May 1, 1985: Allen Ginsberg peers closer, intrigued by the pattern on my tie. He’s under the impression that it’s marijuana leaves, and the idea clearly pleases him. It’s not. It’s some kind of innocuous autumn design. But the idea that I’d greet the guru of the dope generation wearing appropriate clothing gets us off to a warm start. Bushy greying beard, the collar of his white shirt buttoned down over a narrow striped tie, pens and glasses-case making the shirt’s breast pocket bulge, he’s here to do a reading and some workshops at Hollyhock, the new-age retreat on Cortes Island.
Warmth, individualism and the honest statement of the human heart are the topics we talk about over the abundant food and drink at the communal table at Warren Tallman’s house, and the conversation blossoms in the early afternoon into an all-too-sane attack on the iniquities of neo-conservatism and the vast power of the military-industrial arm.
Ginsberg is a quiet, generous man. His conversation is playful, filled with irony. But he can be serious as well. He used to say he wanted to save America’s soul. Today he amends that. What he wants to do is “uplift America’s spirit.” He doesn’t really believe, he says, in “the permanent entity of a soul. But there is a spirit, from the Latin animus, a breath, and there is inspiration, unobstructed breath. And it would be interesting to open up America’s breath, inspire America.” To what, exactly? “To a sense of majesty, of patience, generosity, friendliness, sensitivity.”
On the table is a copy of his new Collected Poems. How do you achieve all these things through poetry? It’s a tough task, he agrees. “So you formulate individualistic art. Lay your heart bare. Do what Whitman asked for: claim candour. You get your message across by revealing an actual human heart instead of an institutional art. Having a good heart, finally, is what’s important. If the ship has sunk and there’s only a lifeboat left, what are you going to do, despair, or run for the raft?”