Former Students’ Recollections of Classes Taught by Famous Authors

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Leslea Newman on being Allen Ginsberg’s student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics

I began my studies with Ginzy in the summer of 1979. On a hot June morning, I knocked on his door, excited to meet him and begin my work as his apprentice. Though I had seen many pictures of Allen (including some of him naked with love beads draped around his neck), I was surprised at the sight of the country’s most infamous poet. He looked more like a rumpled accountant, in gray baggy pants, white cotton dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and striped maroon tie. (Later I learned that Allen had asked his guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, how to get people to take him seriously as a poet. Rinpoche had said, “Wear a suit.” So Allen did every day for the rest of his life.)

My job was to help Allen answer his mail. Each letter he received was deemed of equal worth, whether it was from a senator responding to a political rant Allen had sent him, or an editor asking Allen for some poems, or a lonely gay teenager living in Kansas who wanted Allen’s advice. Allen answered them all with the same consideration.

Then Allen would look at my poems. He shunned hierarchy, so he’d ask my opinion of his poems as well. He didn’t think he had a lot to teach me. “All you can do,” he said, “is hang out with poets and study their minds.” His mantra — for writing and for life — was “first thought, best thought.” He taught me to meditate and reminded me that the word inspiration is similar to the words respiration and perspiration. I learned from Allen that poems are made of two things: breath and sweat.

Read the rest at Obit.