Professor Wu's Rulebook

Rare audio recording of Allen Ginsberg reading and singing poetry in the late 1970s


Allen Ginsberg was one of the seminal figures of American Beat poetry. He was involved with both the New York and San Francisco poetry scenes, and was friends with some of the most prominent figures in 20th century literature such as William Carlos Williams, Jack Kerouac and Kenneth Rexroth.

Audio recordings of Ginsberg are few and far between – so to uncover one from 1979 found in the archives of the University of Warwick is a rare treat indeed.

Along with Peter Orlovsky, and co, Ginsberg sings and reads a selection of his poetry, referring to the fact that the students present may well have been studying his work – “I think some of my poems are taught here, in some class or other”.

Alongside the musical and poetic interludes, Ginsberg offers a variety of priceless insights into the way he thought about creative expression. When writing, for instance, the legendary poet explains how the poetry he wrote was in a way alive – with new lines and words adding themselves as if through some innately natural phenomenon:

“Sometimes in the night a couple of phrases floated in […] some of the lines are written, mostly, in a first impression sort of way – first thought; best thought.”

Occasionally in the breaks between songs or poetry readings, Ginsberg can be heard talking softly, musing about the meaning behind lyrics or rhythmical balances in the poetry itself, including one moment when he says, “what it really means is that nobody has a soul, anyway.”

You can listen to the recording in the University of Warwick’s audio archives here.

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