Allen Ginsberg accepts the 1974 National Book Award in Poetry for The Fall of America: Poems of these States, 1965-1971

Ginsberg’s speech was delivered by his partner, Peter Orlovsky.

Poem book Fall of America is time capsule of personal national consciousness during American war-decay recorded 1965 to 1971. It includes one prophetic fragment, written on Speakers Platform of May 9, 1970 Washington D.C. Peace Protest Mobilization:

White sunshine on sweating skulls
Washington’s Monument pyramided high granite clouds
over a soul mass, children screaming in their brains on
quiet grass
(black man strapped hanging in blue denims from an earth
cross) –
Soul brightness under blue sky
Assembled before White House filled with mustached Germans
& police buttons, army telephones, CIA Buzzers, FBI bugs
Secret Service walkie-talkies, Intercom Squawkers to Narco
Fuzz & Florida Mafia Real Estate Speculators.
One hundred thousand bodies naked before an Iron Robot
Nixon’s brain Presidential cranium case spying thru binoculars
from the Paranoia Smog Factory’s East Wing.

Book here honored with public prize, best proclaim further prophetic foreboding that our United States is now the “fabled damned of nations” foretold by Walt Whitman a hundred years ago. The materialist brutality we have forced on ourselves & world is irrevocably visible in dictatorships our government has established thru South Central America, including deliberate wreckage of Chilean democracy. From Greece to Persia we have established police states, and throughout Indochina wreaked criminal mass murder on millions, subsidized opium dealing, destroyed land itself, imposed military tyranny both openly & secretly in Cambodia, Vietnam & Thailand.

Our quote “Defense of the free world” is an aggressive hypocrisy that has damaged the very plant’s chance of survival. Now we have spent thousands of billions on offensive War in decades, and half the world is starving for food. The reckoning has come now for America. 100 Billion goes to the War Department this year out of 300 Billion Budget. Our militarization has become so top heavy that there is no turning back from Military Tyranny. Police agencies have become so vast – National Security Agency alone the largest police bureaucracy in America yet its activities are almost unknown to all of us – that there is no turning back from computerized police state control of America.

Watergate is a froth on the swamp: impeachment of a living President does not remove the hundred Billion power of the Military nor the secret billion power of the police state apparatus. Any President who would try to curb power of the Military-police would be ruined or murdered.

So I take this occasion of publicity to call out the Fact: our military has practiced subversion of popular will abroad and can do so here if challenged, create situations of Chaos, take over the Nation by Military Coup, and proclaim itself Guardian over public order. And our vast police networks can, as they have in last decade, enforce that will on public and poet alike.

We have all contributed to this debacle with our aggression and self-righteousness, including myself. There is no longer any hope for the Salvation of America proclaimed by Jack Kerouac and others of our Beat Generation, aware and howling, weeping and singing Kaddish for the nation decades ago, “rejected yet confessing out the soul.” All we have to work from now is the vast empty quiet space of our own Consciousness. AH! AH! AH!

Alan Dugan accepts the 1962 National Book Award in Poetry for Poems

Alan Dugan read an acceptance poem instead of a speech


Always getting ready to go out
but never leaving, I looked out
at the developments of the day
from morning up to noon and down,
as the year went down to January,
the pit of the year, and then came up
again. “To take off,” I said,
“Always to leave,” mis-quoting Guillén,*
but I stayed in my paces and room
always getting ready to go out
but never leaving. Ah how I worked
for twenty years to send word out
to the day about my situation. Then
it sent back steamship tickets and
a hammer of images forged by deaths
and the idea of death, the cash savior.
“I have broken through,” I said
to the window for the last time,
and walked out on to the ocean and
Europe for an outside view of home.

* Editor’s Note: Dugan refers to Jorge Guillén, the Spanish poet, some of whose work he translated.

Robert Lowell accepts the 1960 National Book Award in Poetry for Life Studies

Last Monday when I was telephoning my editor for a little instruction and coaching for this speech, the secretary seemed reluctant to put my call through. “What Mr. Lowell?” she asked. “What firm does he belong to?” Bruised and blocked, I said, “None, I mean, your firm. I am one of your authors.” Then the telephone operator broke in with, “He says he is one of your orators.” It’s hard for an author to be an orator, and it is hard to find modest, memorable words to thank my judges and sponsors, all these various bookmen and booksellers. I am grateful for my award. I like to think that my book was a reasonable choice among several reasonable choices.

I am afraid that writing verse rather atrophies one’s faculties for communication. Our modern American poetry has a snarl on its hands. Something earth-shaking was started about fifty years ago by the generation of Eliot, Frost, and William Carlos Williams. We have had a run of poetry as inspired, and perhaps as important and sadly brief as that of Baudelaire and his successors, or that of the dying Roman Republic and early Empire. Two poetries are now competing, a cooked and a raw. The cooked, marvelously expert, often seems laboriously concocted to be tasted and digested by a graduate seminar. The raw, huge blood-dripping gobbets of unseasoned experience are dished up for midnight listeners. There is a poetry that can only be studied, and a poetry that can only be declaimed, a poetry of pedantry, and a poetry of scandal. I exaggerate, of course. Randall Jarrell has said that the modern world has destroyed the intelligent poet’s audience and given him students. James Baldwin has said that many of the beat writers are as inarticulate as our statesmen.

Writing is neither transport nor technique. My own owes everything to a few of our poets who have tried to write directly about what mattered to them, and yet to keep faith with their calling’s tricky, specialized, unpopular possibilities for good workmanship. When I finished Life Studies, I was left hanging on a question mark. I am still hanging there. I don’t know whether it is a death-rope or a life-line.

—Robert Lowell