In June 1965, Allen Ginsberg was interviewed by Thomas Clark for the Paris Review. Back then, to be interviewed by the Paris Review was a sign a writer had made the major league, joining the team of previous interviewees which included T. S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Truman Capote.
Ginsberg was known as a poet, a key figure in the Beat movement—alongside Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs—and for his collections Howl and other poems and KaddishThough then hitting middle age, Ginsberg had revolutionized poetry and was a countercultural icon to the generation that blossomed during the 1960s, as he spoke out against war, and in favor of drugs and free love.
During the Q&A with the Paris Review, Ginsberg was asked about his use of drugs, in particular hallucinogens. As a man who saw no bar on discussing any subject no matter how personal or intimate, Ginsberg said that on hallucinogens he had visions “of great scaly dragons in outer space they’re winding slowly and eating their own tails.”
Sometimes my skin and all the room seem sparkling with scales, and it’s all made out of serpent stuff. And as if the whole illusion of life were made of reptile dream.
Hallucinogenic experiences had been “states of consciousness that subjectively seem to be cosmic-ecstatic, or cosmic-demonic.” However, his tolerance to hallucinogens (“Lysergic acid, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin, ayahuasca.”) was badly reduced and he no longer enjoyed them.
I can’t stand them anymore, because something happened to me with them very similar to the Blake visions. After about thirty times, thirty-five times, I began getting monster vibrations again.
So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on again, if I feel more reassurance.
When the interview was published in the Spring 1966 issue of Paris Review, Ginsberg wrote a letter to journal giving as footnote to the interview his regret over the “unedited ambivalence” to LSD and his endorsement for the drug.
June 2, 1966
To readers of Paris Review:
Re LSD, Psylocibin [sic], etc., Paris Review #37 p. 46: “So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on occasion, if I feel more reassurance.”
Between occasion of interview with Thomas Clark June ’65 and publication May ’66 more reassurance came. I tried small doses of LSD twice in secluded tree and ocean cliff haven at Big Sur. No monster vibration, no snake universe hallucinations. Many tiny jeweled violet flowers along the path of a living brook that looked like Blake’s illustration for a canal in grassy Eden: huge Pacific watery shore, Orlovsky dancing naked like Shiva long-haired before giant green waves, titanic cliffs that Wordsworth mentioned in his own Sublime, great yellow sun veiled with mist hanging over the planet’s oceanic horizon. No harm. President Johnson that day went into the Valley of Shadow operating room because of his gall bladder & Berkley’s Vietnam Day Committee was preparing anxious manifestoes for our march toward Oakland police and Hell’s Angels. Realizing that more vile words from me would send out physical vibrations into the atmosphere that might curse poor Johnson’s flesh and further unbalance his soul, I knelt on the sand surrounded by masses of green bulb-headed Kelp vegetable-snake undersea beings washed up by last night’s tempest, and prayed for the President’s tranquil health. Since there has been so much legislative mis-comprehension of the LSD boon I regret that my unedited ambivalence in Thomas Clark’s tape transcript interview was published wanting this footnote.
Your obedient servant
Allen Ginsberg, aetat 40
The letter was thought long lost somewhere deep in the Paris Review archives, but when it was recently re-discovered, the journal published it along with the following erratum:
The Paris Review regrets the error. May the record hereafter reflect Allen Ginsberg’s unequivocal endorsement of lysergic acid diethylamide.
Below Ginsberg reads William Buckley a poem written under the influence of LSD.
Via the Paris Review