(Carter emailed me that he was unable to paste his reply under comment in the below post. I'm posting this separately. The comments under the post, to date, are well worth reading, too)
I first read "Howl" in Fall '71. It was at the beginning of the fall semester at the rural diploma mill I was attending at the time. I was just beginning to learn about poetry or, at least, poetry that was outside the, then, academic box. I had read "Coney Island" and was much more enamored of Ferlinghetti than A.G., but I do remember sensing the tremendous power of the piece. Though about three years later at another college, I would read A.G. in The Norton Anthology, his presence in texts or the library at this particular school would not have been allowed. It was the rural South and it takes a long time for things to find their way here from the West Coast or from NYC.
In terms of poetry, I am constantly posturing the separation of the dancer from the dance. It's very difficult with A.G. and in my mind it's even more difficult to separate this poem from the infamous obscenity trial. The "Howl" trial was largely responsible for the massive scope of The Beat Movement. I'm also not shedding any profound light by noting that A.G.'s almost PR mentality had much to do with the later success of others in that movement such as Kerouac and even more so, Burroughs. Noting the discussions in this thread about the movement, it's sort of like The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How many inductees never recorded a rock and roll song? How many do you have to literally sweat over to see their ties to the genre?
I recently had a rather long discussion with a West Coast poet/author about the many and varied attempts to place Bukowski in the Beat box and how utterly futile they seemed. Whether or not we choose to argue certain semantics, there "was" an SF Renaissance just as there was a Beat Movement and said movement spawned a generation of poets, whether good or bad, that might not have written even the first poem without it. The same can be said of Buk's work. Scads of poets emerged due to both a certain exposure as well as the accessibility of the work. And, poetry as an art form became a bit more popular. A.G., Buk, Richard Brautigan, and a very few others were all able to reach non-readers or non-literary types due to the basic conformist nature of the young. In other words, "We may be against the system, but we are united in our opposition." We conform in terms of our non-conformity. Hell, you could find "Trout Fishing in America," "The Prophet," and maybe "Siddhartha" on shelves in the dorm rooms and apartments of people who had no other books and had yet to even finish reading either of the three. It was just "a thing" as such.
If I tell the truth, I'm a much bigger "fan" of The New York and Black Mountain Schools (to whatever real extent the two can be separated.) Yet, who among their members can be said to have influenced any "non-writers" to the extent of The Beats. Of course, I acknowledge that this fact has only a relative importance. I recall the poet, William Slaughter, telling me once that his graduate writing teacher in the 60's had remarked that the real tragedy of the Vietnam War might ultimately be all of the crummy peace poems it was spawning at the time. By that same token, however, everyone who has ever attempted to create verse did so because of someone he/she read unless such was stimulated by song lyrics. And, though there are legions of "copiers," there are those who begin at some place such as The Beats or Buk and acutally are spurred to learn about poetry and work to improve their writing. It's in the same vein as someone being obsessed with a contemporary song and searching out information about the performer and/or the composer and seeing who their influences were and learning about the work of said influences. Such a thing can and often does become almost exponential.
With all of that having been said, there remains the "taste" or "subjective" element to all of poetry. I think one thing that can honestly be said is that if you mention "Howl" to someone who professes to be a poet and he/she doesn't know what you are talking about, you'll very likely find a person with a very limited reading background. Good, bad, or indifferent, the poem most assuredly made its mark like very few others. In terms of recognition in contemporary society it ranks with "The Wasteland" or "Song of Myself."