The Summer of Love Turns 40

June 12, 2007 at 10:08 pm | Posted in Allen Ginsberg, Books, College Life, Culture, LIfe, Poetry, Reading, Summer of Love | 1 Comment

I was reading the Life section of USA Today last week Friday and there was an article about the summer of 1967, its impact, and how it is being celebrated in San Francisco as we speak. I don’t have much of an interest in the hippie movement or to the Summer of Love. As much as I love to camp, you’ll never find me in a commune or eating an entirely organic diet. I’m not big into poetry, psychedelic drugs, or psychedelic music. I guess you had to be there. Half of me wasn’t even a mature egg cell until 1971. I missed that train.

This is not to say that the generation involved with the late 1960s hasn’t had an impact on my life. A great many of my professors could very well have lived in the middle of Haight-Ashbury. My first adviser at Grand Valley State University was a Canadian who wished he was an American hippie. He went without shoes whenever possible. Cool, right? Nope. Who really needs an adviser who, during our first meeting, provided me “support” by offering to help me apply for food stamps? Perhaps he was trying to use some weird form of psychology on me and it may have worked. The very next day I switched my major from poly-sci to English.

Overall, their influences were positive. I count reading and enjoying Ulysses as one of the great accomplishments in my life. I would never have had the awesome experience I had with James Joyce without Dr. Susan Swartzlander. I don’t think that an older professor could have been as passionate about it the way that she was. I can’t tell you how sophisticated I felt to be invited to her home to eat hors devours and watch The Dead. She will always be my favorite professor. No one ever made me want to learn the way she did.

My only personal experience with the Summer of Love came about because of one of my English professors. I hate to admit that I cannot remember his name, but he made us read Howl by Allen Ginsberg. I can honestly say that I had never in my life read anything quite like that. To a young, inexperienced Catholic girl from the Midwest, he was simply scandalous. Reading his poetry made me feel uncomfortable. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I was drawn to its taboo much like a moth to the flame. During the following semester, I learned that he was giving reading at the Fountain Street Church. I brought with my sister, Donielle, saying that it would be a cultural experience for her. Really, I just didn’t dare go by myself. It was incredible. During those 90 minutes or so, his writing and his world came alive. It is the only time in my life that I ever enjoyed poetry. More than that, I got lost inside of it. I doubt that I’ll ever have such an experience with poetry again. What I experienced was Ginsberg’s writing within his sphere. It was expressed through his charisma, persona, and stage presence. There will never be another Allen Ginsberg. I am so happy to have been in that church with him. My only regret is that I didn’t have the courage to walk up to him after the reading and ask him to sign my copy of Howl.

In celebration of this 40th anniversary summer, I’ll call Donielle and reminisce about that experience that we shared. It’s one of my favorite memories with her. Then, I think I’ll reread Howl while drinking an adult beverage with The Doors playing in the background. I still have the unsigned copy that I slipped into my warm winter coat that frigid February night. Here’s to you, Allen Ginsberg. I hope that you are now enjoying one eternal and warm summer of love.

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  1. there’s a summer of love exhibit at the whitney museum in nyc right now and i can’t wait to check it out!!

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