Poetry Farm

The name East Hill is a familiar one. Many communities have hills of that name lying to their east. One such hill lies to the east of Cherry Valley in Otsego County. It has been known by other names throughout the years – Brimstone Mountain, Mount Independence, Signal Hill, and Tower Hill. It is the primary watershed of the Cherry Valley Creek, feeding the Susquehanna River that runs all the way to Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

From the vantage point of Sharon Springs, East Hill might be called “West Hill” since it lies to the southwest of that Schoharie County community. From different vantage points on East Hill, one can catch vistas of parts of both Cherry Valley and Sharon Springs, as well as the Adirondacks of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Due west, rolling hills give way to prairies and plains, the next highest point being the Rocky Mountains. Nestled on East Hill, on a dead end road, is a ramshackle farmhouse with a rich 20th-century history.

Allen Ginsberg was a renowned poet as well as a pivotal figure in the Beat movement of the 1950s and the counterculture revolution of the 1960s-70s. Born in Newark, New Jersey, to Louis Ginsberg, a high school teacher, and Naomi Levy Ginsberg, poet and political activist, he was raised in nearby Paterson. He attended Columbia University in New York City where he became friends with fellow students Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Later, in San Francisco he became a close friend of Neal Cassady.

Allen’s book Howl and Other Poems was published in 1956 by the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco owned by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The long poem “Howl” was a call for liberation from inhumanity and intolerance. In 1961, Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-1960 was published. In the long poem “Kaddish,” Ginsberg explored his relationship with his mentally troubled mother, who had passed away in an institution in 1956. During the 1960s and 1970s, Ginsberg was an advocate for gay rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. He is credited with inventing the phrase “flower power,” dating back to 1965, a slogan of peace rallies. He also became known for experimentation with LSD and for practicing Buddhism.

In 1974, with poet Anne Waldman (sister of blogger Carl), Ginsberg founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute, a college affiliated with Tibetan Buddhism in Boulder, Colorado. That same year, he won the National Book Award for The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971, finally gaining formal recognition by the literary establishment. Ginsberg also wrote a number of songs, performing them on the harmonium. He also collaborated with many well-known musicians, including Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bono, Patti Smith, the Clash, the Fugs, and Phillip Glass. He appeared in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” film clip in 1965, the opening of the documentary about a Dylan tour entitled Don’t Look Back.

In 1966, during the Vietnam War, Ginsberg formed a nonprofit organization, the Committee on Poetry (C.O.P.), to assist small presses and impoverished poets, funded in large part by his poetry readings. In 1968, the organization purchased a farmhouse and about 80 acres on East Hill in Cherry Valley, some six miles from the village of Cherry Valley. Ginsberg hope was that it serve as “a haven for comrades in distress,” giving them a place to get off drugs and work on artistic projects. He invested heavily in the property. Rather than bring in electricity from faraway existing lines, he had propane lamps and heaters installed. An Ashley woodstove also provided heat. A small windmill generated electricity. And a hydraulic ram pump used gravity to feed water to indoor plumbing.

Ginsberg retreated to what became known as the “East Hill Farm” or the “Committee” to meditate and write, especially during the summers of 1968 through 1973. At the farm he began working on setting some of William Blake’s work to music for release on the Beatles’ Apple Records label. The poet Peter Orlovsky lived there full time until 1972.

Among the many writers who spent time at East Hill Farm, in addition to Allen and Peter, were Charles Plymell, Ray Bremser, Lucien Carr, Herbert Huncke, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Gegory Corso, Robert Creeley, Carl Solomon, John Giorno, Jim Carroll, Barry Miles, Ann Charters, Andy Clausen, Michael Brownstein, Bob Rosenthal, Shelley Kraut, and Anne Waldman (and her brother, blogger Carl). Filmmakers Barbara Rubin, Harry Smith, and Gordon Ball also lived there. Among the visual artists who visited were Claude Pelieu and Mary Beach.

Ginsberg contracted liver cancer and passed away at his New York City apartment in 1997. Most of his books remain in print. The East Hill Farm, is still managed by the Committee on Poetry, part of the Allen Ginsberg Estate.

Gordon Ball has written a memoir of the three years he spent in Cherry Valley on East Hill as farm manager, entitled East Hill Farm: Seasons with Allen Ginsberg (Counterpoint, 2011). From this work one can a sense of different cultures – local culture and counterculture – coming into contact with each other and doing surprisingly well.

 

The History Boys are

Chris Campbell has made his permanent home in Cherry Valley, NY. The Campbell family dates back to 1739 in this town, situated about eight miles from Sharon Springs. Some family members were captured by Tories and Iroquois allies in the Cherry Valley Massacre of 1778 during the American Revolution and taken to Canada, released two years later in Albany as part of a prisoner exchange. Chris is a rare book and map collector and has had a lifelong interest in history, especially relating to upstate New York and colonial land patents. He was the founder and first chairman of the Cherry Valley Planning Board and has worked as a surveyor and realtor as well as a researcher for the Otsego County map department. His hobbies include Ham radio.

 

Carl Waldman, also living in Cherry Valley, is a former archivist for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. He is he author of a number of reference books published by Facts On File, including Atlas of the North American Indian and Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, both originally published in the 1980s and both in their third editions. He is the co-author of Encyclopedia of Exploration (2005) and Encyclopedia of European Peoples (2006). Carl has also done screenwriting about Native Americans, including an episode of Miami Vice entitled “Indian Wars” and the Legend of Two-Path, a drama about the Native American side of Raleigh’s Lost Colony, shown at Festival Park on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His hobbies include music and he works with young people in the Performance and Production Workshops at the Cherry Valley Old School.

 

 

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  • By: Janice Wasserman

    I am reading a biography on Allen Ginsberg (Caveney) and read about the farm upstate. I was curious as to where it was located as we have a place in New Paltz. We used to go camping there back in the early 70’s. Words cannot describe how wonderful that area was. We still enjoy it. The Wallkill River is lined in quartz so the positive energy is still there. I love the fact that Ginsberg went up there and established a refuge for artists. There is nothing that comes close to upstate NY for beauty and inspiration. I would like to visit Cherry Valley next summer and check it out.

    • By: Dr. Brent

      The remnants of the farm house are still Cherry Valley. We credit him for bringing so many talented people to the area

  • By: Nancy Pfau

    Thanks, Carl and Chris, for detailing a very fascinating time in Cherry Valley and Sharon Springs History!

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