How Allen Ginsberg Turned The Tables on CNN

In May of 1994 I flew from Monterey, CA to New York City to attend the Beat Generation Conference at NYU. It lasted an entire week and there were hundreds of people in attendance for seminars and programs both on and off campus. There were book signings, discussion panels, and after-hours events full of poetry and song. Of course, David Amram was all over the place, Carolyn Cassady, Michael McClure, Jan Kerouac Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and even Hunter S. Thompson. It was a magnificent event, and I made some lifelong friendships with people I still keep in touch with today.

One of the most amazing moments happened on a rooftop deck overlooking Washington Square. There was a media event happening, and because I was holding my 35mm camera and wearing a badge reading 1-800-KER-OUAC, I somehow found my way among the group of journalists. People were jockeying for position, the BBC was there interviewing people, television stations, radio, print journalists. The Beats were celebrities.

The best thing I witnessed was when Allen was being interviewed by a reporter from CNN who challenged him on the censorship issue. Allen asserted he was still being censored to that very day, and the CNN reporter pushed back, stating “But that was all in the 1950s. Surely you’re not being censored today, in 1994?”

Suddenly Allen revealed a twinkle in his eye, and some of us who knew his work well could sense what was about to happen—and sure enough, Allen began reciting from “Howl”:

…who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rose-gardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may…

Allen looked straight at the camera and cooly said,  “Let’s see you put that on CNN.”

The blonde haired news reporter in the hot pink jacket blanched, the dark haired cameraman shut down his camera, others giggled a nervous giggle and the rest of us watched in amazement and admiration.