Bill Morgan's provocative and thoroughly researched new biography of the poet, I Celebrate Myself, is a testament to the creative fruits and the personal anguish of this struggle, which spanned Ginsberg's long career as poet, literary impresario, political activist and cultural icon … If this biography brings us closer, as I believe it does, to the magnificent resonance of "Howl," the tender intimacy of "A Supermarket in California" and the stringent beauty of "Kaddish," then it merits a place on every Ginsberg shelf.
The Washington Post
It has become almost a clich for biographers to speculate about their subjects' psychosexual oddities. But speculation is not necessary when the subject is Allen Ginsberg, because the legendary beat poet and countercultural figure proudly proclaimed his psychosexual oddities, from his youthful incestuous impulses toward his father and brother to his little-requited infatuations with beat golden boys like Neal Cassady and his later eye for young male acolytes. Indeed, Ginsberg meticulously documented all his doings and feelings, and Morgan, his archivist and bibliographer, relies on that trove. Morgan does little to shape the material; each chapter, bluntly titled with the calendar year, simply recounts 365 days' worth of parties, debauches, quarrels and breakups, drug experimentation, all-night debates about literature and philosophy, dead-end jobs, knock-about travels, psychoanalysis, ecstatic Blakean visions, depressed funks, homicides committed by friends, jazz, poetry readings and Ginsberg's contemporary ruminations on all the above. The disorganized, onrushing flow of experience is occasionally eye-glazing, and Morgan offers disappointingly little interpretation of Ginsberg's poems. But Ginsberg and his gang Kerouac, Burroughs, Cassady et al. are such vibrant, compelling characters that this mere straightforward chronicle of their lives approaches, as they intended, a fair imitation of art. Photos. (Oct. 9) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Ginsberg's bibliographer and archivist since the late 1970s, Morgan was instrumental in preparing the poet's archive for sale to Stanford University. Relying heavily on Ginsberg's journals and letters, as well as interviews with close friends, he creates here a detailed, revealing portrait of Ginsberg as a gifted poet and flawed human being driven by a fierce hunger for love and an insatiable thirst for fame. This most exhaustive biography to date chronicles Ginsberg's life from cradle to grave, but a major theme is Ginsberg's love life especially his relationship with Peter Orlovsky. Although he became an icon for gay liberation, Ginsberg tended to fall in love with straight men like Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Orlovsky, which, of course, led to a good deal of rejection and frustration. Morgan's is the first life of Ginsberg to explore this curious paradox in any depth. Cleverly designed, his book includes marginal references to the poems Ginsberg was working on at the time. A monumental work, this fascinating biography belongs in all literature collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/06.] William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Allen Ginsberg, gay beatnik/hippie antinomian poet nomad-and American hero?Morgan, Ginsberg's longtime bibliographer and archivist, responsible for the sale of Ginsberg's papers to Stanford University and thus for Ginsberg's relative comfort in his last, dying days, is also an excellent writer and storyteller. His massive life of the poet turns out to be flawed only by its brevity. The year 1994 gets five pages, for instance; in that year, Ginsberg taught college, studied Buddhism, wrote, gave and hosted readings, starred in a Gap ad campaign to fund the Naropa Institute, released a four-CD box set of musical compositions and hung out in San Francisco and Paris, all the while nursing a bad heart. Morgan situates Ginsberg's life in a Jewish radical tradition, in an ethnic ethic of hard work, learning and resistance to authority; sadly, Ginsberg's corner of the shtetl was also visited by mental illness, his mother institutionalized, as the poet himself would be. A nice boy of academic gifts and even genius, Ginsberg fell into the wrong crowd on entering college, with the likes of Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Lucien Carr; for his troubles, he would be constantly broke, be expelled from Columbia, be jailed, be hospitalized-and also be liberated to write such epochal poems as Howl and Kaddish, which, half a century on, are regarded as nearly canonical. In the great spirit of honor among thieves, Ginsberg remained poor and free for most of his life, doing very much as he wanted (as evidenced, among other things, by being treated for STDs many, many times). Some of the bits of news that float out of Morgan's lyrical narrative: Ginsberg was one of the earliest experimenters with LSD. Hetraveled everywhere and knew everyone. He suffered from stage fright. He was fearless and selfless-hence the hero rubric. Oh, and Jack Kerouac never had a driver's license. A superb, highly readable addition to the history of 20th-century American letters.