carl-solomon

Howl (Act III)

Carl Solomon! I’m with you in Rockland
where you’re madder than I am

I’m with you in Rockland
where you must feel strange

I’m with you in Rockland
where you imitate the shade of my mother

I’m with you in Rockland
where you’ve murdered your twelve secretaries

I’m with you in Rockland
where you laugh at this invisible humour

I’m with you in Rockland
where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter

I’m with you in Rockland
where your condition has become serious and is reported on the radio

I’m with you in Rockland
where the faculties of the skull no longer admit the worms of the senses

I’m with you in Rockland
where you drink the tea of the breasts of the spinsters of Utica

I’m with you in Rockland
where you pun on the bodies of your nurses the harpies of the Bronx

I’m with you in Rockland
where you scream in a straightjacket that you’re losing the game of actual pingpong of the abyss

I’m with you in Rockland
where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul is innocent and immortal it should never die ungodly in an armed madhouse

I’m with you in Rockland
where fifty more shocks will never return your soul to its body again from its pilgrimage to a cross in the void

I’m with you in Rockland
where you accuse your doctors of insanity and plot the Hebrew socialist revolution against the fascist national Golgotha

I’m with you in Rockland
where you will split the heavens of Long Island and resurrect your living human Jesus from the superhuman tomb

I’m with you in Rockland
where there are twentyfive thousand mad comrades all together singing the final stanzas of the Internationale

I’m with you in Rockland
where we hug and kiss the United States under our bedsheets the United States that coughs all night and won’t let us sleep

I’m with you in Rockland
where we wake up electrified out of the coma by our own souls’ airplanes roaring over the roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the hospital illuminates itself imaginary walls collapse O skinny legions run outside O starry-spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here O victory forget your underwear we’re free

I’m with you in Rockland
in my dreams you walk dripping from a sea-journey on the highway across America in tears to the door of my cottage in the Western night

—  Allen Ginsberg

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Elise Cowen and Allen Ginsberg

Born to a middle class Jewish family in Washington Heights, New York, Elise Cowen wrote poetry from a young age, influenced by the works of Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Dylan Thomas. While attending Barnard College in the early 1950s, she became friends with Joyce Johnson (at the time, Joyce Glassman). It was during this period that she was introduced to Ginsberg by philosophy professor Donald Cook. The two discovered a mutual acquaintance in Carl Solomon, whom they had both met while spending time separately in a mental hospital. A romantic involvement followed in the spring and summer of 1953. However, within a year, Ginsberg would meet and fall in love with Peter Orlovsky. Despite this, Cowen remained emotionally attached to Ginsberg for the rest of her life.

In February 1956, she and her lover Sheila (a pseudonym) moved into an apartment with Ginsberg and Orlovsky. At the time Cowen had a job as a typist. She was fired and was removed from the office by the police. She later told her close friend Leo Skir that one of the officers hit her in the stomach. When informed she had been arrested, her father said, “This will kill your mother.” She then moved to San Francisco, attracted by its growing Beat scene. While in San Francisco, Cowen became pregnant and underwent a hysterectomy during a late-stage abortion. She returned to New York, and after another trip to California, she relocated to live in Manhattan. A lifelong battle with depression, Elise  committed suicide in 1962.

After her death, the bulk of her writings was destroyed by her parents’ neighbours — as a favour to the parents, who were uneasy with Cowen’s representations of sexuality and drug use in the poems. However, Leo Skir, a close friend, had 83 of her poems in his possession at the time of her death, and saw to the publication of several in prominent literary journals of the mid-1960’s, including City Lights Journal; El Corno Emplumado; Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts; The Ladder; and Things. A short biography and several of her poems are included in Women of the Beat Generation: Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution, edited by Brenda Knight. Several of her poems also appear in A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation, edited by Richard Peabody. Cowen features prominently in Joyce Johnson’s memoir, Minor Characters and in Johnson’s novel (as the character Kay), Come and Join the Dance.

Two years younger than Allen, Solomon boasted of experiences Allen could only imagine. A brilliant student, Solomon had skipped four grades in public school and had attended a high school for the academically gifted. At fifteen, he had entered the City College of New York and joined a Marxist organization called the American Youth for Democracy. Two years later, in 1945, he joined the merchant marine, and he spent the next couple of years alternating his time between the merchant marine and school. In 1947, while stationed in France, he left his ship and attended a reading given by French Surrealist writer Antonin Artaud, gaining an appreciation for Artaud’s literature, as well as his distrust in any form of psychiatry….Fascinated by the idea of gratuitous crime, and prompted by an almost suicidal nihilism, he stole a peanut butter sandwich from Brooklyn College cafeteria and showed it to a policeman, hoping his actions would land him in a mental institution….
—  Michael Schumacher on Carl Solomon