Literary Inspections: The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice

First Journals and Poems by Allen Ginsberg 1937-1952

Review by Lisa Nickol Karoway It took 23 years to piece together: Allen Ginsberg - The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice.  A collaborative effort by friends, artists, fellow writers and editors of the late beat poet; it is a collection of first journals, correspondences and previously unreleased poetry. “Be careful, this is civilization, you are not in wonderland, this is not a dream,” Ginsberg writes in Monologue without Images or Music. I’ve read these words over and over; I’ve let them linger in the crevices of my mind and I’ve pulled them out like bright, flashing lights warning of immediate danger. The reality a poem holds; it’s clearer, crisper, and more definite then the world we see each day. It can snap you out of the dream and send you back into another. It slowly exposes the truth we fear so much; layer by layer, unravelling the beauty of language. This is what Ginsberg does; we see the beginning of his mastery of moment and thought through his early works. Ginsberg started documenting his life at the age of 11; to be published only after the writer’s death. He begins with his youth in New Jersey, it continues with his voyage into manhood as he educates at Columbia University. Here, Ginsberg explores the changing of age; his views and his understanding of life and love evolve as the man does. It is by digesting these journals we get an insight into how the writer thinks and interprets situations. I still think it’s debatable as to whether or not we can correctly interpret poetry, however, knowing the life of the writer, can provide context to what we read and how we grow to appreciate it. What I found most compelling personally, was Ginsberg’s stark, clear examples and subtle suggestions as to what it means; and what it takes to be a poet. There is a difference between the poem and the poet, though they work together, live together, love together; it is not always the perfect balance or a simple guide. A poem can be an expose, when the poet shows you the insides of his/her mind. Or a poem can be clouded in metaphors, obscuring its intent or, leaving intent up to the reader. Ginsberg’s poetry is both, pictures of a world through the eyes of one man, and interpretations few ever reach. Ginsberg writes, The Poet: 1 “His genius is sired of misery and magic and dwells between disaster and the dream. He might be sedate but only tragic ecstasy is meaningful to him. In every chaos he will know a core: in life, a higher mystery of sorrow; in death, the last existence that is pure – curiosity betrays him to tomorrow. Necromantic passion, final horror is his bequest: a wound was all he had to start with. Balance the rope of error, he shall fall to doom. He shall be mad. Sadly shall he live, and he shall die deceived, a master of all mummery.” Having been a self-proclaimed poet since a young age, I felt I could relate not only to the life of Ginsberg, but I found his descriptions of poets, to strike a deep chord within my own chaotic soul. I felt that connect; a connection between those that feel too much and feel nothing at all - almost always simultaneously. This is what the book reminded me of, of that timeless struggle and sacrifice for one’s work. These choices, this path, it brings beauty and truth and thus a happiness that is indescribable. But yet we write it all down, because within our misery and joy is a perfect grasp of the details few see. It must be shared, it must be left there open, exposed and raw for anyone to pick apart and feel. For it is by feeling things more intensely and complexly than perhaps is healthy, that these descriptions birth themselves; mixing the darkness with light. By writing the insides of our soul, it is a way to understand all those things they told you, you never would.

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