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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Author's nephew visits PC's Senior English Class

                                                             by Ashley Spencer '12

A lot of interesting things have been happing around PC this month! One of which was meeting Lyle Brooks, the nephew of Allen Ginsberg. Allen Ginsberg a literary pioneer, and Columbia grad is most widely known for his book Howl, as well as his role in the 60s Beat movement, although he had been most influential during the 1970s. The Beat generation is defined by the writers who battled against social conformity and government censorship. Lyle Brooks, his nephew, came in on Thursday May 3, to talk to Ms. Johnston’s and Mr. Schmidig’s senior honors English classes. We had the privilege of being the first people outside of the Ginsberg/Brooks family to see the family photos and home movies. Ms. Johnston and Mr. Brooks first came in contact through Ms. Johnston's blog, Channeling Jackie O, which chronicles her battle with Carcinod cancer.  Mr. Brooks wrote to Ms. Johnston to help his close friend Ashli McCall who was also suffering with the disease.
As senior's we study Ken Kesey's novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Having Mr. Brooks come in and speak to us was a great resource because it really brought what we were learning about the "Beat Movement" and its pioneers like his uncle, Allen Ginsberg, full circle.  The Ginsberg family emigrated from Russia to the United States and settled in Paterson, NJ. They come from a family of teachers, and poets. Lyle's father Eugene was actually an established poet in his own right. Their family grew up with conflicting family backgrounds. Ginsberg's nephew Lyle notes," with my father being an agnostic/atheist raised by Communists and socialists,  and my mother being the daughter of a long line of deeply religious Christian ministers, In some ways, it parallels my uncle's clash with America in the era that he came to fame with "Howl."
Mr. Brooks took the interview opportunity to clarify some misconceptions about his uncle. In reference to a comment about the term "Hippie", Mr. Brooks says," He wasn't a lazy, empty-headed, stoned, burnt-out flower child, but was highly educated, erudite and motivated.  People who have only a passing familiarity with him are often surprised at how coherent he is in interviews." Mr. Brooks is a lawyer who has had a long career in the New York legal system. He also taught legal writing and process at Hofstra Law School and New York Law School. Outside of the law, his real passion has been working with women suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a pregnancy-related disease which causes extreme nausea and vomiting, dehydration, and weight loss and can be life-threatening to both the mother and baby if not properly treated. He became involved because his friend Ashli McCall also suffered from hyperemesis and wrote a comprehensive treatment book about it, as well as a children's book.  Through Ashli, Mr. Brooks became involved in other pro-life activities as well.
Having an uncle who was so popular influenced Lyle in conflicting ways." On the one hand, I was very sensitized to the problem of governmental censorship, the value of free speech, and these concerns liberalized my views in certain areas.  On the other hand, I never approved of my uncle's promotion of illegal drug use, and this influenced me to view much of his political philosophy with skepticism.” When asked about what piece of advice his uncle gave that stood out the most, Brooks say's “He never really gave me direct "advice" about anything.  However, I do remember one observation that he made in the course of a conversation that made a lasting impression on me. I don't recall the exact topic, but at one point I opined that somebody had done something "just to satisfy his own ego."  He immediately exclaimed something to the effect of “Of course he did!  That's the only reason anybody does anything, including me, including you!”Mr. Brooks said it made him examine people's motives more closely, and wonder whether even charitable impulses could be rooted in or corrupted by egotism.
     It is this thought process that exemplifies Allen Ginsberg’s real effect on society. He got people thinking he taught people to speak up and question the world around them and their government. The issues present in the 60’s and 70’s are still very much present today. Having Mr. Brooks come in and having the opportunity to interview him for the Paladin Press Newspaper Blog, was a great. Hopefully he will return next year!
The seniors at Paramus Catholic High SChool welcomed Mr. Brooks and are grateful for the educational opportunity awarded them. A Paladin "thank you" to Mr. Brooks for taking time out of his schedule to enlighten more fully the English classroom at PC.
               (Pictured above from let o right: Mr. Schmidig, Mr. Brooks, Ms. Johnston)