Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Strangest Christmas Newspaper Story: Allen Ginsberg in Wichita

One of the strangest newspaper articles to appear on a Christmas must be Becky Tanner's piece on Allen Ginsberg in Monday Wichita Eagle. It's an interesting article, part of series of vingettes on Kansas history, but it just strikes me as weird for it to appear on December 25.

It seems the beat poet visited Wichita in 1966 and wrote one of his most famous poems here.

Here's the beginning:

"Thy sins are forgiven, Wichita!

Thy lonesomeness annulled, O Kansas dear!

as the western Twang prophesied

thru banjo, when lone cowboy walked the railroad track past an empty station toward the sun sinking giant-bulbed orange down the box canyon --

Music strung over his back

and empty handed singing on this planet earth

I'm a lonely Dog, O Mother!"

--Allen Ginsberg,

Wichita Vortex Sutra

Wichita was once hip with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Beat Generation and counterculture pioneer.

A homosexual. Known to use illegal drugs. An anti-war activist.

The raw language of his poems shocked and repulsed Bible Belt America.

He came to Wichita in 1966 and wrote one of his most famous and critically acclaimed works, "Wichita Vortex Sutra," in opposition to the Vietnam War.

He read his works at Moody's Skid Row Beanery at 627 E. Douglas and Wichita State University and, when interviewed by The Wichita Eagle, told a reporter: "The city imposes a dark night on the soul of its youth."
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Around this time, I was a junior high school student in Nashville, Tennessee and a family friend took me to a lecture series at Vanderbilt University over a period of a week or two. It has pretty heady stuff--Martin Luther King, Jr., Stockely Carmichael. and Allen Ginsberg. It all made a big impression. Monday's article made me wonder if Ginsberg might have read "Wichita Vortex Sutra" at Vanderbilt. I would have liked to think that I would have remembered a Kansas connection since that was where I grew up and went to school through the sixth grade and returned there for high school, but maybe not.

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