Allen Ginsberg, Other Writers and Artists Bemoan Artistic “Licensing”


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March 26, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 23

City Puts Bomb Under Off-Beat Culture Scene

By Stephanie Gervis Harrington

The current zeal of the City’s Department of Licenses for the strict enforcement of licensing regulations against small avant-garde creative ventures has so far resulted in the temporary closing of three off-Broadway theatres, the suspension of poetry readings at Le Metro, and a general malaise among culturally minded New Yorkers as to what may be afoot. A spokesman for the License Department insists this recent chain of events that some fear is a crackdown on avant-garde culture is merely evidence that the Department has no intention of smothering New York’s artistic underground in a welter of red tape, by simply doing its duty it is offering the public an object lesson in the transforming-potential of creeping bureacratism.

Already poet Allen Ginsberg is talking like Jane Jacobs. Filmmaker Jonas Mekas is occupied with considerations of courtroom strategy, and Diane Di Prima and Allan Marlowe of the American Theatre for Poets are immersed in the technicalities of leases, restraining orders, and the legal differentiation between artistic and commercial programs.

The best minds of their generation are not being destroyed by madness but distracted by legal and political maneuvering. Ginsberg, who has taken the lead in organizing support for the right of poets to read their work at places like Le Metro, has certainly spent more time in the last few weeks conferring with lawyers, city administrators, and politicians than in writing poems. Not long back from a meditative sojourn on the Ganges, he now discusses city ordinances, legalities and political strategy with an exactness and expertness that would stagger the most formidable Village committee woman.

Le Metro, where poets like Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Paul Blackburn, Carol Berge, occasionally Gregory Corso used to gather regularly to read their work to each other, was served with a summons by the License Department a couple of months ago. The basis of the change was that by allowing the poetry readings, Le Metro, which only has a restaurant license, was acting like a coffee house without a coffee house license…

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