Allen Ginsberg and his partner Peter Orlovsky
I Dwelled in Hell On Earth To Write This Rhyme
by Allen Ginsburg (1926 – 1997)
I dwelled in Hell on earth to write this rhyme,
I live in stillness now, in living flame:
I witness Heaven in unholy time
I room in the renown-ed city, am
Unknown. The fame I dwell in is not mine.
I would not have it. Angels in the air
Serenade my senses in delight
Intelligence of poets, saints and fair
Characters converse with me all night,
But all the streets are burning everywhere,
The city is burning these multitudes that climb
Her buildings. Their inferno is the same
I scaled as a stupendous blazing stair.
They vanish as I look into the light.
Queer poetry has come a long way since the 17th century. If you are surprised to see a sonnet from Ginsburg, so was I. The poem above is truly a unicorn in Ginsburg’s body of writing. But as I have commented before, one of the fun things about this blog is almost every poet, regardless of their dominant style, wrote at least one sonnet like poem along the way, a testimony as to how incredibly pervasive the sonnet form is in literature.
I debated sharing an excerpt from Howl and decided against it. I found it difficult to find a portion that contained the spirit of Howl that also fit the style of this blog. I think one of the reasons that Howl is so successful is that Ginsburg didn’t shy away from discussing his sexuality and emotions in terms that were not common at the time. He brought all of it to the page, the raunchiness and the simplicity of gay sex and his outlook on life. I have had the same internal debate around Auden’s poem The Platonic Blow. I think The Platonic Blow is the best poem ever written about a blow job, but it strays a bit too far into the realm of pornography that some readers would find it offensive.
Richard Barnfield has only recently caught the attention of the reading public again, in part because he was forthright for his day in his courageous themes around homosexuality given the stigma and potential punishment. Barnfield is a unique character; he praised Shakespeare before Shakespeare’s writing had caught the public’s attention and wrote several poems that for a period of time following both men’s deaths were incorrectly attributed to Shakespeare. Modern anthologies have sorted things out, based on careful research and documentation, but to have a poem or two of your own thought to be tied to one of the greatest literary mind’s in history is quite the back handed compliment.
There has been lots in the news lately about the big business of art forgery and the murky provenances of missing paintings that suddenly appear on the market. The Knoedler gallery scandal makes for entertaining reading but is problematic about why is some art considered valuable and the incentives that value then creates to cheat. It made me wonder how often writers forge the work of other poets and try and fit it in to the literary canon so that it becomes accepted as the work of that famous writer? How many literary scholars who toil away in academic obscurity have been tempted to “uncover” a new poem that they secretly took great pleasure in writing, knowing if it was attributed to them it would be ignored, but as a long lost poem of a famous writer it suddenly becomes a career enhancing “discovery”? The less inventive and more common fraud is someone stealing another’s writing and claiming they wrote it and putting their name on it. Is anyone aware of a case where poetry was forged by someone else, and if so, for what purpose was the forgery perpetrated? How was it uncovered? If you aware of such a case, please share.
By Richard Barnfield (1574-1620)
Long have I long’d to see my love againe,
Still have I wisht, but never could obtaine it;
Rather than all the world (if I might gaine it)
Would I desire my love’s sweet precious gaine.
Yet in my soule I see him everie day,
See him, and see his still sterne countenaunce,
But (ah) what is of long continuance,
Where majestie and beautie beares the sway?
Sometimes, when I imagine that I see him,
(As love is full of foolish fantasies)
Weening to kisse his lips, as my love’s fees,
I feele but aire: nothing but aire to bee him.
Thus with Ixion, kisse I clouds in vaine:
Thus with Ixion, feele I endles paine.