Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” (Forerunners)

Underfoot Poetry


While I’d like to say that after Four Quartets, I don’t know of another long poem from the last century that’s meant as much to me as Allen Ginsberg’s elegy for his mother, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956. But it’s so powerful that even describing it as a poem seems silly: it really doesn’t matter what you call it, as it easily inhabits its own genre. Just as Joyce’s Ulysses has prompted so many forgettable experimental children, when in reality it was a one-off that only a single genius could have attempted, Kaddish eclipses all the bad confessional poems we are heir to, including much of Ginsberg’s other work, down to our own glut of verses that will never reach beyond our blogs. Nowhere else does Ginsberg’s infusion of autobiography, explicit sexuality, or personal or familial admissions of such intimacy or shame work as well as they…

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