Ginsberg, Allen.”Kaddish.” Kaddish and Other Poems; 1958-1960 San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2001. 7.
This took me forever to read. I think part of the reason was I wanted to find the absolute right moment to read it. I know that sounds odd, but consider this: “Kaddish” is said to be autobiographical. That, in and of itself, is extremely interesting to me because of how interesting and controversial Ginsberg was and still is to this day. Secondly, “Kaddish” is about mourning the passing of Ginsberg’s mother, Naomi Ginsberg. She was schizophrenic and Natalie Merchant’s line “praise a crazy mother’s son” (King of May, Ophelia – 2006) only eludes to Naomi’s troubled mind. Thirdly, there is the religious aspect of Kaddish to consider, and finally, the poem “Kaddish” is said to be Ginsberg’s finest work. Having said all that it should be obvious why I wanted to devote my complete and undivided attention to reading it.
At first read “Kaddish” seems to be all over the place with only two central themes running through it: the death of Naomi Ginsberg and the strain her mental illness put on Ginsberg as a child. After the second reading I began to see how much of an influence art and history also had on the author. He is haunted by his mother’s fears of Hitler and the inability to escape the past. Her history is his history. By the third reading I was so moved by the descriptions Naomi’s “treatments” that I couldn’t read any more.
One of these days I will research “Kaddish” to the fullest. I will find out why Naomi was afraid of Louis. I will discover the answer to the riddle of the Key in the window. Someday I will know what phrases like “Grand Canyons of asshole” and ” Lung Stew, & Stenka Razin” mean. Someday soon.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “The Beats and Their Generation” (p 17). PS ~ I should note this was not indexed in More Book Lust but since it was mentioned in the chapter I wanted to include it.
Why is it that I can see some poems as mini movies? “The Mercy” paints a picture of Levine’s mother and her immigration to New York. It’s simple and short, but loaded with imagery. I can see the boat, waiting off-shore (quarantined until all illness had passed), or the sailor who teaches the eight year old girl how to say “orange” as she enjoys the juice-laden fruit.
There is respect and love woven into the words. Levine’s entire book of poetry is dedicated to his mother and the cover of the book depicts immigrants waiting to come ashore. Who knows? Maybe his mother is in the picture? I do not know.
BookLust Twist:From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Poetry Pleasers” (p 189).
Hell does have a name. Hell, hell has several names. Shopping…malls…Macy’s. Take your evil. Pick your poison. Five hours of scouring racks, trudging into fitting rooms, undressing and cringing, fighting static electricity all the while, not wanting to scrutinize lines too closely, yet knowing if I didn’t someone else would, deciding “no, this doesn’t work” only to start the process all over again. Back to the racks. Pushing aside hangers of too flashy, too shiny, too young, too short, too I’mNotThatGirl, too Holy-Cow-They-Want-$250-For-That?! Finding one or two things to haul back to the all-telling mirrors. Glancing over the shoulder, deciding something’s just not quite right (oh wait. It’s me that’s not quite right). Back and forth. Forth and back.
Halfway through the process I noticed a stain right in the middle of my turtleneck and my sweater was beyond brimming with snapping static. My feet were hurting and by dress #8 I broke a nail trying to negotiate the too-tight zipper. That should have told me something right there. With each try-on I felt fatter and fatter. Uglier and uglier. I started to curse my cousin and question why big, fat me had to attend his wedding. The dressing room felt too tiny and someone had turned up the heat. Too make matters worse, some lady tried to steal my dressing room while I was in my mother’s dressing room deep in consultation. How this woman had missed my inside-out jeans on the floor, my cat hair covered coat on the seat, my purse hanging on the door…not to mention the stained turtleneck lying crumpled in the doorway, is beyond me.
Finally, frustration found me and I started trying on black anythings. Black, black, black. Not a shred of color. I settled on something with rhinestones, something fit for a funeral. Shopping had been the death of me. I was so relieved to be finished, done with the search that when I dressed back into my clothes for the final time I put my turtleneck on backwards and forgot to zip my jeans.
ps~ while this makes a great end to the story, just wait until you hear about what happened at the wedding…Hell gets worse.