Happy Birthday, Allen!

by Helen on June 3rd, 2010

Today is Allen Ginsberg’s eighty-fourth birthday.

Here’s a poem I wrote for him a few years ago:


The Responsibility of Allen Ginsberg

for a friend who said she couldn’t put “Allen Ginsberg” and “responsibility”
in the same sentence


Clearly I have a different definition of the word

I think Allen was one of the most responsible people I’ve known

He was responsible to his Muse

He was responsible to his friends

He was responsible to all the poets who got busted for smoking grass and who he bailed out when he was living in a cold water walkup on nothing a year

He was responsible to his job which was waking people up telling the truth and making his life into poems

He was responsible to all the scared gay guys who now aren’t scared any more

He was responsible to the people who still aren’t ashamed to call themselves liberals or even socialists

He was responsible to New York San Francisco Denver Mexico Canada and all the continent in between

He was responsible to the King’s English and the queens

He was responsible to Blake and Whitman, to Kerouac and Burroughs and Cassady, to Corso and Rimbaud and Artaud

He was responsible to the future which is more than you can say for the motherfuckers who run this country from the banks and boardrooms of Moloch

He was responsible to all the kids who burned their draft cards and went to Canada and to the pacifists of old and to the pacifists who weren’t even born yet

He was responsible to Lenny Bruce and free speech and the Bill of Rights and the ACLU

He was responsible to all the people who got electric shock treatments in the fifties and who died insane anyway

He was responsible to his mother Naomi who served him uncooked fish and an inedible childhood and died in Greystone State Mental Hospital eli eli lama sabachthani

He was responsible to his father Louis also a poet for whom he wrote his most beautiful song Father Death

He was responsible to all of us including people who never heard of him and people who’ve heard of him but never read him and people who’ve read him but can’t spell his name

He was responsible to Life

He was responsible to America and we should be so lucky to have one like him again


Four days ago Peter Orlovsky, the love of Allen’s life, died in a hospice center in Williston, Vermont.

Allen and Peter met in 1954 and were each other’s best friend for over forty years. When Allen died in a New York hospital in 1997, Peter was at his side.

Peter’s service was held June 1 at Karme Choling, the Buddhist community in Barnet, Vermont that was founded by Allen’s teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. His body was cremated and his ashes will be placed in a stupa with Allen’s in the Rocky Mountains above Boulder, Colorado.

I mourn the passing of these two great-hearted poets but I rejoice that they are together at last!

For Steve Silberman’s beautiful tribute to Peter and to their eternal love story, go to Impossible Happiness

  1. To be great is to be misunderstood.

  2. You have written a beautiful poem, Helen.

  3. Helen,

    Thank you for sharing the poem about Allen. I loved it!

    I wonder what his response to the Gulf oil spill would be?

    We agree – we’d be lucky to have another like him.


  4. Moloch knocked on the door, Allen answered, Moloch fled.
    What a beautiful eulogy this would have made!
    Thank you for sharing this. :-)