Allen Ginsberg - Live in London

DVD reviewed by Peter Howard


On 19th October, 1995 Allen Ginsberg gave a poetry reading at Heaven nightclub in Charing Cross, London. Steve Teers was there and captured the performance on his Hi 8 camera. This has now been transferred to DVD and is a fascinating record of Ginsberg's last public reading in the UK.

Ginsberg reads, sings, and sometimes accompanies himself on accordion. His infectious humour comes across well, though the blistering passion one might have expected is somewhat muted. Many of his poems can't properly be appreciated on the page, but come alive when he performs them. 'Hum Bom!' and 'Put Down Your Cigarette Rag' are good examples. Ginsberg reads two selections of 'American Sentences' (17 syllable poems, a bit like haiku, but written on one line), some written in the 80s and others in the 90s. Even here, where the images are accessible from the page, the poems are given extra brightness and clarity by the inflection Ginsberg puts on them.

It has to be said that the technical quality of the film leaves something to be desired. The sound quality is rather muddy, and it can sometimes be hard to make out the words. Towards the end, someone near the camera's microphone has obviously sunk enough beer to consider himself witty: you may consider his interjections add to the atmosphere, I suppose. The transfer to DVD is strictly no frills; there are a few track divisions, but these seem to be randomly placed. Pressing the Next Track button may skip several poems, or take you into the middle of one. So trying to replay a favourite poem is a bit of a pain.

Despite these technical frustrations, the DVD is riveting. If you've not seen a Ginsberg performance it will give you a new insight into his poetry. The DVD is available from HMV and other DVD stores, price 15.99 or visit http://www.allenginsbergdvd.com

Poems on the DVD

  • Tibetan Invocation
  • Maturity - Highlights
  • American Sentences
  • Written in my Dream by William Carlos Williams
  • Sphincter
  • London Dream Doors
  • Fifth Internationale
  • Personals Ad
  • Proclamation
  • Elephant in the Meditation Hall
  • Hum Bom! - the anti-war poem
  • Put Down Your Cigarette Rag
  • Autumn Leaves
  • American Sentences
  • New Stanzas for Amazing Grace
  • After the Party
  • These Knowing Age
  • C'mon Pigs of Western Civilization, Eat More Grease!
  • Excrement
  • Songs of Innocence - The Nurse's Song (by William Blake)

    For further information on Allen Ginsberg go to http://www.allenginsberg.org