From Auraria's Archives: Allen Ginsberg's Postcards to Ed White
Before he restored landmarks like the Molly Brown House, Ninth Street Historic Park and Four Mile House Historic Park, and designed some landmarks of his own, architect Ed White was a student at Columbia, where he met many of the people who would become famous figures of the Beat generation, including Jack Kerouac, who turned White into Tim Gray in On the Road, and iconic poet Allen Ginsberg. White had already met Neal Cassady before Columbia; both he and Cassady are East High School alumni.
White and Ginsberg maintained a relationship that spanned decades, as evidenced by postcards from Ginsberg that are now in Auraria's collection of White's papers.
One day a student, an admirer of Ginsberg, came to the archives and told archivist Rosemary Evetts that she wanted to look at the postcards, which are part of Auraria's vast collection. The student was starstruck when she saw the postcards written in Ginsberg's hand; that kind of reverence for history is both energizing and contagious. After all, these postcards are actual evidence of a person's existence on the planet, right down to the smudges in the ink.
Photo by Shaughnessy Speirs
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The Alternative Press in Detroit was an independent, experimental poetry and art press that turned contributors' work into postcards, bumperstickers and other collectibles. Ginsberg was one well-known contributor; others included Norman Mailer, Robert Bly and Charles Bukowski. The front is an art print of a piece called "Mary Jane." The postcard is dated December 16, 1971, and reads:
Sorry we keep missing each other--love to Justin--I have been occupied learning music, recording new rymed songs, collecting all my old + recent poetry, receiving fam, travelling--I just haven't had time to stop + renew nostalgia everywhere I fancied--see you one Xmas or another soon I hope--saw a little magazine with one of your letters of Jack's--I visited his mother & widow in St. Petersburg this year, finally, and sang them Blake's Lamb & ended whatever paranoia was between us--(mostly Jack's ghosts)--Love, Allen
"Justin" is likely Justin Brierly, the East High academic advisor responsible for shepherding promising students like Cassady and White into Columbia. Jack is, of course, Jack Kerouac; whatever paranoia was between Jack Kerouac's mother and widow and Ginsberg is not readily clear. The "Lamb" he refers to is William Blake's poem "The Lamb."
The second postcard came not long after the first; it's dated January 8, 1972. It is much more nondescript, a plain white card written in blue pen.
Late, happy New Year--give love to Justin--my silence to your sweet notes is only helplessness in face of mass of unanswered mail--I'm learning some music, blues forms etc. & writing some rymed lyrics for that mode--and singing--went into studio & recorded and improvised some with Dylan on guitar and other friends--I guess it be issued as record someday this year--all well except too much to do--maybe go visit San Diego and Miami conventions this summer-- Love Allen G.
At this point in the process, I'm just thinking: God, to be friends with Allen Ginsberg and his friends. Yes, the Dylan to which he refers is the legendary Bob Dylan. They did indeed spend that year in the recording studio together working on an album called Holly Soul Jelly Roll, which was never released. Several of the songs can be listened to online, including this one, "Vomit Express":
All scans and photographs are provided courtesy of Auraria Archives and Special Collections unless otherwise noted.
Last week's installment of "From Auraria's Archives" discussed a clue hidden in a sketch Thomas Hornsby Ferril drew in his autograph; that story can be found here.
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