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Iron Curtain Journals

January–May 1965

2018
Author:

Allen Ginsberg
Edited by Michael Schumacher

Iron Curtain Journals

The first of three in a series of Ginsberg’s unpublished travel journals

A travel guide through one of the best minds of the Beat Generation—distinctly not destroyed by madness—Allen Ginsberg’s journals are more tour de force than simple diaries, charting his poetry, political antics, and high-profile encounters behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War.

Iron Curtain Journals is a romp of complex encounters and intrigue: arrest, deportation, samizdat romance, and the giddiness of candid poet-talk with international luminaries as the peripatetic chronicler asks: ‘What jump, what hemispheres crisscross of a sudden like a Shakespearean dream?’ Ever the most passionate and most famous poet-citizen of the world, and a cultural ambassador and radical champion of rights, human, sexual, social, Allen Ginsberg shakes and lifts the curtain on the soft spots of ‘communistic’ endeavor. From the ‘Marx Brothers Duck Soup’ of Cuba’s Revolution to being ceremoniously crowned King of May in Prague, to the light gleaming on cobblestones of Red Square (‘a cabaret of red marble atop Lenin’s tomb,’ his ‘backbone against the Kremlin Wall’), this book is a tribute to Perestroika’s delicate web, to a time still roiling with karmic urgency and agency. These journals are a welcome and relevant addition to Ginsberg’s huge oeuvre and persistent legacy.

Anne Waldman

A travel guide through one of the best minds of the Beat Generation—distinctly not destroyed by madness—Allen Ginsberg’s journals are more tour de force than simple diaries, charting his poetry, political antics, and high-profile encounters behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War.

Between jotting first drafts of well-known poems and composing others not seen until now, Ginsberg manages to get himself deported from Cuba—to, of all places, Prague, where he also eventually finds himself unwelcome. Meanwhile, in characteristically colorful fashion, he details his provocations and pranks, his encounters with other poets, curious citizens, and celebrities, and his pointed, often moving observations as he makes his way to Russia (land of his heritage), to Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto, and to Auschwitz. Running foul of the Czech government when he circles back to Prague, he is warned to keep a low profile but is instead crowned the King of May by students who ceremoniously parade him through the city in a flatbed truck. Ginsberg is beaten in the streets, arrested, and deported once again, this time to swinging England, where he arrives just in time to help stage a massive international poetry reading at the Royal Albert Hall.

Ginsberg wrote of these experiences as only he could, summoning a time, a political and poetic landscape at once familiar and foreign, and a singular poet who in these pages—whether detailing his travels, describing his meetings with Russian poets, annotating his dreams, or giving graphic accounts of his sexual adventures—speaks with electrifying intelligence and insight across the years and the vagaries of culture.

Iron Curtain Journals

Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997) was born in Newark, New Jersey. As a student at Columbia College in the 1940s, he began close friendships with William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Jack Kerouac, and he later became associated with the Beat movement and the San Francisco Renaissance in the 1950s. After jobs as a laborer, sailor, and market researcher, he published his first volume of poetry, Howl and Other Poems, in 1956. “Howl” defeated censorship trials to become one of the most widely read poems of the century.

Michael Schumacher is author of Dharma Lion, the acclaimed biography of Allen Ginsberg, and editor of First Thought: Conversations with Allen Ginsberg (both from Minnesota), as well as editor of The Essential Ginsberg.

Iron Curtain Journals

Iron Curtain Journals is a romp of complex encounters and intrigue: arrest, deportation, samizdat romance, and the giddiness of candid poet-talk with international luminaries as the peripatetic chronicler asks: ‘What jump, what hemispheres crisscross of a sudden like a Shakespearean dream?’ Ever the most passionate and most famous poet-citizen of the world, and a cultural ambassador and radical champion of rights, human, sexual, social, Allen Ginsberg shakes and lifts the curtain on the soft spots of ‘communistic’ endeavor. From the ‘Marx Brothers Duck Soup’ of Cuba’s Revolution to being ceremoniously crowned King of May in Prague, to the light gleaming on cobblestones of Red Square (‘a cabaret of red marble atop Lenin’s tomb,’ his ‘backbone against the Kremlin Wall’), this book is a tribute to Perestroika’s delicate web, to a time still roiling with karmic urgency and agency. These journals are a welcome and relevant addition to Ginsberg’s huge oeuvre and persistent legacy.

Anne Waldman

Iron Curtain Journals

Editor’s Introduction
A Note on Editing Allen Ginsberg
Iron Curtain Journals
Cuba
Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union
Poland
Czechoslovakia and England
Bibliography

Iron Curtain Journals

AN EXCERPT FROM IRON CURTAIN JOURNALS:

 

Mar. 21, 8 a.m.

Dream—Bloody thrones?

Dragons? Forgot.

And to bring a toothbrush—my gums giving away.

Yesterday on Red Square, approaching Lenin’s tomb, the awe of the place at last, walking with Romanova toward the crowd standing around the railing before the closed door—so I asked her “Where’s Stalin now?” she said “somewhere in the wall.” “Can you visit his tomb?”—“I never visit Stalin!” she laughed. “And what did you think while he was alive?”—“Many, many of my friends disappeared—but I did not know what was happening—we just knew they were gone, and were told that they had committed crimes, but—I believed what I was explained, that perhaps they had done something but I did not know—I was shocked when I found out—“

Earlier at restaurant asked about censorship board—“The Goloyov Board”—same as Czech HSTD—Who is it? “It is not well known.”

Simonov at table with black turtleneck shirt & handsome silver gray hair, all of them discussing my Cuban experience with familiar slightly hearty cynical smiles of old schoolteachers at Central H.S. Paterson talking about the foibles of the principal—an old story, how to survive.

At tables in the room, groups of middleaged waiters—“Who’s she?”—
I pointed to a thin faced lady covering her eyes—“She’s a critic”—an older looking, short bohemian-Jewish faced chap came up, thin haired & a wen on third eye forehead, & kissed Romanova’s hand—“That’s David Samwelloff”—“You see, he is only 40 years old, but he was in the war—in the war each month counted a year—you can see in his face—That’s a difference between you Americans and our experience, you must understand—“ said Frieda.

“I hope we will be able to meet soon and I will give you advice how to be here—so that you will understand—certain things here are not the same as America—some things you are interested in are not interesting to our people.”

 

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