South American Journals: January–July 1960

Univ. of Minnesota. Nov. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9780816699612. $29.95. LIT
Ably edited by Schumacher (Dharma Lion: A Biography of Allen Ginsberg), this second in a series of three projected volumes of Ginsberg’s unpublished travel journals covers the poet’s trip to South America from January to July, 1960. The entries include descriptions of Ginsberg’s adventures in Chile and Peru, his climb of Machu Picchu, his experiments with mind-altering drugs, and a record of his dreams. At the youthful age of 33, Ginsberg is obsessed with his mortality, struggling to come to terms with the meaning of life and the nature of the “Great Being.” Awake and asleep, he encounters memento mori that serve to reinforce his fixation, culminating in a series of visions resulting from encounters with the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca, or yage—experiences later recounted in The Yage Letters, coauthored with William S. Burroughs. The journal also features previously unpublished poetry, as well as first drafts of a few published poems, including “Magic Psalm”; a selection of drawings and photos; and two letters that provide a wider context: one to Ginsberg’s father, Louis, and another to his partner, Peter Orlovsky.
VERDICT Copious and valuable source material provide students and scholars with noteworthy and new information about the poet. Those interested in the relationship between Eros and Thanatos in Ginsberg’s life and work will be especially rewarded.
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