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The Beats Go On

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

Ginsberg had told Kerouac of his early "social anxieties" about being homosexual and his attempted relationships with women before finally announcing his homosexual freedom with "Howl." Ide, too, sometimes wrestled with sexual confusion, and he put that confusion into poetry, including this lament about longing for the brother of a former girlfriend:

So this time I chose
an inconvenient cherub to seek,
fifteen years old & the brother
of one who loves me...

Ide told Hale he had met Ginsberg when the poet was reading in Detroit. The next time Ginsberg came through town for a reading, he'd contacted Ide and invited him to attend. After the program, Ide had convinced a friend to drive him and Ginsberg through a blinding snowstorm to Edie Parker Kerouac's home. She was the writer's first wife, and Ide had eagerly pored over the original manuscripts she possessed.

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.

Not everyone in his life was so understanding of his choices, Ide told Hale. His father was a retired Air Force officer who didn't accept his son's homosexuality, drug use or career choice. The contentions sometimes popped up in Ide's poetry.

"I don't see any want-ads for poets,
do you wanna be a dishwasher all your life?"
Dishwasher/poet, it's not so bad a title,
a drifter, the parents'll say,
but don't they see that they too drift
towards that place where no dishes are washed?

Like most students and faculty members in the Naropa reading program, Ide idolized the Beats, and that included the writers who'd influenced them. He was particularly attracted to the works of Arthur Rimbaud, a French poet in the last half of the nineteenth century and an originator of the free-verse style that Ginsberg later adopted. At age fifteen, Rimbaud had run away to Paris, where he'd studied occult writings, Plato, the Cabala and Buddhist scriptures. He'd denounced women and the church, willingly lived in squalid conditions and took drugs as necessary muses for his art, the most famous of which was A Season in Hell. He'd stopped writing by age twenty and died in poverty and pain.

Hale tried reading Rimbaud, but it was difficult. The poetry was dense, replete with the writer's drug-induced fragmented imagery and ideas. But Ide carried around a copy of A Season in Helland greatly romanticized Rimbaud's life as a "suffering artist." He took his motto from the book's opening line: "Once there was a time when all things flowed like wine... but now more about suffering and pleasure's end."

Ide had little patience for those who didn't recognize the importance of the Beats, as he complained in his poem "Who'll Wear Rimbaud's Pants?"

"I needed a bed to sleep in, a grave to rest my ashes,"
sings Allen Ginsberg, American Poetry Review, December '85.
60 years old now, our Whitman,
he too will leave behind the earth madly spinning,
will take that final spontaneous leap to where Jack Kerouac
lies done with the jazz/blues of the earth,
will leave behind those of us whose throats are sore
from trying to find our voices.
Meanwhile, "Howl" is required reading in English 453
& we discuss the "beat generation" as if it were
some sort of baseball game--
"Did Ginsberg get a hit? Kerouac slide into home?"
In the classroom we listen to a cassette of Ginsberg
reading "Howl"--
no one runs round the room in tears,
nothing but blank faces behind desks & i'm almost embarrassed
when the ghost of Jack Kerouac appears rolling round the
front of the room, with a pint of rotgut, giggling.
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed..."
by fear of nuclear devastation,
tongues drenched with Budweiser escapism,
guts all aflame with the six o'clock news,
whose poetry reviews seeped flowery academia--
who'll wear Rimbaud's pants?
All of you grad school poets
clutching your polished manuscripts,
let's drop out of the New Yorker world series
& sing in the romantic unpublishable streets.

One night Hale, Ide and Ginsberg went to a party at a frat house. Hale and Ginsberg had taken Ecstasy and were strolling around the yard, pleasantly high, when a young man yelled down from the balcony, "Hey Ginsberg, your poetry sucks."

Ginsberg wasn't bothered in the least; he enjoyed engaging detractors. The eternal list-giver, he made suggestions for what he thought his antagonist should read: Whitman, Rimbaud, Kerouac, Corso. He reacted calmly when the young man gave a less-than-polite response.

But Ide was livid. "Fuck you! What do you know!" he yelled. "Who do you think is a great poet?"

"Robert Frost," came the retort.

"Ha! He's probably the only poet you've ever read except Shakespeare," Ide responded. "You don't know jack shit!" When they left the party a few minutes later, Ide was still fuming.

That summer seemed so innocent, even though they were breaking all the rules. Young enough to believe they could defy death, they embraced life.

Yet it was all Hale could do to keep up with his effervescent friend. Ide always had an angle on making sure the fun continued, such as taking beer from refrigerators at parties and stashing it in bushes outside. "That way, when the party runs out of beer, we'll still have plenty," he'd laugh. Although he'd been experimenting with harder drugs, including heroin, in San Francisco, to Hale he didn't seem to be taking drug use to extremes. Except for Dilaudid and a little methadone, the substance they abused the most that summer was alcohol.

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