Allen in samadhi

Celestial Homework
Specialized Reading List for "Literary History of the Beat Generation,"
a course taught by Allen Ginsberg at Naropa Institute during the summer of 1977.

In 1974, the poets Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman launched the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, Colorado. Founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the school was modeled after Buddhist learning centers like Nalanda University that flourished in India between the 5th and 11th centuries described by Waldman and Andrew Schelling as "part monastery, part college, part convention hall or alchemist's lab."

The mission of Naropa has been to bring together instruction in the arts, psychology, religious studies and other fields with the Buddhist practice of wakefulness in daily life. It's still thriving.

The Jack Kerouac School gives young writers a chance to not only learn the craft from practicing poets, but to intimately observe how they live, and how their minds and senses engage the world. Over the years, the faculty has included the late William Burroughs and Gregory Corso, Diane DiPrima, Amiri Baraka, Alice Notley, Ed Sanders, Robin Blaser, and many other writers of note. Ginsberg taught there for over two decades until his death in 1997.

This "celestial homework" is the reading list that Ginsberg handed out on the first day of his course as "suggestions for a quick check-out & taste of antient scriveners whose works were reflected in Beat literary style as well as specific beat pages to dig into." While the list has been placed in alphabetical order for easy reference, the idiosyncratic Ginsbergian syntax of the handout has been mostly preserved, though a couple of typos or errata (such as the full name of the course) have been corrected. Scholars are advised to consult the original document.

Clicking on a title will take you to an online copy of the text when such copies exist, and the photographs of each author are linked to brief biographies. The "Don Allen anthology" mentioned frequently in the list refers to The New American Poetry, edited by Don Allen, which provides an excellent introduction to the Beats and their contemporaries. (A companion volume, The Poetics of the New American Poetry, currently out of print, is worth seeking out in used bookstores, and contains the Ernest Fenollosa essay excerpted here for "extra credit" reading.) Dead-link alerts and locations of missing, better, or more stable versions of the online texts (particularly "Kaddish") linked here are welcome.

I was 19 in the summer of 1977. One day Ginsberg asked how many of us had signed up for meditation instruction, and when only a few hands went up, he roared, "Argh, you're all amateurs in a professional universe!" Another spontaneous aperçu he made in class that has stuck in my mind for decades: "Poetry is the realization of the magnificence of the actual." These texts are gates to that magnificence.

--Steve Silberman

The original handout,
click to enlarge:

original p. 1
original p. 1
original p. 1


Site design by Eric Botticelli, Jordan Matheny, and Steve Silberman, with the help of Derek Powazek. Special thanks to Dan Levy and Levity for hosting. AG photos of Herbert Huncke and John Wieners used with permission of the Allen Ginsberg Trust/Corbis, and the list itself is reprinted with the kind permission of the Ginsberg Trust. If you're a photographer, and an image of yours appears here that you would like taken down, please let us know.

To the official site of the Allen Ginsberg Trust.

my father
In loving memory, Donald J. Silberman (1934-2004).
Sherwood Anderson
short story Hands from Winesburg Ohio
Antonin Artaud
City Lights Artaud Anthology: To Have Done With the Judgement of God, Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society
William Blake
Songs of Innocence and Experience, Thel
Ray Bremser
Poem of Holy Madness Part IV from Don Allen Anthol.
William S. Burroughs
Selections from Big Table, Naked Lunch
Neal Cassady
The First Third
Louis-Ferdinand Céline
opening or any pages from Journey to End of Night or Guignol's Bowl
Jean Cocteau
Opium, see movies Blood of a Poet and Orpheus
Gregory Corso
Bomb, Power, Army, Police, Death, Hair, Clown. All can be found in The Happy Birthday of Death.
Hart Crane
Voyages, The Hurricane, Havana Rose, The Bridge
Robert Creeley
Early poems in For Love
Diane Di Prima
Revolutionary Letters:April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa, 4, 24, 31, 37, 38, 54, 62, 63
Emily Dickinson
I Died for Beauty, I Heard a Fly Buzz, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, Success is Counted Sweetest
Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Idiot, A Raw Youth, etc.
T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Extra credit
Ernest Fenollosa
The Chinese Written Character as a Medium For Poetry
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
From Pictures of the Gone World: #s 2, 10, 13, 17
Jean Genet
Opening pages of Our Lady of the Flowers
André Gide
The Immoralist, The Counterfeiters
Allen Ginsberg
Kaddish -- HTML, PDF (click "view")
John Clellon Holmes
pages of Go and Nothing More to Declare on Kerouac "The Great Rememberer"
Herbert Huncke
See material in Beat Book
Franz Kafka
Bob Kaufman
Solitudes Crowded With Loneliness: Second April, Abomunist Manifesto
John Keats
Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Melancholy, Ode to Nightingale, Lines Supposedly Addressed to Fanny Brawne
Jack Kerouac
Mexico City Blues
Philip Lamantia
Selection in the Don Allen Anthol., poems from EXSTASIS and Blue Grace especially, see also -- Man in Pain, Terror Conduction, Put Down of Whore of Babylon, Morning Light Song, The Night in Space of White Marble, There is This Distance Between Me, Fair Warning, from Selected Poems, City Lights, '67
Andrew Marvell
The Garden, To his Coy Mistress, The Bermudas, The Mower to the Glow Worms
Michael McClure
Poisoned Wheat, Fuck Ode, and Garland in Dark Brown. Browse through September Blackberries
Herman Melville
Poems: The House Top, The Maldive Shark, The Portent, The Berg, The Muster, The Martyr, On the Slain Collegians, A Canticle, To Ned, Bridegroom Dick, Monody, America, The Ravaged Villa, the poem at end of Billy Budd; Bartleby the Scrivener, Billy Budd, Moby Dick
Jack Micheline
Wanderer, Ballad of Benny Roads from Collected Poems
John Milton
L'allegro and Il Penseroso, Lycidas, Sonnet on his Blindness
Frank O'Hara
The Day Lady Died, A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island
Peter Orlovsky
Selection in Beatitude Anthology and Don Allen Anthology
Edgar Allan Poe
Ulalume, Annabel Lee, The Raven, The Bells
Ezra Pound
Sestina Altaforte, In Durance, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, "When the nightingale to his mate" in Personae, Cantos: Usura 45, CXV, CXVII, CXX
Marcel Proust
taste a few pages from Swann's Way, Combray
Kenneth Rexroth
From Collected Shorter Poems: Gic to Har, On What Planet, When We with Sappho, Floating, Letter to William Carlos Williams, The Lights in the Sky are Stars
Arthur Rimbaud
Drunken Boat, Season in Hell, Illuminations, letters
Ed Sanders
Poem from Jail (City Lights), Cemetery Hill in Peace Eye [mp3], Death of Olson Poem, VFW Crawling Contest in 20,000 A.D.
William Shakespeare
The Tempest, Sonnets, Hamlet, Songs
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mont Blanc, The Cloud, Skylark, Adonais, Ozymandias, Ode West Wind, last lines Epipsychidion
Christopher Smart
Jubilate Agno, Song to David
Gary Snyder
From Turtle Island: The Bath, Mother Earth: Her Whales, The Hudsonian Curlew, The Wilderness; browse through Back Country
Carl Solomon
Report from the Asylum, Page 36 etc. Mishaps Perhaps, also letter to Gov. Rockefeller, Artaud, etc.
Henry David Thoreau
How I Lived and What I Lived For from Walden
Philip Whalen
See selections in Don Allen Anthology. Also Regalia in Immediate Demand in Severance Pay
Walt Whitman
Song of Myself
John Wieners
Hotel Wentley Poems, and Poem for Trapped Things in Don Allen Anthol.
William Carlos Williams
from Collected Poems: To Elsie, Horned Purple, Smell, Danse Russe, A Goodnight, Thursday
Thomas Wolfe
First pages of Look Homeward Angel and You Can't Go Home Again
Sir Thomas Wyatt
They Flee from me who sometime did me seeke; My Lute awake, perform the last; The long love that in my heart; Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hinde
William Butler Yeats
The Crazy Jane series, Sailing to Byzantium, The Second Coming, Among School Children

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