ALLEN GINSBERG IN THE COLLECTIONS OF WILSON LIBRARY
Allen Ginsberg's life and work are extremely well documented in the holdings of Wilson Library, especially the Rare Book Collection. Central to that strength is the remarkably rich and comprehensive Ginsberg collection acquired by the Rare Book Collection from Bill Morgan in the summer of 2002. The approximately 4,000 items in this collection are complemented by other Ginsberg and related materials in the Grove Press Collection and in the general holdings of the Rare Book Collection. The materials cover a variety of formats, including printed books, pamphlets, broadsides and posters, periodicals, sound and video recordings, photographs, news clippings, and manuscripts.
Approximately 660 of the items in the Ginsberg holdings consist of books, pamphlets, broadsides, and recordings authored mainly by Ginsberg himself. As might be expected, these include nearly complete holdings of Ginsberg's first editions. Reflecting the vital importance of bibliographic depth to many serious researchers, the collection is also rich in later editions and printings, limited editions, and other variants of these same texts. As documentation of the worldwide influence of the poet's writings, the collection includes, as well, about 160 translations of these works into twenty-nine languages. Many of the books, whether in English or in translation, are autographed by the author, and a substantial percentage of the signed books are also inscribed to friends and associates of the poet, including Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, and Bill Morgan.
The collection contains an additional 750 printed items for which Ginsberg is not the primary author but to which he contributed. Approximately 400 of these represent substantial contributions, such as anthologies or books for which Ginsberg wrote a preface or introduction. The remaining 350 consist of materials with minor contributions by Ginsberg, sometimes quite ephemeral, ranging from dust jacket blurbs to quotations in the liner notes of record albums, on posters and flyers, and in a variety of advertising catalogs.
Among the most important strengths of the Morgan collection and related Beat holdings are the approximately 500 separate periodical appearances of Ginsberg. For any serious study of a writer -- and perhaps especially of a poet -- the periodical record can be extremely useful, both in tracing the evolution of the text of a poem and in measuring its dissemination. For example, excerpts from early versions of Ginsberg's poem "Kaddish" appeared in four periodicals in 1959, two years before the final text was published as the title poem in the 1961 City Lights edition. As a matter of choice, Ginsberg published very widely among the small, avant-garde periodicals of his time. The Ginsberg and other Beat holdings contain at least scattered issues of a large number of these often obscure and now quite rare publications. The Rare Book Collection has substantial or complete runs of some of the most important among them, including Beatitude; Big Table; City Lights Journal; Floating Bear; Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts; Kulchur; Neurotica; Unmuzzled Ox; and Yugen.
Derived almost entirely from the Morgan acquisition, the Rare Book Collection's Ginsberg holdings also contain more than 400 posters and flyers advertising public readings by the poet (alone or with others). Many are large, elaborately designed, and professionally produced; others are much more modest in presentation, often simple mimeographed or photocopied handouts. Whatever their format or level of sophistication, they offer the researcher an abundance of biographical information. The sheer numbers and the variety of venues they represent may help to document the multiple strategies employed in the dissemination of avant-garde poetry during these decades and may also give some insight into the complexity and difficulty of the public lives of the poets involved.
To provide a supporting context, the Ginsberg holdings in the Rare Book Collection include more than 600 books, periodical issues, and news clippings about the poet. These range from full-scale biographies to newspaper reviews of individual books. Complementing the textual materials are the large number of photographs of or by Ginsberg from all periods of his life. (For a partial list, see the appended exhibition checklist.) There are also approximately 200 manuscripts in the Morgan Ginsberg collection. These vary in importance from extensive notes written in 1963-64 for a projected (but never completed ) film version of "Kaddish" to brief, hastily scribbled notes to himself or a member of his staff.
As with any large research collection aspiring to be comprehensive and to provide the sort of critical mass that facilitates discovery, many of the items among the Ginsberg holdings are rather common and easily found elsewhere. Their value here is measured more by the degree to which they contribute to the depth, completeness, and research potential of the collection than to their market scarcity or monetary value. Nonetheless, the Ginsberg materials in the Rare Book Collection do include many items that are indeed very rare and unusual. They, too, add to the research depth and potential of the holdings, but they also provide the kind of indispensable luster and interest that may set this collection apart from others on the same subject elsewhere, attract the attention of potential researchers, and stir the imagination of students and the general public.
The library is fortunate to have among its very special Ginsberg holdings a clean and well-preserved copy of Howl for Carl Solomon (San Francisco, 1956), the mimeographed first edition of Ginsberg's great poem, which appeared some months before the first City Lights edition (also in the Rare Book Collection). Reportedly typed by Robert Creeley and run off on a mimeo machine by Martha Rexroth (wife of poet Kenneth), it was distributed free to Ginsberg's friends. Because only twenty-five copies were printed and fewer still are known to have survived, it is the rarest of Ginsberg's first editions as well as his first separately published work. The Rare Book Collection also has a fine copy of Ginsberg's second book, Siesta in Xbalba (1956), another mimeographed edition produced completely by Ginsberg on board a merchant ship off the Alaskan coast about six weeks after Howl for Carl Solomon. It is also very rare. The university's copy of the first edition of Kaddish (San Francisco, 1961) is scarce, too, but this copy is especially interesting because of Ginsberg's title page inscription to Bob Thompson, an African American artist and friend. It is dated April 1961 from the famous Beat Hotel in Paris. Such privately issued mimeographed publications and even the professionally produced City Lights editions -- whatever their textual or historical importance -- provide little visual interest. As Ginsberg became more successful, however, he issued increasing numbers of books and broadsides in limited, often elegantly illustrated editions. There are many remarkable (and rare) examples among the UNC Ginsberg holdings. Perhaps the most striking is the bilingual publication La nouvelle chute de l'Amérique (Paris: Editions du Solstice, 1992), issued in large-folio format, each copy with ten full-page colored engravings by Roy Lichtenstein. Finally, the photographs in the collection, noted above, include thirty-six original prints of pictures taken by Ginsberg of his friends in the Beat movement. Most of them have lengthy, informative, and often amusing captions written at the bottoms of the photos by Ginsberg himself. All of the special materials identified here were gifts of Bill Morgan, accompanying either his Ferlinghetti or his Ginsberg collections when they were purchased by the university in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
At the present time the Ginsberg holdings acquired from Morgan are in the process of being cataloged, and full online catalog access is expected by the end of 2004. They will join the earlier-acquired Ferlinghetti materials in what is now formally called the Bill Morgan Collection of Beat Literature. The library is committed to continuing the development of the Ginsberg holdings, especially in the area of periodical appearances, where significant numbers of desiderata still exist.