Snakeskin rarely does reviews, but when we were offered the chance to watch a DVD of Allen Ginsberg reading in London's Heaven nightclub in 1995, we just couldn't resist.


The picture is bootleg quality, and sometimes one has to strain to hear the words, but this is a terrific document, showing the old maestro in his later days, deeply enjoying the chance to send his poems and chants into a big hall packed with adoring fans.

This is performance poetry. He basks in the applause of his disciples like a serene gnome, playing his squeeze-box and chanting for all he's worth, and singing his own words to the Internationale and Amazing Grace. The delivery is so-so rather than stunning, but that doesn't matter. The reading is an event, and the audience thrills to the fact that a legend, a myth, a monster, sits bodily amongst them.

He knows he is among friends. They will applaud his political simplicities; they will be titillated by his paeans in praise of gay sex; they will forgive him anything, even poetry.

Is he a good poet? Don't ask the question. He is a star, and as with, say, Byron, star quality transcends many a limitation. There are two ways to be important as a poet. One is to write perfect work; the other is to live an exemplary life, and to let the quality of that life glow through the verses.

Ginsberg was a hero for poetry. In a time of academicism, he took poetry out of the textbooks and into the chaos of life. He did not devote his life to producing neat stanzas that would conveniently fill a gap on a magazine page. His best poems sprawl, unkempt as weeds, threatening our neat suburban gardens.

This DVD shows a man whose battles are over, a grand old man enjoying himself. Serenely ignoring an unfunny drunk heckler, leading the audience in a mystic chant, he is sublimely himself.

Ginsberg stood for a lot of things I distrust. I'm especially bothered by his touristy way with religion - the way he cherry-picked the tastier bits of exotic faiths, and mixed them into his own woozy-mystical mixture of user-friendly vague uplift.

But watch this DVD and you have to admit the old boy had something special. It's a collector's item.

George Simmers

The DVD is available from HMV and other record shops, or from, a site that will give you full details.