It would be safe to say that the late poet Allen Ginsberg raised a few eyebrows, good or bad, with some of his work through the years.
Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” was a signature work, causing quite a stir in 1955 with bans for obscenities and censorship trials. The first reading of the poem in October 1955 was hailed by some as the birth of the Beat Generation.
Allen Ginsberg was no stranger to our region. He appeared a few times at area colleges and arts venues, and was a part-time resident of Cherry Valley for many years.
Ginsberg appeared in Oneonta on Thursday, Sept. 26, 1968 and received mixed reviews by both The Oneonta Star and The State Times.
“He was met at the State University College at Oneonta Thursday evening by a crowd of over one or two thousand collegians who offered weak applause at the beginning and end of his two hour performance outside the Fine Arts building.”
While being notorious for his “lewd and obscene” writing, “Little if anything he said was shocking,” according to the Star.
The State Times also noted the lack of audience enthusiasm in the Oct. 4, 1968 edition, but was a bit kinder, saying, “Despite the mild enthusiasm, Ginsberg’s talents shone through.”
Ginsberg gave a recital of poetry and music to an overflow crowd at Hartwick College’s Slade Auditorium on Monday, April 24, 1978.
Ginsberg bought a farm around 1966 on East Hill in Cherry Valley. It served as his retreat and occasionally hosted prominent Beat Generation poets such as Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. All were seen frequently at area restaurants or reading poetry during village arts festivals during their retreats.
Charles and Pamela Prymell moved to the farm to be with Ginsberg. Charles, himself a poet, had met Ginsberg in the 1950s when both were members of San Francisco’s emerging literary circle.
“He liked the isolation of the farm,” said Pamela Prymell in 1997. “Yet it was still close to the city and accessible.” Ginsberg also had a home in Manhattan.
Ginsberg also spent time in Delaware County. His cousin, physician Joel Gaidemak, once lived in Delhi, and Ginsberg occasionally visited here in 1991. It was that year when Ginsberg read his poetry and played music during a fundraiser at the nearby West Kortright Centre.
For Martha Van Burek, the Centre’s executive director, it was reported that his appearance was one of the highlights of her cultural life.
“It was wonderful,” Van Burek later said in April 1997. “We were in the presence of a truly gifted poet, and it was great to have music as a part of it. He was very animated at times and very meditational at others. The words were clearly his own.”
Ginsberg passed away at age 70 on Saturday, April 5, 1997. Joel Gaidemak, then living in Emmons, went to be with his cousin Allen at a Manhattan hospital in his final hours.
“He said, I’m tired. All I want to do is sleep,” Gaidemak said of Ginsberg. He rolled over, laid down and said, “Here are some of my poems I just wrote. I want you to read them.”
Soon, Gaidemak said, his cousin fell asleep and never woke up. Back in Cherry Valley upon word of Ginsberg’s death, Charles and Pamela Prymell were inspired to visit a nearby hillside at the farm, where they spread breadcrumbs for the squirrels and birds.
This weekend: A look back at Oneonta life and times in October 1888.
Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.