My War With Allen Ginsberg
“Allen Ginsberg, Master Poet of Beat Generation, Dies at 70,” proclaimed the headline on the front page of the New York Times for April 6, 1997. Reading it, I was moved more deeply than I would have expected—not to grief (though an unmistakable touch of sadness did briefly make a surprise appearance) but rather to an overwhelming feeling of wistfulness. It came over me that I had known this man for a full 50 years—50 years!—and that for at least 40 of them I had been at war with him and he with me. It came over me too that even now, with Ginsberg himself carried off the field, his work and its influence would still be there and the war would still go on.
Perhaps the best place to begin in telling the story of that war is a Saturday night in the fall of 1958, when I was twenty-eight and had just left the editorial staff of COMMENTARY to work on a book while also trying my luck as a freelance writer and editor. At about 7:30 P.M., after hanging around all day in the sloppy old clothes I usually wore on weekends, I shaved, put on a clean white shirt with a button-down collar, a rep tie, and a three-piece charcoal-gray flannel suit from Brooks Brothers, and headed down by subway from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to an apartment in Greenwich Village, where Ginsberg and his friend and literary sidekick Jack Kerouac were waiting for me to arrive.
About the Author
Norman Podhoretz has been writing for COMMENTARY for 56 years.