Driving Allen Ginsberg

Thursday 25 April 2002

Elsa Dorfman's fond stories and pictures of Allen Ginsberg reminded me of the time the Beat Poet came to Brisbane.

It was in early 1972, I think, though the AllenGinsberg.org web­site doesn’t record a visit to Australia then, or at any other time. The crew of Harpo, a short-lived and now forgotten coun­ter­cul­ture newspaper, put on a fundraising Harpo’s night out at the Students’ Union at the University of Queensland: readings by Allen Ginsberg and the Russian poet Andrei Vo­zne­sen­sky. Some­one donated a backyard marijuana crop, and lighted joints were handed out freely to the audience at the door. We sat cross-legged on the timber floor around the poets’ rostrum.

Andrei Voznesensky went first, his cadences convoluted and ab­stract. But from Allen Ginsberg came short, concrete words. He did his anti-tobacco Put down your cigarette rag:

You puff your fag
You suck your butt
You choke & gag
Teeth full of crud
Smoke smoke smoke smoke Dont dont dont
Dont Dont Dope Dope Dope Dont Smoke Dont Dope

Nine billion bucks a year
a Southern Industry
Buys Senator Jesse
Fear who pushes Tobacco subsidy
In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Dope smokes dope smokes dont smoke dont smoke

He improvised​—​Girls in funny hats Don’t Smoke!​—​a nine billion dollar capitalist joke!​—​adding verses, weaving into the performance people he saw through the haze of dope smoke.

The poets were invited to a barbecue afterwards. A bloke offered his car, but he didn’t know the way and was too stoned to drive. So I drove the four of us, out past the edge of the suburbs into the bush. On the way Allen talked to Andrei about writing short introductory pieces for other writers’ books and the chal­lenges of that sort of writing. He was more earnest and more gracious than I had expected​—​which says as much about me as it reveals about Allen Ginsberg.

filed under Me + Words

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