By GEORGE JAMES
Edith Ginsberg, the poet Allen Ginsberg's stepmother, who brought a sense of harmony into a family that had been disrupted by mental illness, died on Tuesday in Ridgewood, N.J. She was 94 and lived in Elmwood Park, N.J. Mrs. Ginsberg, the former Edith Cohen of Paterson, N.J., was a 40- year-old divorced mother working as a bookkeeper, with a teenage son and daughter, when she met Louis Ginsberg, then an English teacher at Central High School in Paterson, who had published two books of verse.
Mrs. Ginsberg recalled in 1997 that Louis showed up unannounced at her door one day in 1946 wearing a suit and tie and carrying a copy of "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam." He explained that a mutual friend had said, "We might be friends."
"I invited him in," she said. "And we talked. And we danced." He had turned 50, a man described by his son Allen in "Kaddish" as tearful and lonely with an institutionalized wife, Naomi, who ranted against him. After a painful decision to divorce her, Louis married Edith in 1950. Louis Ginsberg died in 1976.
Allen Ginsberg's elder brother, Eugene Brooks, who is also a poet, recalled in a 1997 interview that Louis had at last found peace. "She gave him a very settled home life," Mr. Brooks said.
Mrs. Ginsberg's son, Harold Collen, said in a telephone interview that she and Allen took to each other immediately.
"It was really Edith who took him in hand and sort of convinced him she would always be there for him," Mr. Collen said. "She became a lodestone. You could see she was the center of that whole family." The Ginsbergs bought a house in Paterson, which became a center for Allen's bohemian friends, who visited to discuss poetry with Louis and the poet William Carlos Williams, Allen's mentor, who lived in Rutherford, N.J.
Among the frequent visitors was Gregory Corso, who endeared himself to Mrs. Ginsberg by going about fixing things in the house. "They stayed a few days," she said. "They turned day into night. They ate me out of house and home, and I was working and I finally said, `Please Louie, tell them to go home.' " Her favorite, however, was Jack Kerouac, whom she described as "the most charming, brightest" of the visitors.
"And he had so much personality," she said.
Mrs. Ginsberg tried to allay her husband's resentment over Allen's homosexuality. "It doesn't make him less of a person," she told him. "He's your son."
Father and son drew closer together in the late 1960's, she said, when they began a series of poetry readings together. "All I know is I drove them around to the poetry readings," Mrs. Ginsberg said. "I was the driver in the family. And it certainly did change my life."
"I wasn't as reserved," she added.
Allen Ginsberg dedicated "White Shroud, Poems 1980-1985" (Harper & Row, 1986) to her.
Louis Ginsberg dedicated his last two collections to her, "Morning in Spring" (William Morrow & Company, 1970) and "Our Times," a manuscript that was included in his "Collected Poems" (Northern Lights, 1992). In addition to her son Harold, of Newton, N.J., and her stepson Eugene, of Plainview, N.Y., she is survived by a daughter, Sheila Maltz of Hillside, N.J.; eight grandchildren; five step-grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
After Allen Ginsberg - whom she described as "always very loving" to her - died at 70 in 1997, she said: "Well, I don't weep. And I don't wail. I just go into seclusion for a while. And I'm all right. It takes a couple of weeks. Look, as you get older, you get philosophical. You go on living. And you're very grateful for each day you're alive." She added, "I've got wonderful memories."
Document URL: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/ginsberg-stepmom.html
Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:26:04 EDT