"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix." This begins the poem that would not only revolutionize literature, but also politics and America as well. Allen Ginsberg, member of the small literary circle known as the Beats, wrote his most famous poem, "Howl," in 1956 to show his disdain for Cold War politics and the state of the nation. Over the next few decades, he would have a profound impact on the direction of America, and eventually my life as well.
I had never really considered myself to be a nonconformist, at least not until I entered high school. During my middle school years, I dressed and acted like my peers and tried to fit in, although I began to feel different. I became interested in the world at large, and social issues. However, I quickly learned my peers did not care to hear my opinions, so in an effort to be accepted, I kept my thoughts and growing awareness to myself.
At age 16, when I picked up my first Allen Ginsberg poem, "Cosmopolitan Greetings," and read the opening lines, "Stand up against government, against God," I realized that merely being different was not enough. I needed to act, voice my opinions, and stand up for what I believed. Coming from a small conservative town, I knew I would be the target of ostracism, but I no longer felt compelled to follow the crowd. For Ginsberg, it was Vietnam, the atom bomb, and Israel. For me, the issues that I felt strongly about included censorship, socialism, environmental causes, and civil liberties. I began to speak out in my classes, voicing my opinions and beliefs. I proudly proclaimed my Jewish heritage despite the risk of anti-Semitic comments. Reading about Ginsberg's life, I learned how the federal government tried to silence dissent by declaring "Howl" immoral. Here was someone who seemingly did not care what others thought of him. I read more about him, and realized that he was not only persecuted because of his religion, but also because of his sexual orientation, political beliefs, and literary style. Ginsberg showed me that as long as I remained true to my convictions, I could be happy.
Using Ginsberg as an example, I will strive to have my opinions heard. Ginsberg opened my eyes to the injustices committed by our national government, including CIA intervention in Latin America, and racism in the form of the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti. In the spirit of Allen Ginsberg, I plan to continue to be aware of the suffering of others, as well as work for causes in which I believe. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.