The Magazine

THE POET'S (AMEN) CORNER

Apr 21, 1997, Vol. 2, No. 31 • By VINCENT CARROLL
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AN INFLUENTIAL POET and progressive cultural icon had died, and thus the obituaries in the New York Times and Washington Post were unremittingly reverential. At times it was difficult to discern which of Allen Ginsberg's legacies was the more memorable -- Was it his prodigious literary output or, as Wilborn Hampton put it in the Times, the fact that "he was in the forefront of whatever movement was in fashion"?


Forefront, indeed. Anti-Vietnam War, anti-CIA, anti-shah, anti-Reagan, demonstrations and arrests; Buddhism and "be-ins"; and through it all, of course, the celebration of gay sex. In the midst of this litany, the Post's Richard Pearson felt compelled to employ a bit of good-natured euphemism to describe some of Ginsberg's vanguard predilections. "He was an enthusiastic advocate of questionable pharmaceutical preparations," Pearson delicately observed, continuing in this risible vein by noting that Ginsberg took LSD under the "supervision" of Timothy Leary.


Yet both the Times and Post failed to give Ginsberg his due. He was in the forefront not only of fashionable movements but the unfashionable as well -- although neither paper saw fit to mention it. To be specific, he was a proponent of sex with kids.


Ginsberg was not shy about this outre belief of his. Quite the contrary. He was a truculent defender of the proposition of having sex with youngsters. Consider this 1994 exchange published in the Rocky Mountain News, from an interview with Clifford May, then associate editor.


May: Allen, you still advocate some pretty radical ideas.


Ginsberg: NAMBLA, NAMBLA.


May: NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association. In other words, you say it's OK for adult men to have sex with kids.


Ginsberg: You said that.


May: All right, you tell me how to say it.


Ginsberg: NAMBLA is a discussion group, not an assignation group. It was attacked by the FBI and they're constantly trying to set them up after the sleazy Meese Commission decided that pornography increased rather than decreased crime. Actually, people masturbate over pornography. They don't go out and rape people. So they got this guy who organized Citizens for Decency Law. He was the main homophobe on the Meese Commission, which set up a series of police state units which go around to places like Boulder and try and entrap and bust people. And NAMBLA is partly a legal defense and social defense organization.


May: OK, but let's get this straight. Are you advocating sex between adults and children?


Ginsberg: Well, how do you define children, sir?


May: You tell me how to define children.


Ginsberg: I would say anyone above puberty is OK. As long as it's consensual and nobody complains. But usually it's the cops that rape the kids by brainwashing them and intimidating them so they'll turn against their older friends.


May: Larry [Ferlinghetti], you've got kids. Do you agree with Allen on this?


Ferlinghetti: I agree with him.


Ginsberg: At what age do kids start getting laid on their own?


May: But they can be influenced by an adult in a way they might not be by one of their own.


Ginsberg: Sure, yes, and so could a citizen be influenced by Rush Limbaugh. That mind rape is worse.


On this last point -- the radical danger posed by popular right-wingers -- Ginsberg was adamant. He told an interviewer for the August 1994 Progressive, "I have no doubt that if Rush Limbaugh or Pat Buchanan or Ollie North ever got real power, there would be concentration camps and mass death."


Now, every cultural icon can be forgiven his eccentricities -- including a patently loathsome conviction or two. But it is interesting when our forbearance extends to the point of whitewash, when our major institutions of record fail to note foibles that would surely have surfaced had the obituary described someone less popular with the intellectual elite.


Allen Ginsberg: extravagant poet, inveterate protester, Buddhist, eroticist, champion of illegal drugs, advocate of child abuse. A man more complicated, it seems, than even his gaping admirers are willing to admit.




Vincent Carroll is editorial-page editor of the Rocky Mountain News.