Allen Ginsberg’s Penis has been wildly popular for Issue 4 of FTLR, so we sat down with Poet Ben Goluboff and asked him why.
Benjamin Goluboff teaches English at Lake Forest College. Aside from a modest list of scholarly publications, he has placed imaginative work — poetry, fiction, and essays — in numerous small-press journals, most recently Prick of the Spindle and War Literature and the Arts. Some of his work can be read at www.lakeforest.edu/academics/faculty/goluboff/
4TLR: Allen Ginsberg’s Penis has been a very popular poem on 4Ties and while gag or racy work always gets attention this poem is more than just that. From your point of view as an author, what do you feel you were trying to communicate to your audience?
BG: Last year I wrote a suite of seven poems about photographs of or by Allen Ginsberg. “A.G.’s P” is an overture to those poems that gestures to the contradictions in Ginsberg’s character which the suite develops: Ginsberg as artist and freak, holy man, and narcissist.
4TLR: Often humorous poetry gets dismissed as less serious and therefore less worthy of critical consideration. What’s your response?
BG: You’re absolutely right. If a poem is funny, we patronize it as Light Verse . But there are a lot of great poems, poems with moral weight, that also make us laugh: A.E. Housman’s “Terence, this is Stupid Stuff,” Larkin’s “This Be the Verse,” — “The Waste Land,” for crying out loud.
4TLR: Many of your poems create an air or setting that can be almost palpable. I’m thinking of the apartment scene in Allen Ginsberg’s Penis and the opening lines of In Old Age Ho Chi Minh listens to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band, published with MisfitMagazie.net. It would seem like careful word choice is the key to achieving this effect but what else goes into making these craft choices?
BG: You’re kind to say so. Yes, I think it’s a lot like lying. I’m always telling my children that to be a really first-rate liar, you need to mix a little truth in with the lie — the salient detail that gives credibility to the fabrication.
4TLR: You’re a Professor at Lake Forest College, with all the demands of teaching, department and institution responsibilities, we hope you have time for a home life and of course there’s your writing. How do you find time for it all? How do you keep your life balanced?
BG: Plenty of home life: we’ve got 4 kids. The truth is I don’t have a lot of balance in my life. I do everything too fast, everything by halves, and I don’t get a lot of sleep.
4TLR: Can you tell us about your writing routine?
BG: Perhaps the only distinctive thing about my writing routine is the role played in it by my wife, Cat Hermes, whom you were good enough to feature, on the 4Ties site, reading “A.G.’s P.” A professional actor and trained speaker of verse, Cat recites everything I write, once it reaches a solid second draft, in various accents and character-voices. This is very useful for working on a poem’s sound and speakability, and very gratifying to my deep narcissism.
4TLR: What are you reading right now?
BG: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World and Me, and Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians.
4TLR: Where can our audience find more of your work?
BG: People can read a good deal of what I’ve written at my not quite up-to-date faculty page:
4TLR: What upcoming projects are you working on?
BG: A poem about Siegfried Sassoon, another that will be called “Guerilla Gardening,” and I’m in the earliest stages of an essay, occasioned by biking through Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, on the white gaze. That and grading a towering stack of Freshman papers.
Ben, thanks for your time and best wishes from 4Ties.