PRAGUE -- American poet Allen Ginsberg was once crowned King of May in Prague. Then the communists kicked him out. A quarter century later, the people kicked out the communists. And Ginsberg still reigns.
Beat generation hero, guru, mystic and visionary, Ginsberg is now pushing 70. But he can still captivate a college-age crowd as much as a rock-and-roll star less than half his age.
Ginsberg visited Prague last week to recite his poetry, sing and chat at a local theater. Despite the relatively high admission charge (the equivalent of about six dollars), he had a full house. The audience, primarily of young people, hang on to every word he said, nodding approvingly, applauding often and at times roaring with laughter.
Ginsberg is not new to Prague. In 1965, Ginsberg was crowned King of May by a college crowd. "My picture was in the first edition of one of the newspapers," he recalls. "The communist censors had it removed from the second edition."
That was during the height of the Cold War. Ginsberg despised the communists - he jotted down in his notebook "All the communist lies about America are true" - and he distrusted capitalism as well. In Prague, secret police thugs followed him around. They stole his notebook of poetry from his coat pocket.
He was summoned to the police station and was told his notebook had been found.
Would you sign a receipt, he was asked.
Gladly, Ginsberg replied, eager to recover his poems.
He signed the receipt and was promptly arrested and put on a plane to London.
It made the papers in the West. Shortly after, Ginsberg says, he was in a room with all four Beatles, discussing life and poetry.
Poetry is what Ginsberg is all about. And being outrageous.
In his landmark poem "America," he wrote 40 years ago:
America I've given you all and now I'm nothing ...
"America you don't really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians. ...
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants
to take our cars from out our garages. ...
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision
parts factories. I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel."
Ginsberg is not "just" a poet. He is a showman. He gets the biggest applause when singing his poem titled, "Don't Smoke" in which he advocates everything from smoking cigarettes to making love, getting high on grass and just having a good time.
At times, he is serious and moving. Reciting a poem about his mother's death, Ginsberg chokes with emotion and fights back tears.
And he is clearly concerned about his legacy.
In his "Ode to Failure," written in 1980, Ginsberg wrote:
"Many prophets have failed, their voices silent ...
I never dissolved Plutonium or dismantled the nuclear Bomb
before my skull lost hair.
I have not yet stopped the Armies of entire Mankind
or their march toward World War III.
I never got to Heaven, Nirvana,X, Whatchamacallit,
I never left Earth
I never learned to die."