like Agenanda Bharati feel Buddhism got on their band wagon. Buddhist Tantric scholars like Herbert Guenther believe the reverse. Academic scholars place their historical appearance as coterminous. Buddhist Tantric devotional history says Buddha himself taught a little Tantra and predicted Padmasambhava as his Tantric successor, a great Indian Tantric master who would establish Buddhism in Tibet more than 8 centuries later. It perhaps goes without saying that only Tantric Buddhists believe this, though it is true historically that Padmasambhava, ‘Precious Guru’ or ‘Guru Rinpoche,’ finally ground Buddhism in Tibet at that time, after sputtering attempts before him.
There is within Buddhism, and certainly Tantric Buddhism, a place for discipline within spontaneity, or a training that allows spontaneity to surface in a naturally perfected and elegant fashion. Clear mind produces clear art, even if it is the clarity of witnessing the derangement of the senses that, for instance, Arthur Rimbaud pursued. Mind is clear because it is penetrating, not because it is logical or linear. ‘Calm abiding’ can be achieved by discipline, but ‘Insight’ occurs without warning or artifice. To align oneself by meditation practice can increase awareness of the moment of inspiration. Allen Ginsberg called it ‘Surprise mind,’ or the mind’s ability to surprise the artist with sudden unexpected juxtapositions, even the afterthought of contracting a phrase into ‘hydrogen jukebox’ in ‘Howl.’ Trungpa Rinpoche referred to the phenomenon as ‘magic’ or “the total appreciation of chance.” Expounding on the metaphor, Ginsberg defined magic as “the total delight in accident, the total pleasure of surprise mind, the appreciation of the fact that the mind changes, that one perception leads to another, and that it in itself is a great play of mind. You don’t have to go further in order to create a work of art.” This philosophy of mind, as espoused by Tantric Buddhism, respects the freshness of a first draft and reconsiders ‘mistakes’ as not accidental.
In Ginsberg’s poetry, the formal training of ‘calm abiding’ breath awareness that he would later undertake with Trungpa Rinpoche is presaged in the following passage from ‘Four Haiku’ written in 1955, “Lying on my side / in the void: / the breath in my nose.” It’s likely that Ginsberg may have recalled this expression from a December 1954 letter he received from Kerouac, which he quotes in ‘Kerouac, Catholicism, Buddhism’ in Beats at Naropa: “…then you think, ‘there is breathing in, there is breathing out,’ and soon essential mind will begin to shine…” Ginsberg further remarks that when he later re-examined this letter, “I hadn’t realized but he [Kerouac] apparently has some idea of sitting, probably from reading”.
To complete the full circle to Williams, Ginsberg also rediscovered this poem Williams had written in 1929.
I have had my dream – like others –
and it has come to nothing, so that
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky –
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose – and decide to dream no more.
What interested a number of Beat writers is that Tantric Buddhist realization or enlightenment, similar to Zen, can be glimpsed again and again, and finally stabilized with formal practice, a training undertaken in various degrees by Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Anne Waldman. An intuited understanding of such practice can also be found in the work of Kerouac and Burroughs (Ginsberg described Burroughs’ methods as ‘homemade yankee tantra’). In praise of Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, Trungpa called Kerouac’s spontaneous notations a “great exposition of mind”. Whalen, both a Zen master and a poet, used similar language to describe the philosophical foundation of his poetics: “My writing is a picture of the mind moving”. This exposition of mind is a critical concept when examining the Beat fusion of life and art. Ginsberg, for instance, credited a conversation with Trungpa Rinpoche for his now-famous maxim, “First thought, best thought.” However, the idea was suggested earlier by Jack Keroauc and even earlier by William Blake, giving credence to the literary lineage of a core Tantric Buddhism principle. Consider, for example, the following declarations:
“First thought is best in Art, second in other matters.” – William Blake
“If you don’t stick with what you first thought, and to the words the thoughts brought, what’s the sense of bothering with it anyway, what’s the sense of foisting your little lies on others?” – Jack Kerouac
“If you stick with the first flashes, then you’re all right. But the problem is, how do you get to that first thought – that’s always the problem. The first thought is always the great elevated, cosmic, noncosmic shunyata [emptiness] thought. And then, at least according to the Buddhist formulation, after that you begin imposing names and forms and all that. So it’s a question of catching yourself at your first open thought.” – Allen Ginsberg
Allen later revisited “first thought, best thought” in 1996 and suggested “…do ‘first thought, no thought,’ and see what comes from that.” In other words, he was allowing one to start from thought, see the gap, then catch the thought that follows. “It’s the same thing really, but less confusing because one gets to see the first thought that arises after the gap.”
Richard Modiano, in his “First Thought, Best Thought” editorial for poetix.net (March 2008) really nails it here: “This expression is often misunderstood to mean first word, best word by people who believe that thoughts and words are one and the same. Behind first thought, best thought stands a particular epistemology. It’s based on a specific practice of observing the rise and fall of thoughts as they occur moment by moment, called by Buddhists shamatha-vipashyana [Sanskrit for ‘calm abiding/insight’ – MO] in some traditions and zazen in others…Practice will reveal that thoughts are not simply words but images and emotions, so to capture that first thought is to be aware of the image/emotion in all its starkness.”
What Ginsberg also said about this approach was that it was acceptable to cut, even tinker slightly, where a more specific image, i.e., ‘blue jay’ rather than ‘bird’, might strengthen the writing, but the point was to preserve the organic quality. Even Kerouac revised. It is similar to meditation, where, for most of us, the mind occasionally gets lost in grocery lists or daydreams. We lose the present moment. This also occurs in writing, and can be cut, like returning to the outbreath dissolving into space or similar methods (for instance, mantra and visualization of ‘deity’).
So by the 1980s, Allen was as a mature student of Buddhism, professorial in trimmed beard, suit and tie, the culmination of his search and arrival as a poet and mystic. This appearance was also suggested by Trungpa, so that Allen would be less scary to the public, no longer a seemingly drug-addled fruitcake that could be easily dismissed by Time magazine. It worked.
Trungpa passed on in 1987, and in 1989, Allen would continue his Buddhist studies with Gelek Rinpoche, whom he met through modern composer Philip Glass. Ironically, both his Tibetan teachers had learned English from the same teacher, and the similarities of their speech were striking to him. Ginsberg would remain Gelek Rinpoche’s student until his own death in 1997.
Referring to Gelek Rinpoche, he candidly remarked in a letter to me: “…my own practice very lax tho I see Gelek Rinpoche & trust in him – he tells me keep public, keep writing & giving readings – I seem to be causing some lucidity or joy, but don’t know how or karmic why, so I do as I’m told by Rinpoche.” Ginsberg wondered why he was going to such effort to archive his own work and statements when the possibility of there even being an intact civilization to receive them in 100 years was hardly guaranteed. Gelek Rinpoche was telling him that the main point was the benefit he brought, however long that would last, in the grand scheme of things.
In other words, as Gelek Rinpoche stated, “To diminish the mass of human and sentient sufferings,” or as Ginsberg put it, “The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.” In 1986, he maintained this belief in slightly different language: “The purpose of art is to provide relief from your own paranoia and the paranoia of others. You write to relieve the pain of others, to free them from the self-doubt generated by a society where everyone is conniving and manipulating.”
Ginsberg further believed that “. . . poetry can stand out as the one beacon of sanity: a beacon of individual clarity, and lucidity in every direction – whether on the Internet or in coffee houses or university forums or classrooms. Poetry, along with its old companion, music, becomes one mean of communication that is not controlled by the establishment.”
In this context, the second wave of Buddhist thought, Mahayana (Great Vehicle) is the source of the notion of the Bodhisattva, ‘the awakened mind hero’, who works tirelessly for the liberation of all sentient beings. These teachings were written down in Sanskrit approximately 200 years after Buddha’s death, while the first wave, Hinayana (Small or Basic Vehicle), was written down in Pali approximately 80 years after his death. According to devotional history, both have an original oral source with Shakyamuni Buddha. (Academics are not convinced of this.) Nonetheless, both Hinayana and Mahayana are considered foundational to so-called Tibetan or Tantric Buddhism.
This element of a tireless champion for all sentient beings immediately intrigued Kerouac when he stumbled on Buddhism in 1954 in a San Jose, California, library. It later proved a good fit for Ginsberg as well, not merely because of his general interest in visions and mysticism, but because of his leftist upbringing with his socialist democrat father and Marxist-Leninist mother. For Allen, there was no conflict between revolution and Buddhism. In an essay of Allen’s that I always found fascinating, ‘Prose Contribution to the Cuban Revolution,’ written in 1961, the main thesis is clearly stated: ‘Widen the area of consciousness.’ Though this statement when written is related to drugs alone, I posit that it is the core of Ginsberg’s political thrust from this time on. It is not limited to drugs, but to a solution that Allen believed was the root of any political change; from his connection with Chogyam Trungpa, beginning in 1970, his public appearances were dominated by actual meditation instruction for the audience. This political agenda can be understood as follows: to end the abuses of capitalism, one must cut through greed. To end war, one must cut through personal aggression.
A photo from a protest in 1978 with Allen participating is perhaps one of the most compelling images of engaged Buddhism I’ve ever seen. It shows Ginsberg, among others, sitting in meditation on the train tracks into the Rocky Flats, Colorado nuclear plant that made plutonium triggers for bombs. This stopped the train entering the facility until everyone was arrested and removed.
What does it suggest? Non-violence in the tradition of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, supported by basic Buddhist meditation, eyes open, head and shoulders erect in simple dignity. Both Allen and his long-time companion Peter Orlovsky look particularly heroic in their lack of distraction, suggesting actual accomplishment of practice, while cops hover about, the iconography of their uniforms and preparations in stark contrast to the protestors’ passivity.
This is a sentiment that Ginsberg had already summed up in his poem ‘Memory Gardens,’ written on the occasion of Kerouac’s funeral in 1969 (just a month prior to Allen’s own mind-changing car accident, an obvious reinforcement). This poem both accepts loss and affirms a literary lineage that still continues:
Well while I’m here I’ll
do the work –
and what’s the Work?
To ease the pain of living.
Everything else, drunken
Allen Ginsberg said, “Marc Olmsted inherited Burroughs’ scientific nerve & Kerouac’s movie-minded line nailed down with gold eyebeam in San Francisco.” He has been internationally anthologized and is the author of four collections of poetry, including What Use Am I a Hungry Ghost?, which has an introduction by Ginsberg with praise from Michael McClure and Diane di Prima. In 1980, Olmsted founded the New Wave band, The Job, and Allen performed with the band on a number of occasions. The Job’s rare 45 single, “no more noise,” still turns up in vintage record shops. Olmsted’s 25 year relationship with Ginsberg is chronicled in his new Beatdom Books memoir, Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg 1972-1997 – Letters and Recollections.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.