The Beats Go On

How a kid from Boulder became an eyewitness to the passing of an era.

Their selections included "New Stanzas for Amazing Grace," composed at the request of Ed Sanders for his production of The New Amazing Grace and performed November 20, 1994, at the Poetry Project in St. Mark's Church in-the-Bouwerie. The five stanzas were typical of the man Hale knew:

I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place
Where I was lost alone
Folks looked right through me into space
And passed with eyes of stone....

Plowing through the journal Ginsberg had been keeping in his final days, they'd come across Ginsberg's last poem, written on the morning of March 30, after he'd received the fatal diagnosis. It was called "Things I'll Not Do (Nostalgias)."

Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.Although Peter Hale wanted to talk with William Burroughs (above), he wound up becoming Ginsberg's assistant.Ginsberg with his Peters: Hale and Orlovsky.Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.Chris Ide in the early '90s, when the drugs were catching up to him.Peter Hale as he looks today, and as photographed by Steven Miles in 1985.
Steven Miles
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.Although Peter Hale wanted to talk with William Burroughs (above), he wound up becoming Ginsberg's assistant.Ginsberg with his Peters: Hale and Orlovsky.Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.Chris Ide in the early '90s, when the drugs were catching up to him.Peter Hale as he looks today, and as photographed by Steven Miles in 1985.
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.
Steven Miles
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.

The poem mourned places he would never see again, like Kashi, "the oldest continuously habited city in the world,"
or do, "such as bathe in the Ganges & sit again at Manikarnika ghat with Peter..."
or people, known and unknown, he wouldn't have the opportunity to speak with such as "older Sunil & the young coffeeshop poets."

Ginsberg's notes had been difficult to read, with lots of changes, and Hale often found himself searching an atlas for the spelling of places he'd never heard of, such as Duhuang and Beluchistan. But other locations and thoughts were hauntingly familiar, such as the line about "never climbing E. 12th Street's stairway 3 flights again," and a reference to "no more sweet summers with lovers, teaching Blake at Naropa."

A year ago, along with the executors of the Kerouac and Burroughs estates, Ginsberg's associates pulled together the auction the poet had suggested to help pay the estate taxes. Hundreds attended, including musician Paul Simon and actors Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn and Winona Ryder, who read poetry...badly.

The estate work is almost finished, and the calls are less frequent these days; Hale knows that his job will soon end. Three years after the death of his teacher, Hale still misses him. He misses the exhortations to visit museums and art galleries, the advice on which book to read -- even though, in truth, he no longer needs such marching orders. He also misses the walks through the Village, the history lessons.

As Ginsberg had suggested in Paris, Hale witnessed the end of a literary era. Huncke, Ginsberg and Burroughs are gone, and Corso is battling the last stages of cancer. When he dies, the New York branch of the Beat Generation will disappear. Yet the Beats live on, in a movie version of On the Road, renewed interest in poetry slams, rock musicians imitating Beat dress -- berets, goatees, black clothes -- and an Internet full of Beat Web sites, including LiveREADS, which last week published a previously unreleased novella by Kerouac titled Orpheus Emerged.

When he thinks about all the dead poets, Hale misses his friend Chris Ide. At times he wonders whether Naropa, by creating the Jack Kerouac school and, by extension, condoning Beat behavior, set the stage for Ide's demise. Most of the writers who passed through the school, however, did not follow Kerouac's road to self-destruction. Most are like Geoffrey Manaugh, who continues to write and who got married and had kids.

Hale also recalls Corso's remark about role models and wonders if the Beats were responsible. But Ide knew Burroughs was not living some wonderful life, jetting around Europe; he knew Kerouac had died a lonely drunk. If he wanted to choose a role model from among the Beats, he could have chosen the man who believed in him. He could have chosen Allen Ginsberg, who continued writing until he was an old man. The simple truth -- though others are free to disagree -- is that Ide was an addict. While he might have used the Beats to romanticize his lifestyle, he was killed by drugs, not writers.

Just as Ginsberg struggled to keep Kerouac's name alive, Hale would like to see a volume of Ide's poetry published. But Ide's parents have resisted attempts to publish anything that refers to homosexuality or drugs -- and for better or worse, those topics represent a good percentage of his work. To ignore them would be like asking Ginsberg to publish a similarly censored "Howl." As Ginsberg once told his own father: You don't have to be right, you just have to be candid.

Hale doesn't know what he'll do when his work for Ginsberg is done, but he no longer cares if someone thinks of him as one of the poet's boys. A generous, complicated man once took an interest in him, and because of that, a kid from Boulder, Colorado, lived an extraordinary life. He closes the office door and walks to the subway, no longer afraid of scallywags or the future, he climbs aboard the E train and, with a rumble and a roar, is gone into the machinery of the night.

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