Part of the phenomenon of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry and literary celebrity was the in-person experience of his poetry recitations. However, what his work sounded like out loud wasn’t constant over his lifetime. The different styles of his performances point to a number of possible tones and meanings within the poem.
Suggested Activity: Ask students how they would imagine Ginsberg reading Kaddish aloud. Would it be slow? Mournful? Fast? Full of nervous energy? Assemble a list of possibilities. Now have students, with a partner, read the first five lines out loud, choosing one of these possible styles. How is the experience of reading the poem out loud different from reading it silently
Play the recording of Part I of the poem for your students. How would they characterize the sound of this reading? Does it meet their expectations? Does it, as Ginsberg insists, mimic the style of the Mourner’s Kaddish?
Play the recording of Part V of the poem for your students. Note that it is from nearly 40 years later. How would they characterize the sound of this reading? Do the different tones and styles change the meaning of the poem for them? Why might Ginsberg have adjusted his performance style?