The Poetry of Allen Ginsberg

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11520

Gen X, Gen Y, The Greatest Generation. There have been all kinds of generations, but the Beat Generation of the 50s was a protest movement. Learn to write a realistic Beat poem and see how it feels!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Watch this short clip from White Horse Pictures where Ginsberg defines poetry.

Allen Ginsberg on Poetry - No Direction Home: Bob Dylan

  • Do you agree with his definition? Why or why not?

Allen Ginsberg, 1979

Image by Hans van Dijk [cropped], via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Allen Ginsberg was a member of the mid-twentieth century cultural movement known as the Beat Generation.

His poetry broke with traditional poetical themes and structures to embrace new forms of writing that captured the changes in American society after World War II. Ginsberg's childhood as the son of parents who were involved in the literary counterculture of the 1920s helped shape his future career as a poet representing the counterculture of the 1950s.

To learn more about Allen Ginsberg's life, read Allen Ginsberg, from As you read, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  • What skills did Ginsberg develop as a result of having a mother with mental health issues?
  • Who were two of Ginsberg's literary influences during his adolescence?
  • Which future members of the Beat movement did Ginsberg meet in college?
  • What was Ginsberg's "Blake vision" and why was it important to the development of his poetry?
  • Why was Ginsberg's first book of poetry banned?
  • What was one social or political cause that Ginsberg championed in his later years?

When you have finished reading the biography and answering the questions, discuss your responses with your parent or teacher.

As you learned about Ginsberg's background, you read briefly about Ginsberg's involvement in the Beat movement, which was also known as the Beat Generation. In the 1950s, Beat poets were often considered shocking because they chose to address everyday topics, including some that were considered taboo in the media. For example, when Lucille Ball was pregnant during her 1950s television series, I Love Lucy, many people thought it was controversial for her to make her character on the show pregnant as well. In fact, Ball never used the word "pregnant" on the television show because it was a taboo word for television at the time!

To discover more about the Beat Generation and characteristics of the Beat movement, watch What is BEAT GENERATION? What does BEAT GENERATION mean? BEAT GENERATION meaning & explanation from Audiopedia and read Beat movement, from Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. As you watch the video and read the article, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper:

  • When did the Beat movement occur?
  • What were two influential Beat publications?
  • In which cities was much of the Beat movement located?
  • What later movement adopted many of the values of the Beat Generation?
  • How did members of the Beat Movement express their differences from traditional society?
  • What was a primary goal of Beat poetry?
  • What structure did Beat poetry use? Why?

After recording your answers to the questions, discuss your responses with your parent or teacher.

  • Based on your understanding of the Beat movement, do you think the Beat poets were popular with mainstream society during the 1950s? Why or why not?

Now that you've learned about Ginsberg's biography and the Beat Generation, you can move on to the Got It? section to read two Ginsberg poems.

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