It's fitting that Ginsberg's juvenilia should serve as a beacon in the night of bad poetry—after all, his influence is responsible for roughly 60 percent of bad American poetry written today. The poems collected here anticipate the million adolescent wails that followed Howl—they consist of fruitless imitations of other poets, strident cliché, and forehead-slapping sentimentality. Ginsberg remained a bad poet until the end, and his later work isn't nearly as fun to read. It falls in the New Yorker category of bad poetry (albeit with more drugs and pederasty, fewer barns and grandfathers): well-wrought garbage for people with different taste than mine.
Nobody will accuse Ginsberg's early poems of being well wrought, and to say that they're "wrought" at all would be a stretch. The word I'm looking for is "wrung." Ginsberg advocated the use of improvisation in poetry, but he improvised with the benefit of a comprehensive poetic education. (The journals included in the present volume contain enviable reading lists.) His most vital work comes from before he trained his subconscious to spew passable writing. The early work is labored and ill-conceived, but it's also an example of self-expression at its most hilarious.