Beat poet Allen Ginsberg dies at 70

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The Independent Online
He once wrote that he had seen "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness; staring, hysterical, naked". Last night the poet Allen Ginsberg, whose angry verse epitomised America's beat generation was destroyed by a more mundane illness of liver cancer diagnosed just eight days ago.

The 70-year-old writer, who died "wholly at peace" surrounded by friends and family at his Manhattan apartment, worked to the last. He wrote about a dozen short poems on Wednesday. One of his last was entitled "On Fame and Death".

Ginsberg, who as a young man had intended to become a lawyer, instead became a founding member of the beatnik movement which included Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Neal Cassady. Disillusioned with conventional society, the group created a non-conformist literary subculture which shaped American music, politics and protests for over four decades.

A fierce critic of the Vietnam War and an outspoken advocate of gay rights, he believed that the role of poetry was to "provide spontaneous individual candour as distinct from manipulators and brainwash".

Notoriety came for Ginsberg after the publication of "Howl", an irreverent, graphic poem that dealt with his own homosexuality and Communist upbringing, at the height of the reactionary McCarthy era in 1956. Copies of Howl and other poems were seized by US Customs officials and his publisher was charged with producing an obscene book.

Ginsberg spent several days in a hospice after the liver cancer was diagnosed, but then decided he wanted to return home. "He was very energetic," Bill Morgan, his friend and archivist said. "He wore himself out talking to friends and writing poems. We never thought he would go so quickly."

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