Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-1960 – Allen Ginsberg

Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-1960 (1961) is a book of poems by Allen Ginsberg published by City Lights Bookstore. The lead poem ‘Kaddish‘ also known as ‘Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956)’, was written in two parts by Beat writer Allen Ginsberg, and was first published in Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-1960. The book was part of the Pocket Poet Series published by City Lights Books. In the table of contents, the poem is titled ‘Kaddish: Proem, narrative, hymmnn, lament, litany, & fugue’. Along with Ginsberg’s ‘Howl‘, Kaddish is said to be one of his greatest masterpieces. Ginsberg wrote the poem about his mother Naomi after her death in 1956, who struggled with mental problems throughout her life. Naomi suffered many psychotic episodes both before Allen was born and while he was growing up. She went in and out of mental hospitals and was treated with medication, insulin shock therapy, and electroshock therapy. She died in an asylum in 1956. The title ‘Kaddish‘ refers to the mourning prayer or blessing in Judaism. This long poem was Ginsberg’s attempt to mourn his mother, Naomi, but also reflects his sense of loss at his estrangement from his born religion. The traditional Kaddish contains no references to death, whereas Ginsberg’s poem is riddled with thoughts and questionings of death. After her death, a rabbi would not allow the traditional Kaddish to be read with Ginsberg’s Christian and Atheist friends, so he rebelled and wrote a Kaddish of his own. Ginsberg began writing the poem in the Beat Hotel in Paris in December 1957 and completed it in New York in 1959. Kaddish is not a linear story. Rather, it is told through a series of thoughts and memories about the character’s lives. Part I opens with Ginsberg reflecting on the passing of his mother. … It tells of her being an immigrant from Russia, going to candy stores, eating ice cream and drinking soda. … In Part II, Ginsberg tells of the nature of Naomi’s sickness and what it meant for him to witness as a young person. The poem suggests that she often looked to him for protection because of her paranoid fantasies and often confided in him. Naomi’s paranoia consisted of her belief that someone or something was out to get her and that medical professionals wanted to kill her. There were also times when most sounds and any light terrified her. In Part II the reader also learns that Naomi’s first nervous breakdown was in 1919 and caused her to stay in a dark room for three weeks. Ginsberg does not only write about the bad times, but also the good times. The times when Naomi was doing well are explained at length and reflect the love and hope he had for his mother. …”
A psychoanalytic perspective on Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish (1961)
Kaddish By Allen Ginsberg. For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894—1956
YouTube: Kaddish (Live)
YouTube: Allen Ginsberg’s Birthday, No More to Say & Nothing to Weep For: An Elegy for Allen Ginsberg (FULL MOVIE) 50:49

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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