Kaddish and Other Poems
Allen Ginsberg
City Light Books, 1961 (100 pages)

from Coincidance : A Head Test by Robert Anton Wilson.

Forty years ago, Ezra Pound made his celebrated boast of the social function of art: “The artist is the antenna of the race, the barometer and voltmeter.” Allen Ginsberg is nothing if not contemporary. He brings the boast up to date with a stunning effectiveness:

I am the Defense Early Warning Radar System
I see nothing but bombs

These lines are typical of Ginsberg’s unpolished-looking verse. He seems to work in poetry the way Rouault worked in paint: hacking his way savagely, with crude and sweeping strokes, toward an image of maximum ferocity. Look at Rouault’s “Three Judges,” those faces of moronic evil plastered on the canvas as if in rage and colored with the darkest, smeariest blacks and browns this side of downtown Passaic; this is the typical “feel” of a Ginsberg poem. Actually, of course, neither Rouault nor Ginsberg work in a frothing frenzy. Ginsberg in particular probably spends as much effort sounding “uncivilized” as Henry James ever spent in sounding “civilized.”