Sullivan will make Ginsberg's mirror a window

The Enterprise — Lisa Nicole Lindsay

Looking like Walt Whitman, Dennis Sullivan speaks about Allen Ginsberg, a Beat poet Sullivan admires. A photo of Ginsberg that Sullivan took sits in a frame on a table to his right. Sullivan’s porch is filled with wicker furniture — one chair and the couch have seat cushions with winter scenes on them — and a stack of books of Ginsberg’s poetry balances on Sullivan’s leg and an adjacent stool. Sullivan, a poet himself, will be hosting a Wednesday Evening Poesy Café on Ginsberg at the Voorheesville Public Library on Sept. 17.

VOORHEESVILLE — Dennis Sullivan read “Howl” as an adolescent and never forgot it.

On Oct. 7, 1955, Allen Ginsberg read his poem in San Francisco, and people hadn’t heard anything like it before.

“It was a howl for people who were lost,” Sullivan said. “And I guess I, in my adolescence, was one of those people,” he continued.

Sullivan, a poet himself, describes Ginsberg as part of what he calls his literary ancestry. Ancestry is most often thought about as just where your parents and grandparents came from and what their nationalities are, Sullivan said, but people also have a literary or spiritual ancestry that describes what they believe in and stand for, sometimes through a popular culture icon.

“Lady GaGa. I like her; I get a kick out of her,” Sullivan said. “But I don’t know if kids would say she’s a part of their literary ancestry.”

Sullivan, who has written a book about his own family’s biological and spiritual ancestry, encourages people to explore their inner and personal histories and find out the values they hold, and that their predecessors held.

He will be entertaining these ideas and others as he hosts a Poesy Café at the Voorheesville Public Library on Sept. 17. He wants his guests to be prepared.

To that end, he’s left copies of an in-depth paper he wrote on Ginsberg at the library, which people can borrow.

Sullivan wrote the paper as part of a dedicated group that holds regular seminars.

“The poetry scene in this area is very good,” Sullivan said. “It’s hot.”

Sullivan’s poetry group is a serious one — not just for reading through poems and discussing themes or styles, but for digging deep into the poem and its author to glean something larger from them.

At the library event, the atmosphere will be relaxed, and function like a 19th-Century salon, Sullivan said, with drinks and snacks.

In Sullivan’s paper on Ginsberg, he discusses Ginsberg’s life in relation to his poems, and how he took the world around him and turned it into art.

“It was like a movie camera for him,” Sullivan said of Ginsberg keeping journal entries about his surroundings. “And he would cull footage out of that,” and turn it into poems.

Sullivan wants to share Ginsberg with the community because “he has something to say to people today — adults and young people,” he said.

Ginsberg wanted his work to be a “model for expression of the self in meaningful ways,” and how to take the private self and make it public, Sullivan said.

“I think people could learn from that,” he continued.

Much of Ginsberg’s poetry rails against what Sullivan describes as the “military-industrial complex” of America and fighting against the “military war machine,” which Sullivan also believes makes Ginsberg relevant today.

Sullivan became interested in Ginsberg about 50 years ago, when he was in his 20s. Sullivan is now 74 years old; Ginsberg died in 1997.

“He was a great truth-teller,” Sullivan said of Ginsberg.

Sullivan, who has written several collections of poetry, believes there is a difference between what a full-time dedicated poet produces and what someone who regards poetry as a hobby produces.                  

Hobby-poets write what he calls “fetish poems,” poems completely about the writer that never go beyond the self, with no room for anyone else.

However, that doesn’t mean Sullivan is thinking about the reader while writing; the audience never comes into play for him.

He writes when “the spirit hits [him],” he said, following a Ginsberg saying that “the first thought is the best thought.”

“The only great treason in life,” Sullivan said, “is not being true to the gift that you are asked to be a steward of.”

He believes Ginsberg’s poetry gives people a guide by which they can find the self they are supposed to be.

“Lots of people never live the life of who they were meant to be,” Sullivan said. Many people say they have another self that they could never speak about, but Ginsberg would say that you must speak about that self, he continued.

Ginsberg, who was a homosexual, expressed his true inner self through his poems. Since homosexuality was particularly disdained in the time he was living and writing, truly and meaningfully expressing himself was a struggle for Ginsberg.

In his poetry, he also dealt with the loss of his childhood, during which he spent the majority of his time caring for his mentally ill mother. Later, after she died, he wrote poems about her, allowing him to deal with and parse his feelings.

“I hope people in the community can see themselves in Ginsberg,” Sullivan said. “He becomes a mirror in a way.”

“In the really good poetry, the mirror becomes a window,” he continued, “and you can see your future reality.”

Sullivan describes poetry as a way to go back and re-digest feelings and experiences.

“The poem that you read, that’s the after-life,” Sullivan said. “The real poem is the experience itself.”


The Wednesday Evening Posey Café will be held on Sept. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Voorheesville Public Library. The program will include a brief lecture and short video as well as a discussion with a question-and-answer session. Anyone who is interested may register at the library where he or she can pick up a copy of Dennis Sullivan’s paper, which includes selected poems by Allen Ginsberg.



More New Scotland News