Published in 1974, The Fall of America was Allen Ginsberg’s magnum opus, a poetic account of his experiences in a nation in turmoil. What his National Book Award–winning volume documented he had also recorded, playing a reel-to-reel tape machine given to him by Bob Dylan as he traveled the nation’s byways and visited its cities, finding himself again and again in the midst of history in the making—or unmaking. Through a wealth of autopoesy (transcriptions of these recorded poems) published here for the first time in the poet’s journals of this period, Ginsberg can be overheard collecting the observations, events, reflections and conversations that would become his most extraordinary work as he witnessed America at a time of historic upheaval and gave voice to the troubled soul at its crossroads.
The Fall of America Journals, 1965–1971 contains some of Ginsberg’s finest spontaneous writing, accomplished as he pondered the best and worst his country had to offer. He speaks of his anger over the war in Vietnam, the continuing oppression of dissidents, intractable struggles, and experiments with drugs and sexuality. He mourns the deaths of his friends Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac, parses the intricacies of the presidential politics of 1968, and grapples with personal and professional challenges in his daily life. An essential backstory to his monumental work, the journals from these years also reveal drafts of some of his most highly regarded poems, including “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” “Wales Visitation,” “On Neal’s Ashes,” and “Memory Gardens,” as well as poetry published here for the first time and his notes on many of his vivid and detailed dreams. Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Michael Schumacher, a writer closely associated with Ginsberg’s life and work, these journals are nothing less than a first draft of the poet’s journey to the heart of twentieth-century America.