Poetry Outlet: Ginsberg and Substance-Induced Theophany
I wanted to do something a little different for this week’s post and talk about an experience, or a relationship rather, that has inspired many of my poems and reflects a difference between who I am now and who I used to be. For the moment, I want to focus on the now, the recovered self that I’ve become and the moments I’ve determined to be life-changing and spiritual in their own way. I’m talking about pot. While I consider myself to be a reformed, recovering drug addict, I still look back on these moments of my initiation to the world of drugs as revolutionary and want to take a minute to decipher the different lives I’ve lived and the different experiences I’ve had. Ginsberg is my inspiration today.
About the Author
Ginsberg, a Beat Generation radical poet, embodied the ideas of personal freedom, nonconformity, and the search for enlightenment. “Beat” refers to spiritual exhaustion and to induce visions or what Ginsberg described as “an exalted state of mind,” Ginsberg experimented with drugs like marijuana and nitrous oxide.
His poem, “Howl,” uses brutally honest, raw and explicit language, stunning traditional critics of his time.
“Howl, Parts I & II
Allen Ginsberg, 1926 – 1997
For Carl Solomon
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,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking
in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating
across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw
Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the
scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing
obscene odes on the windows of the skull,”
This poem is deeply complex and longer than I have time today to truly do it justice. But I want to expand on a few of these lines that stand out to me. The first few lines speak to the part of me that knows what it’s like to be on the hunt for “an angry fix” and draws on the imagery of madness, hysteria and darkness. Immediately after it invokes angels, heaven and the “starry dynamo,” switching gears from darkness to the internal search for god and answers with “angelheaded hipsters burning”–which is a great play on words here directing us to both the “burning” as in desire and the “burning” which is associated with drug use and lighting up–”for the ancient heavenly/ connection…” These “hipsters” have “bared their brains to heaven,” are open in a way that without drugs I believe would not be possible. There is an experience here that is both primal in the dark desire that some drugs create but also an enlightenment experienced by the user. My poem today is in an effort to communicate both the carnal and spiritual nature of drug-induced theophany.
My grand initiation
to this mind bending world,
I smoked pot with a skater
boy when I was twenty-one years
old. Spinning out,
space cruising, making love
underneath a tattered
blanket and the Gods’
moon and stars,
This is how it starts.
Rolling around in the grass
with my skirts up
as he lights up
his & my
with the night sky,
back-lit like two shadows
pressing against each other,
creating a new horizon,
igniting the Divine within.
By Nova Janes