Alex Wright

David Rome

February 23, 2005

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with David Rome of the Greyston Foundation in New York. A former aide to Chögyam Trungpa and close friend of Allen Ginsberg, Rome had a front seat view to a wild and momentous period in the history of both American poetry and American Buddhism.

Rome had come to San Francisco to teach a program at the Shambhala Center; and since he was staying around the corner from me in Bernal Heights, I offered to give him a ride to the airport.

Driving over the Bay Bridge as the morning fog burned away, we talked about Rome's first encounters with Trungpa at Samye Ling in Scotland, his subsequent journey to Tail of the Tiger (now Karme Choling), the raw and rowdy early days of the first-generation dharmadatus, and his subsequent life on the "crazy wisdom" roller coaster of Shambhala in the 1970s and 1980s. We even touched on a few touchy subjects like the great Naropa poetry wars.

When I asked Rome about Ginsberg, his eyes lit up with what seemed like deep sadness and tremendous affection. They had been close friends and fellow students for over twenty-five years, until Ginsberg's death in 1997. “Allen was a tremendously warm, sane man,” Rome said, “who liked to surround himself with crazy people.”

A predeliction for "crazy" people would certainly explain Ginsberg's fascination with Trungpa and his outrageous, sometimes exasperating style of "crazy wisdom" teaching. Rome thinks that disposition stemmed from Ginsberg's complex relationship with his mother, who was diagnosed as insane and ultimately institutionalized (a relationship Ginsberg explored in Kaddish). Rome told a lovely story about Ginsberg’s funeral, remembering how for all his countercultural ravings, in the end his farewell turned out to be a traditional family affair.

To be honest, I’ve never been a great reader of Ginsberg (or to be brutally honest, a great reader of poetry). But he was a swirling presence in the lives of all the literary heroes of my youth: Mailer, Kesey, Kerouac, Burroughs, even Tom Wolfe. And given my recent interest in Buddhism and Trungpa (Ginsberg's root teacher, and the man who inspired him to become a Buddhist), I'm beginning to wonder why I seem to keep finding him up around the next corner, and thinking maybe it's time to give him a serious read. After talking with Rome, I almost feel like I miss him myself.

File under: Dharma

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