Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | January 1, 2019


I met Allen Ginsberg once – well sort of met. I mean it was more like a really odd fan moment I guess. November 17, 1996. During a break in the QUEER BEAT SYMPOSIUM at the S.F. Art Institute.
At the end of the lunch break I found myself standing outside in the chilly grey afternoon with a semi-Famous Writer and his friend trying to be casual and egalitarian, (me casual, he egalitarian). We were all waiting to get into one of the only two, single capacity, toilets in the vicinity and both of those doors holding tight as a baptist virgin at a bachelor party. The occupants were apparently possessed of severe agoraphobia – or maybe they weren’t in there alone (and who knew how long THAT might take). I remember semi-Famous Writer was talking to his friend about a somewhat obscure gay beat poet. He kept turning toward me and looking at me with what I understood to be a clear indication that I was to consider myself included in their conversation since we were all stuck there in the same cold drizzle. So I said something, but apparently it was the wrong thing. His look switched from welcome to disdain. And from the tone in his voice it was obvious to me that I had lost whatever initial grace I’d earned simply by having been hip enough to have shown up for this event.
Then semi-Famous Writer got into one of the bathrooms. His friend was next in line. We stood silent waiting for the other door to open – but, no dice. Eventually semi-Famous Writer came out and returned to the symposium without a word to either of us. His friend took his place, leaving me alone and unarmed in the drizzle, no umbrella, no magic spell to open the other door. I began to become convinced that there really wasn’t anyone in there at all. That it had been locked from the outside. Probably backed-up flooded, overflow shit-soaked floor with used needles and condoms drifting in a putrid pool.
I heard the flush then, and the running of water into a shallow metal sink, the rustling of paper towels, the grinding of the dispenser. I tried to assign meaning to the shuffling sounds to predict how much longer it might be.
Finally the door opened. A long-haired, greying, balding, bespectacled man bundled up in a dark jacket and winter scarf emerged, grumbling and mumbling about the filthy condition of the bathroom. He looked at me briefly, just long enough to establish that I was not in his way and rushed past. I muttered “excuse me” but was unsure why, and as I closed and locked the door behind me I realized the man had been Allen Ginsberg.
Ginsberg was not scheduled to be there.
I looked at the toilet, involuntarily started to imagine him sitting there grunting in his stink like the rest of us, but it really was too much like imagining my parents fucking and I stopped. I looked around the very small room. He was right, it was filthy. I pissed and got back into the auditorium as quickly as I could.

quiet Ginsberg slips into the audience
after the program has started,
cute young man companion in tow.
listens while men 20 or 30 or more
years younger sit awkwardly on stage,
dissect and discuss his life and work and
the lives and work of his closest friends –
Ginsberg already a ghost in this place,
even though not dead yet, exists here
only as ectoplasmic apparition reeking
of blood and semen, urine and tears –
too messy, a potential embarrassment
hovering unnecessary among these
academics even as they try to fit him in
dry him out and squeeze him into their
dissertation theories, their literary
magazine articles, their scholarly papers,
distancing him further from his own work
with each self-serving pronouncement
each self-executing conclusion.

Dear Mr. Ginsberg:
One of the presenters in the first section of the symposium said that Jack had been a closet case. That he got off watching through half-opened doors while Neal fucked faggots up the ass. He also said that the sex in your poetry was cold. This was before you arrived, but I took notes. I could give you his name if you like.
I thank whatever gods may be for your old friend, Lenore Kandel! She read her “Poem for Perverts” and gave that panel a taste of heat I hope they don’t soon forget.
And I want you to know that the day after you died I read PLEASE MASTER to a circle of queer men, and I didn’t notice anyone reaching for a sweater – in fact, that room got almost uncomfortably warm.
a fan

Eventually the people on stage noticed that one of the objects of their intellectual autopsy was quietly listening to what they had to say.
Questions, anyone?
A young man rose and very seriously asked if a certain poem did not in fact prove that Ginsberg is a misogynist.
Mr. Presenter said, “Since it appears that Allen has joined us, I think I’ll defer to him on this one.”
From where we sat, 4 or 5 rows above and behind him, we could see Ginsberg shaking his head, no. But Mr. Presenter would not accept a no. And now that Mr. Question knew Ginsberg was there he and nearly everyone else turned to find him and place him in context, on the stage of his fame.
Ginsberg rose, already weak from the cancer and the fight against it, his dignity as beautiful as a Renoir bather. He kindly answered: “I wrote that poem from a dream. I don’t know what it means.” And he started to sit back down.
“But,” said Mr. Question, determined to get confirmation of his theory direct from the source (what luck!), “when you wrote…” and he proceeded to volley details from the poem at Ginsberg, concluding with “…wasn’t that a clear expression of misogyny?”
Ginsberg stood again, sighed, patiently replied: “As I said, I had a dream. When I woke up I wrote it down. I don’t know what it means. It was just a dream.” Then he tried to sit again.
Mr. Question did not appear willing to accept an answer so simple, so perhaps calculatedly evasive. He rephrased his inquiry yet again and addressed it once more directly to the bard.
Ginsberg, with fraying resignation in his voice, stood up as straight as he could, he was already pretty ill at that point, repeated his answer a third time and promptly sat down, establishing that he would indulge this idiot no further.
Mr. Question stammered slightly, said, “Thank you.” And sat himself down at last.
There were no further questions.
Less than a year later Ginsberg was dead.
I will always remember the patience and grace with which Ginsberg dealt with that rude, insensitive, and insistent young scholar, even though he was not even officially attending the event and therefore had no obligation to participate. The way he indulged the guy for a while, in spite of his illness, dispatching his duty as a poetry celebrity, and then calmly sat down was beautiful, practically beatific.
Confronted on the same day with his most ordinary humanness and his extraordinary tolerance and kindness my respect and admiration for him grew greater and more solid. When he died I was saddened as though I’d lost a friend, even though we’d never actually met.

first draft, 05/30-06/24/1997
Fields Landing, CA
revisions 07/31/2011 & 01/01/2019
Sebastopol, CA


  1. How beautiful. Thank you for this post. I am so touched to read about Allen Ginsberg in so intimate and loving a way.

    • Thank you, Linda

  2. Thanks for sharing this story, Joe. Your crystal clear writing made me feel like I was in the room with you. I’m reading this late at night in a silent room and I feel engulfed by the feelings that you write about.

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