Material language for protest: collage in Allen Ginsberg's 'Wichita Vortex Sutra'

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This article offers a critical re-evaluation of one of the most significant works of the iconic American poet Allen Ginsberg – his seminal protest poem ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ (1966). I situate the poem for the first time within the wider context of twentieth-century collage, a flourishing field of academic enquiry and activism to which my 2014 cross-disciplinary monograph provided a significant contribution. As I show in this article, Ginsberg sought to deploy a material language for protesting the Vietnam War, and turned to collage in order to do so. I argue that his use of collage, in this poem in particular but also in others written during the period, enabled him both to demonstrate and to attempt to overcome what he saw as the complicity between language and the perpetuation of the war in Vietnam. Reading the poem in this way – as an inheritor of and participant in a global political art-form predicated on resistance and fracture – positions the poem within a far more extensive activist and formal lineage than it has hitherto been assessed. The implications of this will be of significance to scholars working on Ginsberg’s oeuvre, on protest literature, on 1960s poetics, on the study of collage (and the materiality of texts), and on the study of the counterculture and the Vietnamese war.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-689
Number of pages21
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2018


  • Allen Ginsberg
  • Wichita Vortex Sutra
  • poetry
  • collage
  • Vietnam War
  • counterculture
  • affect
  • protest
  • voice
  • materiality
  • 1966
  • political
  • language


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