Kaddish, Allen Ginsberg's most stunning and emotional poem, tells a story that is entirely true. As a young boy growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, Allen watched his mother succumb to a series of psychotic episodes that grew progressively worse despite desperate attempts at treatment. Before the episodes began Naomi Ginsberg had been a pretty and vivacious schoolteacher, perhaps eccentric in her fanatical devotion to the Communist party (not an uncommon thing among Jews of her generation), but well-loved by family, friends and neighbors. The first episodes occurred before Allen was born, and then again when he was a few years old. Naomi, complaining of a painful sensitivity to light, would sit in darkened rooms for hours. A visit to an expensive sanitarium, Bloomingdale, seemed to help, and Naomi was better for a while.
As Allen entered his early teenage years, Naomi got worse again. She had never gotten along with her mother-in-law, and began to suspect Buba of plotting against her in bizarre ways. Light hurt her eyes again, her behavior became harder and harder to explain, and she was sent to Greystone, a large mental hospital in New Jersey, where she was treated with medication, insulin shock and, later, electroshock. The treatments did not help. Naomi would remain deeply unstable and unhappy during Allen's teenage years, returning to Greystone often, sometimes staying for years at a time. The three men of the Ginsberg house, Allen, his older brother Eugene and his father Louis, managed to keep the family together through the difficult times, and the closeness the three shared must have made the ordeal easier. Allen had a special feeling for his mother, though. He understood her insanity as a spiritual condition rather than a mental one, and always sought to find meaning or truth in her disconnected, paranoid ravings.