|Snakeskin rarely does reviews, but when we were offered the chance to watch a DVD of Allen Ginsberg reading in London's Heaven nightclub in 1995, we just couldn't resist.|
picture is bootleg quality, and sometimes one has to
strain to hear the words, but this is a terrific
document, showing the old maestro in his later days,
deeply enjoying the chance to send his poems and chants
into a big hall packed with adoring fans.
This is performance poetry. He basks in the applause of his disciples like a serene gnome, playing his squeeze-box and chanting for all he's worth, and singing his own words to the Internationale and Amazing Grace. The delivery is so-so rather than stunning, but that doesn't matter. The reading is an event, and the audience thrills to the fact that a legend, a myth, a monster, sits bodily amongst them.
He knows he is among friends. They will applaud his political simplicities; they will be titillated by his paeans in praise of gay sex; they will forgive him anything, even poetry.
Is he a good poet? Don't ask the question. He is a star, and as with, say, Byron, star quality transcends many a limitation. There are two ways to be important as a poet. One is to write perfect work; the other is to live an exemplary life, and to let the quality of that life glow through the verses.
Ginsberg was a hero for poetry. In a time of academicism, he took poetry out of the textbooks and into the chaos of life. He did not devote his life to producing neat stanzas that would conveniently fill a gap on a magazine page. His best poems sprawl, unkempt as weeds, threatening our neat suburban gardens.
This DVD shows a man whose battles are over, a grand old man enjoying himself. Serenely ignoring an unfunny drunk heckler, leading the audience in a mystic chant, he is sublimely himself.
Ginsberg stood for a lot of things I distrust. I'm especially bothered by his touristy way with religion - the way he cherry-picked the tastier bits of exotic faiths, and mixed them into his own woozy-mystical mixture of user-friendly vague uplift.
But watch this DVD and you have to admit the old boy had something special. It's a collector's item.
The DVD is available from HMV and other record shops, or from http://www.allenginsbergdvd.com, a site that will give you full details.