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Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems

Ginsberg reading his poems, courtesy of the gorgeous UbuWeb. Scroll down to October 25, 1956 and May 4, 1995.

I read the poem in preparation for the movie, I confess. Obviously I had already come across selections (everybody has) but never actually read it top to bottom (many haven’t).

Allen Ginsberg was Walt Whitman reincarnated, nobody will question the cliché I guess. The high-pitched declamative tone, the stretched verses, the accumulations, “I am America”. And the beard.
Crucially influenced by Kerouac, W.C. Williams, and jazz, Ginsberg eventually found his own voice, true, personal, outrageous, shining.
He made various references to specific events in his and his fellow beats’ lives, that may be obscure if wikipedia didn’t come to the rescue. Histories about inspiration for single lines are in fact very entertaining, if one is inclined to check ’em out.

“who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver–joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses’ rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too…”

The book & its publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti (but not the author) underwent an obscenity trial in 1957: which if nothing else proves that Howl was a watershed, era-defining work.

And of course I would recommend reading the poem before watching the movie.

Allen Ginsberg
Howl and Other Poems (1956)
preface by William Carlos Williams
p. 56, $7,95
City Lights

Giudizio: 4/5.

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