To most, Allen Ginsberg was known as this wild Jewish, Buddhist, homosexual poet, who wrote HOWL and KADDISH, so most assumed he wouldn’t eat pork and most likely was, as were many Buddhists in the 60s, and today, a vegetarian.
But when he came to Iowa City, to read and to talk with old friends at The Writers Workshop like Ted Berrigan, an old friend from NYC, and Anselm Hollo, and a few others from around America and the world, he decided, since he was in Iowa, that they should have a pig roast. Everyone talked about it for about a week, then they all laid out the plans.
They would have the roast at Ken McCullough’s house out in the country, where they would have enough room for everyone in the workshop to come. Allen also told them how he wanted to roast the pig. He wanted them to dig a big hole in the ground, so they could put wood down, then bake the pig all day, so that it would get smoked and be done by nightfall.
None of us knew much about how to cook a pig, and in my case, as a Muslim, I didn’t eat pork, so it was no big deal to me, but I was curious how you cooked meat in the ground in a hole. I’d heard of it, but knew nothing about it. But Ginsberg and ken seemed to know what they were doing, and they had others help them prepare the ground, the wood and the fire in the ground.
After they got the fire going, they put the small pig in the ground, covered it with some kinds of leaves, Ginsberg said it was an old Hawaiian way of doing it, and then covered the hole and everyone went back to Iowa City for his reading, with plans to return that night for the big party and feasting on the pig.
The reading was very good, but some of the homosexual matters in the poems made some of the more genteel professors a bit uncomfortable. But in the end, but all agreed, even those who were uncomfortable, that his poetry, and his reading of it were something wonderful, and that no doubt, he was one of the important poets of our time. It was a reading that was far different from many who had come, some of whom were a bit stuffy; Ginsberg’s voice rose and fell, he gestured wildly as he read, he stared down at the large audience in the auditorium like a magician, almost as if he was saying, “See,that’s how you do a poem.”
When the reading was over, though many wanted him to sign their books and get his autograph, he was in a hurry to get back to Ken McCullough’s farm house to check on his pig. So we were off. He grabbed me and Hollo and said, “Let’s go! Do you know the way to McCullough’s?” After I confirmed it, we took off down the country road to McCullough’s and the fabled pig.
When we got there, a lot of people had stayed around all day, smoking pot, shooting up, and others drinking cheap wine and singing, or maybe they were trying to sing, it was hard to tell because there was so much noise and so much was going on.
Everyone crowded around Ginsberg, and started asking him how the reading went, and when would the pig be done. Allen told them the reading was great, that he was very happy to be in Iowa City with all the poets, and to be in the country and to finally have a chance to cook a pig in the ground.
After he talked and talked with everyone and had a few drinks of the jug wine that was being passed around, he raised his arms, and almost as if was in a trance, he began a Buddhist chant. I wasn’t sure what it was, but it had words, not just the famed, “OMMmm…”
After a few minutes of the chant, he jumped up and shouted, “Now it’s time, now it’s time to take our friend the pig from the hole.” He called Ken, who knew how to take the pig out of the ground, but Ken said, “No, the pig is not done yet.” Ginsberg insisted that he knew it was done. Ken kept saying, “NO, it hasn’t had enough time to cook all the way through yet.” But Allen would have none of it, he was sure it was done and he wanted it out of the ground
Ken said, “NO, once more and walked away,” refusing to take it from the ground.
By this time, the hundreds of drinkers were getting hungrier and hungrier because they’d been drinking and most had been smoking pot all day, and hadn’t eaten since late morning when Ken had put the pig in the ground. They all began to say how hungry they were, and they wanted to eat, and that no pig should take that long to cook.
They kept this up until Ginsberg asked if anyone else knew how to get the pig out of the ground. At that point, some of the drunker ones said they knew how to do it, that they’d done it before. Having worked with drunks in my bar business days, I was sure they didn’t know shit from shinola about getting the pig out of the deep hole it was cooking in. But Ginsberg was also hungry and impatient to get the show on the road. So, he enlisted these drunks to help him pull the pig out of the ground.
It was clear from the first few minutes, when one almost fell into the hole, that none of them knew what the hell they were doing, and furthermore, they were so drunk, even if they knew, they wouldn’t have been able to lift the pig out of the ground.
After the drunken crew flailed around for I have no idea how long, Allen himself gave up and asked if anyone else knew how to get the pig out of the fire hole. Some said they’d like to help, but had no idea how to do it without getting burned.
Finally, Ginsberg prevailed on McCullough to pull the pig out of the ground, even though Ken kept saying it wasn’t done. Ginsberg said, “I don’t give a damn, let’s just get it out so we can eat,” and some other choice words I can’t remember at this time.
Ken called some of his buddies who were relatively sober, and so was I, so we all followed Ken’s directions of how to pull on the blanket or whatever the pig was wrapped in, to pull the pig from the ground. I felt sorry for the poor little pig; as we pulled it up, I realized how young it must have been. But with all the wood on top, the blanket, and whatever else, we tugged and pulled until finally the pig reached the surface and everyone began shouting. but for the hell of it, I can’t remember any words, just jumbled shouts all around by a bunch of hungry drunks, led by their pied piper, Allen Ginsberg, who was as anxious as they were to get to the pig.
After Ken unwrapped the pig, with Allen’s help, the butcher knife was brought out and Allen began cutting up the pig, as if he knew just what he was doing. But, having seen butchers and my father butcher cows, lambs and chickens, I knew he didn’t know what he was doing. He cut the meat awkwardly, in chunks, and as he cut into the pig, it was clear it was not done, because some of the meat was pink and other slices were red, but it made no difference to the crowd, they were hungry and they wanted to eat no matter what condition the meat was in. So, the meat was cut, handed out as fast as it was cut, and people were wolfing it down as fast as they could chew. It was a madhouse, a medieval feast, people all spread out on the lawn, their plates full, their wine glasses and jugs full, wine all over their clothes, people singing, people shouting for more, people smoking joints, and Ginsberg praising the pig and how wonderful it tasted, while Ken and I just shook our heads, he still sober along with me, and neither of us with a taste for the pig, he because it wasn’t done, and me because I didn’t eat pork, as a Muslim.
The eating and drinking went on, and on, and one, especially the drinking and the smoking. Finally, I told Hollo and Allen I had to go, and felt they could get another ride back to town if they wanted to stay. Of course, they stayed, in fact, they slept at Ken’s farmhouse that night, along with a lot of others who had brought their blankets.
Ginsberg stayed another day or two, I can’t remember for sure, but when I saw him years later in Del Mar at a reading he did at a bookstore, that sadly is now closed, we laughed about the famous pig roast and how crazy we’d been in those days because after he left Iowa City, Ginsberg went on to try to levitate the Pentagon, as his protest against the disastrous Viet Nam War.
Though he didn’t know how to properly roast a pig, Ginsberg was right about the Viet Nam War, and also about dope being sent home to the states in body bags with the dead, and about how our soldiers were getting hooked on dope because our military made sure they had it in Viet Nam so they could stand the heat and dangers of battle in those God forsaken jungles and rivers, where snipers picked off our people at will.
Sam Hamod has his PhD. from The Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa and has taught in the Workshop; he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, has published 10 books of poems, and has appeared in dozens of anthologies in the U.S. and abroad. He has also taught creative writing at the University of Iowa, Princeton, Michigan, Wisconsin, Howard and overseas as well. He has had praise from Neruda, Borges and such American poets as Ishmael Reed, James Wright, Dick Hugo, Jack Marshall, Amiri Baraka and E. Ethelbert Miller among others. He is the Editor In Chief of Contemporary World Literature: Journal for the Arts (www.contemporaryworldliterature) and Contemporary World Poetry: Journal for International Voices.