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Poet Allen Ginsberg on hearing voices



Allen Ginsberg, Beat poet talks about his voice hearing experience in 1990 interview, more here

LOFTON: But I am interested in this question of your possible madness. It’s not a gratuitous question. There is a history of madness in your family.

GINSBERG: Very much so.

LOFTON: Your mom died in 1956 in a mental institution. Before that. in 1949, when you were twenty-three. you spent eight months in the Columbia Psychiatric Institute. What was this psychiatric disability and why did you spend just eight months in this institute?

GINSBERG: Well, I had a sort of visionary experience in which I heard William Blake’s voice. It was probably an auditory hallucination, but it was a very rich experience.

LOFTON: This happened while you were masturbating, right?

GINSBERG: Yes, but after.

LOFTON: I want to ask you about this psychiatric disability.

GINSBERG: No, no, no. no, no, no, no, no. Sir, first of all your tone is too aggressive. You have to soften your tone, because there’s an element of aggression here. There’s an element almost like a police interrogation here.

LOFTON: But that’s not all bad. The police, in some instances, do a good job, particularly in dealing with criminals.

GINSBERG: Sir, in this case it’s a little impolite. You’re being a little harsh and unfriendly and making it very difficult for me to relate to you gently and talk unguardedly and candidly.

LOFTON: There’s no doubt that from what I’ve read about you, I don’t like what you have stood for over the years. I don’t like your politics, the kind of sex you engage in. So if you mean there’s a hostility here toward what you are, absolutely there is.

GINSBERG: But you’re talking to me as if I’m an object of some kind and not a person in front of you, I’m asking you, in a sense, to watch your manners.

LOFTON: That’s interesting, because I’m not asking you to respond in any particular way. Why are you telling me how to ask questions? So, can we return to my question? What was this psychiatric disability that put you in an institute for eight months?

GINSBERG: Well, I’m not sure it really was a disability to begin with. So I can’t answer the question the way you pose it.

LOFTON: But I’m asking you if it’s true, that you had this disability?

GINSBERG: It’s neither true nor not true.

LOFTON: But it is true that you were in an institute?

GINSBERG: Yes, I was. I had a kind of visionary experience relating to a text by William Blake, “The Sick Rose.” It went: “O rose, thou art sick! / The invisible worm / That flies in the night / In the howling storm, / Has found out thy bed / Of crimson joy, / And his dark secret love / Does thy life destroy.” So, it’s a very mysterious, interesting poem that keyed off a kind of religious experience, a visionary experience, a hallucinatory experience—whichever way you want to interpret it. All three descriptions are applicable and possible. Reality has many aspects.

LOFTON: Were you using drugs while you masturbated and had this experience?

GINSBERG: Not at all. I had been living very quietly, eating vegetarian diets, seeing very few people, and reading a great many religious texts: St. John of the Cross, the Bible, Plato’s Phaedrus , St. Teresa of Avila, and Blake, So I was In a kind of solitary, contemplative mood.

LOFTON: Did you put yourself into this institute?

GINSBERG: More or less. Because I questioned my own sense of reality and I couldn’t figure out the significance of the illuminative experience, whether it was a kind of traditional religious experience, where there is a sudden sense of vastness and ancientness and respect and devotional awareness or sacredness to the whole universe. Or whether this was a byproduct of some lack-love longing and projection of my own feelings, or some nutty breakthrough.

LOFTON: Do you think you were better when you got out of there?

GINSBERG: I think they said I wasn’t ever really psychotic or crazy, just an average neurotic.

LOFTON: Did you go to anywhere else besides this institute?

GINSBERG: Oh, later—I’m going to a psychiatrist now.

LOFTON: I assume you’re going to a secular humanist-type psychiatrist.

GINSBERG: I never inquired about her religious beliefs.

LOFTON: Really? So you’re going to someone whose religious beliefs, whose presuppositions, you know nothing about?

GINSBERG: I know some, through body language and the response to the immediate situation in front of me, which is what I am really interested in, rather than, say, this conversation. I’m dealing with you in terms of how you display yourself here, not the history of your thoughts. I’m trying to deal with the evidence or manifestation of how you present yourself here—your harshness, aggression, and insistency and—


Nov 27, 2008
This interview amuses me. The link to the complete interview shows a more dynamic relationship between the two speakers. I see it to be a duel.

A psychiatrist receives a man presumed as a patient, but said man attempts to prove his own sanity by way of reason. Of course, a man who convinces himself needs no psychiatrist. What would be the incentive for their conversation?


New member
Feb 27, 2009

Gregory Sherman, producer of "Pickup's Tricks" by Gregory Pickup (www.pickupstricks.com), wishes to contact a videographer who shot a 15 to 20 minute segment of Allen Ginsberg speaking live at a screening of "Pickup's Tricks" at Anthology Film Archives, NYC, on May 12, 1995. Mr. Sherman is seeking additional content for a re-release of the film.

The videographer may contact Mr. Sherman at 212-527-9000 or [email protected], or the film's press agent, Jonathan Slaff, at 212-924-0496 or [email protected].