The Flaneur's patrol of Milvia street in Berkeley takes him past this humble memorial for Allen Ginsberg who lived across the street from it for a time in the 1950s.
It's the butterfly garden of an elementary school named for the somewhat more conventional poet John Greenleaf Whittier. (Whittier was an Abolutionist Quaker who did write "The Brewing of the Soma" so he was der Ginzle's kindred spirit nevertheless.) The kids frolic about and write poems there and they are tacked-up on boards along the fence. Visitors are welcome and there's a Jetson's style bench alongside a small pond, large rocks, and lots of flowers and plants.
His cottage is long gone, a utilitarian apartment block landed where it had been. The same fate befell the house on nearby Berkeley Way where Jack Kerouac lived with his Mother in 1957 when On the Road was published. A small apartment building replaced the converted chicken coop where Gary Snyder lived on Hillegass, a situation Kerouac memorably translated into fiction for his novel The Dharma Bums.
Ginsberg's poem, "A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley," from his collection Howl and Other Poems, offers insight and descriptive details of his life there. It has something of the feeling Berkeley can give its new arrivals, especially ones from the remote Atlantic coast: of unfamiliar vegetation, extravagantly so, of the strange new weather, chilly summers under a brilliant sun-- a tourist, quoted in the Chronicle this week, called it "tropical Helsinki." And with this feeling there often comes the hope for some new possibilities in one's life.
I knew Mr Ginsberg fairly well and have had long years to consider his strange case. I first encountered his name in 1965 in the liner notes to Bob Dylan's LP Bringing It All Back Home. Bob couldn't understand why Allen Ginsberg wasn't chosen over Carl Sandburg to read at the Inauguration of JFK. I was absolutely overwhelmed and enraptured by Dylan at that moment. It was the summer of Like a Rolling Stone which opened with the rimshot heard round the world, the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Dylan was the triumphant messiah for the Old Testament Beat generation.
(More to follow)
Look closely and you'll find his name.