Allen Ginsberg’s letter to Abu Sayeed Ayyub about Hungry Generation Movement

704 East, 5th Street, NYC, Apt 5A, USA, October 6, 1964

Dear Abu Sayyed

Obviously my note to you was stupidly peremptory or short witted and I am sorry I got your goat, possibly or probably I deserve to be put down for the irritant discourtesy of my writing & the presumption in it, telling you what to do, etc. butting in where it is not my affair and possibly ignorant of the quality of the texts. And chiding a senior. For which I do wish to apologize, offering as excuse that I wrote in great haste — many letters on the same subject the same afternoon — and that the situation as I understand it is a little more threatening to the young scribes than you understand it to be. May be it has settled a lot since I wrote. But from what I understand, from the letters from Malay, as well as Sunil Ganguly & Utpal Basu ( & the latter two seem to be mature in judgement ) ( Malay I like as a person & do actually admire the liveliness of his englished manifestos — to my mind a livelier prose wit than any other Indian English Writing. ) ( though I realize he is inexperienced & impetuous and part of the charm is the naivete of the manifestos. or, better, innocence of them ) ( this simply being a matter of of gut taste preference intuition & certainly not the sort of literary matter to be settled by police action ) : the police situation at one time was that not only Malay but his brother Samir ( an excellent philosopher ) as well as Debi Roy as well as two young boys I never met Saleswar and Subhash Ghose were all arrested. Then let out on bail. In addition a general police investigation, according to Utpal, “those arrested are already suspended from their jobs & if they are convicted they may loose it.” Further Ananda Bazar Patrika, Jugantar, Janata and other Bengali papers fanned the fire against “obscene literary conspiracy.” Simultaneously the Supreme Court judgement of Lady Chatterley as obscene also, has, according to a clipping I read, from Times of India, “led many people to complain about the lewdness in the writings of many Bengali poets and novelists. Says Basu, “impossible to get any other job if one is lost.” The arrested five were tied and locked up for one or two days each. Utpal Basu was detained by police and questioned for five hours. I understand also that Sunil was questioned by police. As far as I know it is still not decided whether or not the police will actually prosecute, and that decision will depend on the support given to the younger writers by older established writers and like the cultural groups Indian Congress For Cultural Freedom. Everyone I hear from has said that the Congress for Cultural Freedom has not spoken up in any way. All told the situation, whether or not one approves of the literary quality of the texts, is much more threatening than I would gather from your letter. My own experience of the bureaucratic complications of police investigation in India — it is endless and Kafkian grimness — led me to a much less light-hearted view of the matter that yourself. As you may remember I was followed for months in Benares, visited by the police, threatened by Marxists, given a ten day quit India notice on vague charges of distributing obscene literature & corrupting the young. It took intervention by friends in Home Ministry in Delhi & a letter from Indian Consulate in New York to begin to straighten it out. So I have no confidence that a dismal legal process on literary matters once started, is so easily to be dismissed. Particularly where young apolitical inexperienced enthusiasts is concerned.
I do not agree with you at all in your evaluation as obscene & filthy the sentence :”Fuck the bastards of Gangshalik School of Poetry”. Not that I even know which school that is. But it is common literary parlance both in speech and public texts from cafes of Paris or Calcutta to old manifestos by Tristan Tzara. The style, the impetuousness, the slight edge of silly ill-will, the style of “Burn the Libraries”, an old charming XX Century literary cry. I do not really feel very “shocked” to hear that they let a lady show people her breasts in public. Do you seriously find that offensive ? I suppose it is a little bit against the law — of course they had a woman completely naked on the balcony last year of the Edinburgh Festival — brightest moment of the Fete I hear tell — Yes, certainly I do approve. However I did not think of it myself nor “promote” it from half way around the world. And I do not really think that mere publicity is the deepest motive one can find in such typical Dada actions. In that I think you are really doing them an injustice, however low you grade their literary productions. Because, after all there is considerable difference of opinion, as to the literary quality. Ferlinghetti, who does not know these writers, is publishing a self-translated section of writings by Malay, Sunil & basu in his City Lights Journal. The texts were collected by Mrs Bonnie Crown of the Asia Society, who found them as interesting as any translated texts she had been able to collect. The magazine KULCHUR here — which has considerable avantgarde circulation — also reprinted three of the manifestos in question ( on prose, poetry & politics ) earlier this year. This is independent of my correspondence with anyone.
In sum, what I do know, in translation of the poetry & manifestos of Malay & the other poets arrested or questioned by the police, was pleasing. So, despite half a world difference, and acknowledging your greater familiarity with the literature, I must claim my prerogative as poet and also as critic ( since I edited and acted as agent here for such unpublished writers as Kerouac & Burroughs & Artaud as well as several different schools of US poetry ) to stand by my intuition and say I do definitely see signs of modern life well expressed in their works. Not claiming they are geniuses or even great — simply that in certain precise areas expressing psychic dissatisfaction with their society, they do reflect well their thoughts, and reflect uniquely –their other contemporaries & seniors being more interested in classical piety or “sociological” mature formulations, Marxism, Humanism etc. I do not think it would be correct to term them Beatnik much less Beatnik imitators, since that is primarily a journalistic stereotype that never even fit the US supposed “Beatniks.”
Regarding the Congress for Cultural Freedom, I do stand by my fear that it is 1) possibly supported by Foundation funds connected with US government. 2 ) Less alert to dangers of suppression within the Western world and allies than within the Iron Curtain. In the US we have been all this year undergoing a seige of legal battles over stage works, books, movies, poetry etc. which has nearly crippled the public activity of avantguard. I contacted the US Committee for Cultural Freedom head Mr A. Beichman who said himself, the Congress is only a skeleton group in the US now inactive. And this year I had a contact John Hunt from New York to move the Congress to defend Olympia Press in Paris. This is a lag. My criticism was more just than you will allow, though overstated. OK Best Conscience.
Do you really insist that the Manifestos can NOT be classed as “Literature” & therefore it is not a literary repression problem ??? Really ?????????????????????????????????
I will write to the Paris Office as well as Mr Karnick. You must remember that the Russians denounce Brodsky and Yevtuchenko/Voznesensky as 3rd rate writers, worth no official attention. And I have heard that often enough about myself from US Police agencies.
( Allen Ginsberg was not aware, when he wrote this letter to Mr Ayyub that among the persons who complained to the Calcutta Police about the Hungry Generation movement was Mr Abu Sayeed Ayyub himself. )


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