Huncke Blog

Allen Ginsberg to Herbert Huncke—Dec 5, 1965

In the process of transcribing this letter.  Transcription (so far) below the scans.  Need help deciphering Allen's handwriting—if you can make out any of the missing text please leave in the comments or email us at:  . . .  Thanks in advance.   —Ed. (Transcribed by JP.)

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Dec 5, 1965

c/o City Lights

261 Columbus Ave.


Dear Herbie—

Everything here building toward more harmony, hints and scattered glimpses of the last 2 decades now becoming more manifest and natural making a continuity of high awareness & a public community emerging each person contributing his own privately experienced unthought-of discovery of light/unity/self nature to the common outer world by action or talk or song or print & the Theme of all we envision begins a show up in bookstores and airwaves and even on the hats of kids in Gas Stations.  I begin to feel the societal meanness and pain—like the China war—as just fear & suffering which grows acute because changes are coming on so fast one after another—things unthinkable 10 years ago our Word spread ­­­­________, like I’m bald _____, or astronauts with long hair soon, or the Eve of Destruction broadcast to teenage  _____ ears, or Dylan’s mysterious spirit speak, or Russia turning young again, or sexual blackout for teenagers _________ with highschool kid flashlights on Cancer lunch under the covers or on the bedstead, Hell’s angels high on LSD listening to Kosmos-is-Maya songs chanted to them/as if it were all pre-arranged by universe-Cinemascope in Deja-Vu, movies of World’s end Apocalypse or ____ Buck Rogers space universe coming true scene by _____ . Anyway seeing your Blue First Edition Journal Cover unexpectedly in City Lights was like seeing a __________ or climbing a snowy mountain & reaching clear rock peaks & sitting down to look at the blue earth-gas in panorama low land valley floors & wondering how it could be so that this big heavy mountain was finally climbed to its crag top since when we began way down below looking up at a real earth-god big mountain such as there were ______ library pictures of in Junior High School.




Your own book is the most interesting new truthful word text I’ve read in recent year-era. You can’t imagine how awesome it is, how helpful, how magically ____________ on our same life as I know it, that what seemed real drops ___________ and is here now for good.  Once you completely manifest your self in these detailed fragments,- and the world has you out front like a big ________-rock you can actually see & point out & look at up close.


What’s Truthful in the book is that it is a writing that’s by itself, for god knows who, which makes it raw (not like most art objects) nature, a part of life itself like an uncle fireside story told so the family could know really who felt what in Newark some recent years.  It feels Truthful, the truth being an accurate record of you, a close version of whatever you know you are, close enough to be identical with your self-thought and inside noticing of all the ____________, written the only way it comes out without trying to “improve” your real nature’s image by calculated rearrangement of your story – So it is like nature of things.


I keep getting glimpses of that, like recognitions of the actual scene as we know it so familiar but rare




in conscious reflection and rarer in permanent writ-memory.


What I mean is your original self as I’ve always ______________ it to be, is the same as the way the book is; and the closeness between your nature and your written version of what you’re minded of, as a rare thing in art (somehow not many people can come up with that simple such -______ prose or poetry) and is absolutely precious vital social serum against the effects of mass-bulk false (like mis-comprehending ______ -interpreting _____-reporting mis-taking) word products wholesale broadcast ________ an hour in everybody’s consciousness.


I’m meaning to say, one straight record like Cuba or In the Park or Youth to take the most obvious, (or old Elsie)—one straight account like that is so recognizably true to what life is, and true to what everybody’s natural sympathy feels like – true events what one time or other at least, everybody has experience in his own scene—true to everybody’s inside knowledge—that it has the effect of waking or reaffirming that sleeping or timid self-recognition—and (offhand or incomplete, or dubiously or hastily jotted as  you may have felt them to be during or after writing, unsatisfactory) because it does so clearly show




some real, native, undisguised Self to any reader’s obscure inward self, that it can cut thru all the illusions of prejudice identity opinion – cut thru millions of copies of official Time_______digest righteous viewpoint language – and touch the actual huge nature underneath even the worst Heat in the long run – and bring lost people back to them selves, back home to the original feeling for life.


Now all this I guess is really obvious to you, I’m only scribbling to you at such length the same repeated thought because (maybe out of some lack of confidence in your efforts) you always do say when low down that maybe your writings have no real value or function or purpose to yourself or anyone else for that matter, & why bother to publish them.  I’m trying to explain clearly what is the value function purpose to the whole central population organized nation community.  Which is now as you know so lost in the head it is like to be the end of the whole show. Or the mind can be clarified in us & we transmit that clarity as you do in the book and it will certainly have an effect on others; that will return to you in the long run too.




So the point is, you have good reason to do something now about the larger mss.  How many pages now 600?—and make an active effort to be sure all the scattered fragments are collected & arranged in some indicative order,

and maybe whatever lesser material there is (less lively) cut out,-- or better blue penciled in bulk returning only _______________ phrases & sentences that are lively & pure, linked with “. . . “ to show you ________ the background for the gems.  That’s easiest most natural way, Williams recommended it – (if a poem has only 2 good lines, get rid of the poem & publish the 2 lines, there’s no reason a poem should be look finished or complete if too completion is shitty or unreal or just to make it look apparently complete.)  (he said & that s how I prepared mss. of empty _________, from masses of journal jottings I locked it down to those essential lines & fragments of writing that were interesting)—



The present Journals volume looks to me all high order writings.  Do the next of 600 p. mss the same as good?

I thought of the title Confessions years ago but don’t know now if it’s appropriate (I meant like St. Augustine’s or Rousseau’s  Confessions.)

Is the mss. ready to submit to a publisher? I won’t be back in N.Y. till Feb or March but no reason you or Eila or Clive or someone—Sanders perhaps—could not start circulating it. Perhaps try Grove first.  Ferlinghetti wants to see the mss. too.  You cold give him an hundred page book; and then arrange to have that & DiPrima’s volume __________ with the rest of the bulk by a hardcover N.Y. publisher in a year or 2 or just go directly to Fred Jordan at Grove Press; or Jason Epstein at Random House etc. etc.  I can send you more names & places but why not start there now?  Probably 3 or 4 will reject it before one finally can see in this book what it is.  If you do go to  Grove or Random, tell them I advised you to & show them this letter too if they need any convincing.

Please send me a card (before the week is out because I’m heaving here Dec 15) let me know what the status of the mss is.

(If you feel that there’s more editing to do, Irving Rosenthal is really handy at that if he’s willing. If publisher want to edit, better have it checked with Irving anyhow.)




Everything socially here is very dramatic and charming.  I see a lot of McClure, a lot of new young poetry & LSD and longhair anarchist boys, I’ve been active in the Berkeley Vietnam anti- War manifestations, mainly showing up, talking tranquilly to cool the Revolutionary Radical Righteous Hysteria freaks & singing peaceful Mantras (I’ve learned some new Zen ones from Snyder) on the parades to marchers & police both—Got in the middle of a ____________ Happening, the Hell’s Angels (genuinely anticommunist motives but all sensitive dumb paranoid) versus the marchers—now made friends both the Angels & cooled them out—sang mantras to them too—while Neal and friend novelist Ken Kesey turned them on to LSD—we had a big party 2 nites before the threatened riot scene & that (plus threat of state troops) cooled everything for peaceful communion march thru spade section of Oakland.

I see Neal all the time, he and Anne his love slave dearie stay over here in Julius’ bed several nites a week.  Neal has entered new space-age d__________ -- all his old energy still full steam but after 13 years railroad 2 ½ years jail and now divorced and years of _________ pot and then all the reincarnation spiritualist cult m______________ and several years of obsession with the racetrack where he lost about $10,000 -- and now several




years omnivorous absorption of amphets by mouth (“Jumpers” he says) and company with huge crowds of young Zonk-minded admirers, lovers of his legend, like, devotees of his energy & speed – he’s become a sort of fantastic _________________ talking (on 7 or 8 levels of s_______________ association) Teacher plus the fact that for 2 or 3 years he’s gone into the LSD mind too, also omnivorously more than ever Barbara Rubin & friends led—super expert master of Acid  & D or T etc—in company with a huge clownish utopian gang at house—commune in peninsula backroads woods of a novelist, friend Ken Kesey who is taken over appreciating h____ in his later phases as Jack once did—I think I told you or you heard about their big bus?  -- all painted psychedelic ultraviolet orange green blue covered now with swastikas and hammer sickles and U.S. Eagles & every conceivable identity emblem painted neatly along sides of bus – and they go on trips to Idaho or L.A. everybody on acid including Neal the super-driver (it’s on the road in a mad 60’s dimension) hallucinating the gas pedals turned to spaghetti, but able to find his way thru side phantom cockroaches & deliver everybody safely—him sweating & talking furiously with tape microphone hanging over his head in driver’s cab




and more cameras g________ and radio hooked to loudspeaker atop the bus (where 6 or 7 youths & maids dressed in red white blue striped sweatshirts & pants & grass)—and on this trip, said Neal the bus had no clutch, brake or reverse—he got all the way to Idaho and back, and thru a Calif. forest fire burning on both sides of the road.

Bob Dylan here a week & I see him everyday & talk about poesy & fame & Eden desolation—we may do something together, he produce a record of my mantras or a TV show or I act in a movie or who knows.

I wrote a lot poems, letters—and a huge first manifesto to end the bringdown on the subject of pot. Maybe we’ll break thru soon, I do think—on many levels—work hard—





Steven’s made a huge hundred foot scroll ilust. of Book of Dead—but he doth take too much speed & he is not in best (or worst) of health.



It is only out of desperation and at this point dire necessity – I find it possible to sell this letter.  Still since sell it I must—I can’t think of anyone I’d rather sell to.  Huncke

(Back of page 9 in small handwriting:)  Bought from Herbert Huncke April 5, 1966



photo by Anne Charters

photo by Anne Charters




3 Letters from Joan Burroughs to Jack Kerouac

February 28, 1950

Dear Jack,

It's been almost a month since Kells brought us your book—first one I've read in about four years (since Benzedrine).  Sincerest congratulations, especially on Huncke and Cliff and Poultney-cum-Brandenberg.

I deeply resent your making me Bill's sister, but we'll skip that.  Anyway I hope the book sells and sells.

Are you really planning to come to Mexico next month?  I think you'd like it here—at least it would be in remarkable contrast to N.Y.

My love to Allen and everybody,



July 9, 1951

Dear Jack,

Forgive me for reading your letter before forwarding it, but I was so instructed by Bill, who left a week ago on an exploratory trip to Panama and maybe Ecuador—exploratory and also mildly amatory—with an amiable kid from school here.  Mexico was becoming impossible, due to the intolerance and greed of Gobernacion, among other things, so Bill is going to case the situation further south and send for us when he settles somewhere.

As usual no one's plans mesh with any one's else.  I may be here in August, and if so have plenty of room for you—but I'm by no means sure.  Buill said he'd send for us in two or three weeks, which I doubt, but I can't tell you for sure that we'll be here through August.  I'll inform you of any developments, but that's how it stands right now.

Sorry about the troubles with your wife, publishers, etc.  I know a guy who's an astrologer, who says it's a beat year for everyone, if that's any comfort.

Received letters from Allen and I'm forwarding them.  Bill's manuscript is all loused up, unless he took a complete copy with him, but I'll do what I can to straighten it out and send it up.

Maybe we could all try Panama, Ecuador, or even Peru.  Write me when you change your address, so I can keep in touch with you.  Bill is now just c/o American Express, Panama City, Panama but maybe you should write to me and let me forward it, in case he goes elsewhere.




July 26, 1951

Dear Jack,

The latest on South America is that it's no good.  Quote from Quito—"Panama was godawful, and I have never been brought down by anyplace like Quito brings me down."  So they're coming back here, but first they're making a trip up-river, into the head shrinking country, to score for some strange Indian drugs.  Bill says this will take a month, so that probably means two or three.

Why don't you come down here anyway, if you have carfare?  We have a 3 room apartment, of which at present we use only one room, and there is one awful extra bed, Mexican size.  You should be able to eat and drink a little here for ten dollars a week.

It's pretty hard to get any kind of job here, for an American—against the law—but you might find some tutoring or something.  Also you might be able to get something with the News here.  Maybe Lucien could suggest some phony reference from his organization for you to show here.  Or there might be some work around the school—I don't know about that.

You didn't say whether Lucien was still planning to come down or not.  I forwarded your letter and his to Bill in Panama, but I don't believe he got them.  Don't know whether Bill plans to stay in Mexico, D.F. when and if he gets back from Ecuador with an unshrunk head, but I guess he wants to stay in this country, from the disenchanted reports he sends from South America.

There are still some fairly nice people around, although quite a few have finished their G.I. bills and gone back to the states, or been drafted.  I don't know any eligible girls at all—what most of the anthropology department did on arrival was to find some hardworking Mexican girl and set up housekeeping with her—some of the old timers have a couple of kids by now—and they seem pretty well satisfied.

Have you heard anything from Edie and her golf pro?

Hope to see both you and Lucien in a couple of weeks then.



Orizaba 210, #8

Mexico, D.F.


(via: New York Public Library—Archives & Manuscripts—The Jack Kerouac Papers 1920-1977—Transcribed by Jerome Poynton)



The man who set the Beats going

(reblogged from Tony O'Neill's post on Guardian Book Blog  August 2007.) 

Herbert Huncke is little remembered these days, but he set the template for the Beats in both art and life.

Recently, I was lucky enough to see a rough cut of Huncke and Louis, Laki Vazakas' documentary on Beat godfather Herbert Huncke. It's a truly powerful piece of filmmaking, and one that got me thinking about Huncke's neglected place in the Beat canon. The man whom William S Burroughs called "an actual genius", the man who introduced the Naked Lunch author to his greatest muse (opiates), the man who inspired Jack Kerouac to use the term "Beat" in the first place - he is too often the forgotten face of the Beat Generation. Hiss biography is a vivid one: a teenage runaway who landed in New York's Times Square in the late 30s and became a heroin addict, hustler, petty criminal - and writer.

Huncke lived to a ripe old age without ever applying the brakes. He supposedly turned up to his appointment at the methadone clinic the day after his 81st birthday, and tested positive for heroin, marijuana, cocaine, methadone and Valium. "Why did you do it?" his frustrated doctor demanded. "I've been doing it my whole life," Huncke replied. "Why can't you just let me be?"

Unfortunately - but perhaps unsurprisingly - Huncke's work often exists in the shadow of this lifestyle. As Laki Vazakas said to me when we discussed his work, "Many people are dogmatic about drug taking, and this has led to Huncke's unfair pigeonholing as 'Huncke the Junkie' or 'the Junkie Muse' [the second phrase lifted from Huncke's New York Times obituary], two terms which show more about the prejudices of those who said them than the quality of the man's writing."

Later developments in the Beat canon - William Burroughs's cut-ups and sexually charged surrealist sci-fi, Allen Ginsberg's epic poetry, and the automatic writing of Jack Kerouac - often seemed deliberately obtuse. But the earliest examples of Beat literature - the early novels of both Burroughs and Kerouac - were wonderful examples of clarity and focus. Queer was probably Burroughs's most emotionally naked writing, while On The Road can still be easily read and digested in a way that Visions Of Cody cannot. It is with these books that Huncke's writings should sit.

In his lifetime he produced four books, Huncke's Journal, Elsie John and Joey Martinez, The Evening Sun Turned Crimson and Guilty Of Everything. In each of these works he mined the field of autobiographical writing, but - like Burroughs in Junky, or Kerouac in On The Road - elevated the form into high art. He was also capable of truly beautiful prose:

"Lay out the binding gauze - row upon row - mix the jellied fluids. Cleanse the injectors - open sacks of formaldehyde - rubber tubings - red rubber gloves. Hone the scalpels. The first slice is important and should be clean and true. Basins to catch the freshets of red blood - soon to pale and turn pale hue - wads of cotton to stuff the asshole - the nostrils - puff the cheeks - fill out the hollows."

Huncke's real skill lies in the place were art and life meet. His lifestyle WAS his art: the drugs, the prostitution, the homelessness, the years spent in jail - it all bled onto the page and created a new kind of poetry. He was the American Genet: a man with one foot firmly in the criminal underworld and one in literature. When taken as a whole, his writings (collected in The Huncke Reader, 1997) provide a blueprint for the origins of the Beat Generation, the writers that would open up the world of literature to the poetry of the street. They also contain some of the most beautiful, vital and thrilling writing to come out of post-war America.

While academia still argues about the relative worth of the Beat canon, those of us who do not see literature as a butterfly to be pinned, mounted and left to rot in a display case know what we know. While the likes of Ginsberg and Kerouac were tied to an ideology that turned into the 60s movement - the idea that the world COULD be changed, that LSD, meditation, and free love could somehow topple the powers that be, it was Huncke, with his saint-like simplicity, who really hit the nail on the head. Raymond Foye recalls Herbert talking to him during the final weeks of his dizzying, exhilarating life, and musing: "I wish I could say I'd hit upon the answers to the great mysteries of life. But it doesn't make any more sense to me than it did on day one."


'Beat. Beat Dope. That Dope is Beat.'

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Some Photos from Hilary Holladay's recent reading/signing of 'American Hipster: A Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement' @ The Beat Museum & Alley Cat Bookstore in San Francisco.

This first bio is a great introduction to Huncke, highly recommended for those unfamiliar with his role within & influence on the Beat movement & particularly his relationship with the big three:  Burroughs, Ginsberg & Kerouac.

I'm surprised there hasn't been more buzz about this book - I suspect it might be due more to publisher malaise & distribution shortcomings rather than reflection on the book itself, which is definitely a worthy read.

If an author comes to SF to do a reading you would think that the publisher would at least make sure that City Lights had a copy or two of said author's book !  (They hadn't even heard of it !)  Damn, son !  


Has anyone read it yet ?  Interested in your feedback etc.



Particularly Little Jack

This blog & site is a work in progress - documenting the somewhat clumsy process of sorting through the archives of Herbert Huncke - by co-editors Jerry Poynton & Leslie Winer - & preparing Herbert's work for re-publication.  There is a mountain of material including archives from Stanford, Columbia & private papers, film, letters & various ephemera held in private collections.  This is That.

We'll post bits & pieces of what we're doing here - as well as some anecdotal material.  Requests for anything you might want to see taken.  Ask & we'll look for it.   & Please, if you have any stories or memories of Huncke feel free to leave them in the comments or you can contact us at




Allen Ginsberg:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

"In 1949 Ginsberg moved out of East Harlem and into downtown Manhattan where Herbert Huncke and several of his friends began storing stolen goods. The police raided the apartment and Ginsberg served eight months in the New York Psychiatric Hospital where he met Carl Solomon who offered further challenges to his convictions about poetry. Ginsberg continued to write the collection of poems later published in 1972 as The Gates of Wrath."


Dear Leslie,

This paragraph--it is amazing a university library would have this written in this way.  While it is true the Jack Melody, Vicki Russell, Herbert Huncke and Allen Ginsberg were storing goods in Allen's place--downtown from East Harlem--I believe East 68th, 58th Street--the implication here is way wrong.  ("downtown Manhattan," 58th Street?)

Allen was quite interested in Vickie and Little Jack.  (I suspect, particularly Little Jack.)

Allen participated as a look-out for heists and went off with Vickie and Little Jack, excluding Herbert, who was beginning to feel left out as the three of them would go out with out him. Herbert told me he was looking to move out because Allen had taken such a strong interest in Little Jack and Vickie, Herbert was beginning to feel like a fifth wheel.

The police arrived at Allen's door after Allen, Vickie, and Little Jack had, unsuccessfully, tried to run over a New York City motorcycle policeman who noticed Little Jack driving the wrong way on a one way street in Queens.

Taking pursuit, Little Jack flipped the car, making a fast turn.  Occupants fled.  The car had stolen goods in it, and Allen's notebooks.

Allen had been detailing his crime sprees in his notebooks. Burroughs learned of this and told Allen to get the notebooks out of the apartment. It was Allen's intent to bring the notebooks to a safe place.  This is what he was doing--taking goods to a "new" pawn shop and his notebooks to a safe house in Queens--when Little Jack screwed-up.

When the car flipped, Allen lost his glasses, fled with the others and left his notebooks which detailed the crimes and had Allen's contact information. This is how the police found Allen's apartment.  He left his address at the scene of the crime.

After Allen fled, he immediately phoned Herbert who was at the apartment.  Allen told Herbert to "clear the place out" as the cops would be arriving.

Herbert looked around and decided he could not singlehandedly clear the apartment out--there was a cigarette machine in the living room--and decided to make the place look as "neat" as possible.  (Herbert didn't know about the notebooks now in police hands.)

When the cops arrived, they were not interested in Herbert. He was not in the car that tried to run over one of New York finest. They almost didn't arrest him but did in the end because he was in the apartment.

Once at the station, they found Herbert had "a screamer" (arrest warrant) from Detroit.

Once in jail--Allen retreated to a corner of the cell, wept and began reciting Jewish prayers. Herbert told me he lost respect for Allen when he saw that.

Allen's brother, a lawyer, visited Herbert a few days later and asked Herbert if he would mind if they postpone the trial for as long as possible--as Allen's name as Columbia student--was blazed in the press. Herbert agreed.

Little Jack's mother was a mafia doyen in Brooklyn. Vickie Russell's father (I think this is true) was a Detroit judge. They were both released to their family. Allen was put in the psych ward for six months and Herbert sent to prison for five years.