That Time Bernie Sanders Walked Out on Allen Ginsberg's Dirty Poetry Reading

‘Oh, God, he’s a socialist. Already he’s got problems. But now he’s got Allen up here reading about anal sex.’ posted a 1983 photo late last week which shows and Bernie Sanders and Beat poet icon Allen Ginsberg conferring together in the socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s office.

Sanders and Ginsberg had a few contacts over the years, according to the Forward. The poet visited Burlington once in 1986 when he wrote a poem called “Burlington Snow,” which clearly paid tribute to the socialist values with which Sanders governed Burlington. Ginsberg also traveled often to Vermont to spend time with his teacher at a Buddhist center about an hour from Burlington.

“I don’t recall what they were talking about,” the original photographer Phyllis Segura told the Forward about the 1983 photo. “I wish I could remember what they talked about. Another person who I think was in the room at the time was Steven Taylor, a musician who played with Allen.”

Guitarist Steven X. Taylor, a "multifaceted musical collaborator," traveled extensively with Ginsberg between 1976 and 1996. He said he remembered the meeting as a “very pleasant, cordial” discussion, but not exactly what was discussed. Of Ginsberg's rather formal duds, Taylor said, “Oh, he bought those at the Salvation Arm. Allen got all his clothes from the Salvation Army.”

Though Taylor couldn't recall the details of the photo, he did recall a public incident between Sanders and Ginsberg that he thought may have happened on the 1983 tour, but Segura is certain it did not, “because I went where Allen went on that tour and I never experienced that.”

In any case, Taylor said that on one visit to Burlington, Sanders introduced Ginsberg at the beginning of a poetry reading performance. “What happened was we gave a show in some big municipal building…and Bernie got up and introduced Allen.” Sanders then sat down in the front row...

“Bernie was proud to present Allen. And Allen was then in the habit, if he had a new poem, he’d try it out on people…and he had a very graphic poem about anal sex. He had this kind of dirty streak, and he liked to talk dirty in public. It was partly gay activism and it was also something he did.”

The poem was called, “What You Up To?” and it appears in the final edition of Ginsberg’s Collected Poems. Taylor recalled that Sanders “stood up” from his seat as Ginsberg read,

“turned and walked out. You know I thought (at the time), ‘What a nightmare for a politician.’ I thought, ‘Oh, God, he’s a socialist. Already he’s got problems. But now he’s got Allen up here reading about anal sex.’ It was not a good thing for Allen to do. He should not have done it. He should have been more careful, but he got excited. He got excited when he performed, and he was a great performer…”

The Sanders campaign did not respond to Forward about the photograph or the reading incident.