Allen Ginsberg lived in Berkeley from September 1955 until August 1956. I have written about his time here, but, until Labor Day weekend, I had not seen photographs of the cottage he rented behind 1624 Milvia. I now have five photos of the cottage, thanks to Dennis Starleaf, who rented the cottage a few years after Ginsberg.
Jack Kerouac described the place as a “rose-covered cottage.” He wrote: “The old rotten porch slanted forward to the ground, among vines, with a nice old rocking chair that I sat in every morning to read my Diamond Sutra. The yard was full of tomato plants about to ripen, and mint, mint, everything smelling of mint, and one fine old tree that I loved to sit under and meditate on those cool perfect starry California October nights unmatched anywhere in the world.”
Ginsberg wrote “A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley” about the place, impressed more with “bramble blackberries” on the fence than the mint
. The one fine old tree mentioned by Kerouac is possibly the tree “with its rotten old apricots” mentioned by Ginsberg. Ginsberg also started his poem “America” while in Berkeley. In it he writes of reading Time magazine in “the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.” He wrote “A Supermarket in California” on Milvia.
In 1956, Cal literature professor Thomas Parkinson organized a reading of “Howl” at the Town Hall Theater at 2787 Shattuck (now home to Sconehenge), five months after his first reading of the poem at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. For the first time, Ginsberg read all three parts of “Howl.” At the Six Gallery reading, Ginsberg had only finished Part I and only read Part I. In the intervening months, he finished the poem, working in his cottage on Milvia and at Caffe Med on Telegraph. In “Howl” Ginsberg wrote of “the door of my cottage in the Western night.” This is believed to have been the Milvia cottage.
Ginsberg wrote that the theater was “festooned with Chinese brush orgy drawings by Robert LaVigne.” Kenneth Rexroth was the master of ceremonies. Poets Gary Snyder, Michael McClure and Philip Whalen shared the stage with Ginsberg. Ginsberg read “Howl,” “America,” “Sunflower Sutra,” and “A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley.” The earliest known recording of “Howl” is from that March 18 Berkeley reading.
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