(quote and photos from The Boston Globe. Thank you, Carter Monroe for pointing out this gem!)
Allen Ginsberg, above left, reading in San Francisco on Nov. 20, 1955, and above center, in New York City's Washington Square Park on Aug. 28, 1966. At right, the City Lights Pocket Poets edition of "Howl and Other Poems."
This fascinating article about Howl's role in the life of poetry in our country can be read in it's entirity in this Boston Globe article, which ends with this question...
So are ''Howl"'s latter-day adherents succumbing to false nostalgia in proclaiming the poem as a national monument? Not at all: The nostalgia is genuine. It's surely wishful thinking to imagine that poetry was ever close to the center of American public life, but in the clear light of hindsight it sure looks like it was within closer hailing distance once upon a time than seems remotely plausible today. If Ginsberg's message has stood the test of time better than his medium, that may be the real secret as to why his dirge still touches such a raw nerve. Poems don't set our ears on fire like that anymore, and they know better than to even try.
Do you agree with this article's conclusion?
And a personal question. Do you remember the first time you ever read Howl and how it impacted you? I was 20, living and working the summer in Manhattan before graduate school. The love I had for poetry had been drummed out of me by my college poetry professors. I remember someone handing me a copy of Howl. First of all you have to be aware of the setting, the times. It was the sixties. Past the time of the Beats, but their footprints were all over the city, from its coffee houses with jazz playing to those feelings of abandon and freedom the Village still gave you strolling the streets. When I read Howl, suddenly poetry was alive for me again. I read it and reread it, then read more Beat poetry. It was like finding something I'd lost. History has had a lot to say about Howl, including how terrible it was, but, for me, it was a gift. For that alone, I honor it!
If you haven't read Howl, do so.