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on May 23, 2004
And as one of the most profound poem of the 20th century began...
"I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness,
while starving hysterically naked,
and roaming the streets with an angry fix..."
Allen Ginsberg, master poet and storyteller of the Beat Generation, became the omnipotent force of the newly formatted Beatnik movement that, through insanity, madness, and periods of solitude, rose from the depth of the west coast, specifically in the woefully sexy city of Berkeley, CA, to the cumulative vortex that remained in pieces on the seductive streets of NYC's Lower East Side community.
"Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in houses, we'll both be lonely."
The poem-dense book, "Howl & Other Poems" not only includes both parts of "Howl" but includes other classical works such as "Kaddish" (a beautifully rendered tribute to Ginsberg's mother- a figure whom he continued to question the delicate balances of her love toward him and vice versa) and "A Supermarket in California" where he composes a rather brief poem, spanning from his powerful visions of him and Walt Whitman walking upon the solitary streets, wondering what has become of their things as he allows Whitman's "beard to point them in the right direction."
"The madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time, coming after death."
Overall this book is the equivalent of a historical text-book, in terms of the Beat Generation's poetry. It also contains several short poems that were written under the influence of... certain substances and poems related to Ginsberg's sexual experiences, as well.
The one interesting side to the book itself is that, in my opinion, not only it is a reflection of a singular man's views, experiences, desires, and emotions, but it is a mirror of the vastly unknown and abnormally tucked-away world, that the reader can reflect upon. This book is worth owning. Another Amazon quick pick I'd like to recommend is The Losers Club by Richard Perez
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on October 6, 2006
The poem "Howl" actually appeared in a college reader that was required of us---believe it or not. I was shocked but pleased to see that freedom of speech was still somewhat alive, given the unorthadox nature of the poem and the profanity that was used (quite creatively in it). Talk about ahead of your time! This is one of the most powerful poems (Howl) that you will ever run across. Ginsberg takes his cue from Whitman, only carries it much further--like Whitman in present day--on drugs. Of the three books I've recently read: McCrae's "Katzenjammer," and Jack K's "On the Road," Ginsberg's was the most powerful. Not for the faint of heart, it is nevertheless a great poem that will haunt you. Also recommended reading: "On the Road" and "Katzenjammer" by McCrae.
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on February 3, 2004
In 'Howl and Other Poems' Allen Ginsburg plumbs the depths of primal human emotion from the perspective of the disenfranchised bohemians of 1950s urban America. With haunting phrases and cadences influenced by sources as disparate as Hebrew liturgy and ad copy, Ginsburg evokes the joy and despair of a affluent Post-World-War-II decade lived in the shadow of the Bomb and Eisenhower's grim military-industrial complex. 'Beat' writing is a unique, experimental genre which transcends the strictures of contemporary academic style and content, dealing forthrightly with drug abuse, homosexuality, and other taboo subjects of the time. Allen Ginsburg and his creative associates were the stellar grass-roots poets of their generation, and deserve a careful reading both for enjoyment and understanding of an important time of transition in American society. Buy this book! I'd also like to thank the reviewer who mentioned The Losers Club by Richard Perez, about a poet in New York's East Village. Another great Amazon pick!
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on December 3, 2003
I used to think that people didn't read things like "Howl" because they didn't understand. But as I have grown older I've come to the realization that is has much more to do with their NOT wanting to understand. It is easy to read, but not easy to understand. It causes one to think -- no, to have to think. One has to think about "Howl" if one reads it. It is one of those weird things you still think about years later on some lame Tuesday afternoon while paying bills. So, most people avoid it so they don't have to try and come to grips with the affects it can have on their minds. Football and movies are easier for people to deal with most of the time.
I don't know if this is a bad thing anymore. People want to live comfortable lives, and if one thinks uncomfortable thoughts, then life can become uncomfortable. One is forced into action to try and help right the wrongs of this world, and that is not easy. Wrongs stay in place in large measure because people don't know how to fix them. Sure, we can quote RFK and say, "some see things that never were and ask why not", but saying things like that is the easy part.
Reading, "Howl" changes a person. Makes them uncomfortable, but it means to do that. It is a great piece of writing. It is probably the best piece of poetry written in the last half of the 20th century in the United States.
But beware; because it causes one of think of change. Change can be good, and it can be bad. I like to think "Howl" is good because it opened my eyes to ugly thoughts. True, ugly can be beautiful. But remember the hardest thing about change -- it is.
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on June 30, 2003
I reread this little book before attempting to review it. I remembered that it was a mad mantra of transcendent power from the heart of hell, but I didn't remember how nondated it was. This work is fresher and more relevant than 99% of what passes for poetry today. How can something last nearly 50 years without going stale or becoming trite? How can it be even more real now? Maybe it is because Ginsberg ripped it live, screaming, and bleeding from a place beyond time and beyond space. He tore it from the living bowels of MOLOCH itself and showed it to HIM. After all, what does divine madness know of time?
This poem is transcendence itself. It demonstrates that when you plunge into the deepest pit of hell it either kills you, or perhaps it burns out your insides so that you become a soulless zombie, OR you transcend it and rise howling to become a Mad Poet Saint who can truely encompass the Sacred in the Profane.
Read this poem, and the others like America, A Supermarket in California, Sunflower Sutra, Wild Orphan, and In Back of the Real. It's almost frightening how relevant to daily life it is. If you didn't know it, you would never guess that it was written in the 50's. Of course Ginsberg does invoke, holy eternity in time holy the clocks in space the fourth dimension, in the Footnote. Maybe that's why it's timeless. As Cassady used to say, we know time, yes, we know time....
I wish I would have been there for that first public reading in San Fran with Kerouac running around the audience passing the wine jug. On all the planes, the Gods themselves must have jumped back in shock as a flaming monkeywrench of living poetry was jammed through the spokes of the great quivering meat wheel of conception....
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on December 9, 2002
Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg is quite possibly one of the greatest American epics ever written. With its nightmarish violent and sexual imagery this will last forever. Let me just tell you if your new to Ginsberg (which I am not)I would recommend reading Reality Sandwiches or Kaddish first; if the overtly homosexual imagery in Howl doesn't bother you. Reality Sandwiches is a bit more toned down than Howl although in my opinion not better. Ginsberg's epic is a psychological drug induced (Ginsberg wrote Howl while under marijuana's influence) head trip into the minds of his fellow fallen hipsters and junkies. It is about a howl of defeat and a stench of death. If you are a beginning writer and\or wish to write w\more freedom I highly recommend picking this up not only for enjoyment but also for a style book of sorts because Howl shows how to free onesself in the literary sense (trust me I'm a published poet and have been reading Ginsberg for awhile he is one of my main influences). The first part (the actual poem Howl is divided into 3 not including holy, holy)is one long sentence never utilizing a period until the end. I could write a whole essay on Ginsberg but I'll leave you with the man, the myth, the legend; just pick up his work if poetry interests you and definently pick up Howl if you are not too sensitized.
"...the mad man bum and angel beat in time; unknown, yet putting down what might be left to say in time come after death..."
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on November 2, 2002
Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlenghetti, Neal Cassady and the rest of the beats blazed a path across the country in the 50's from San Francisco to Denver to New York with all sorts of stops in between (to include Idaho of all places) and one of the real gems they left behind in Ginsberg's beautiful tome to madness and freedom, "Howl." This is perhaps some of the best language coming out of twentieth century American poetry. Its a nouveau re-creation of Walt Whitman jacking up the language benzedrine fueled but coming out on the other end not so much as a imitation but as some wholly new, exciting, and electric.
I bought this book from the City Lights bookstore, Columbus Avenue, Little Italy, San Francisco. The bookstore and press started up by the beat Lawrence Ferlinghetti where there were wild at night readings. I'd recommend it for the experience, but if you aren't in local proximity of Baghdad by the Bay, the very next best thing is getting it right here on Amazon. It's pocket portable which is an important thing allowing you to bring poetry out where it was meant to be, into the world...carried in a backpack on hikes, carried in a book bag into the city, carried in, well a pocket, "dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix."
It's a beautiful book with beautiful language. Don't be slighted by the critics, make up your mind for yourself. Just listen..."I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz."
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on February 11, 2002
Poetry thrives in the worst of ways thanks in no small part to this influential but strikingly unpoetic short collection which introduced to the world the concept of Beat poetry. The poems themselves are not remarkable except for a certain kind of hyperbolic candor they exude.
It is therefore not surprising that the young in particular find profit in reading and commenting on them. The adolescent and the thick-headed gravitate to such 'poetry' in this as in all generations. So much the worse for them and for poetry. But the case is worse still for us. As far back as imperial Rome, we find rebel poets such as Catullus turning their talent towards sarcasm and social commentary. In contrast to Ginsberg's loopy mix of ideology and phantasmagoria, Rome's "rock-and-roll" poet was all rudeness and sharp one-liners. His well-phrased - though similarly timely - jabs might shock or cut, but his audience could recognize their artful, playful character.
Here, by contrast, mysticism and eschatology, Whitman-esque rambling and anarchic paranoia, nostalgic Trotskyism and reminiscences of drug abuse all fuse into. . . Well, nothing. And this is precisely the reason for its failure as poetry. But then why should we expect a fusion from such a pathetic hodge-podge?
Ginsberg paints a generation of self-absorbed hangers-on for whom America's men-in-suits should feel somehow responsible. Come on! One needn't be Virgil or Dante to expect little aesthetic nourishment from ad-men or town committee members... was ever the world otherwise? He does not deny the pleasure-seeking of his compatriots. He rather encourages the hipster quest for kicks, at once savage, street-wise, defiant, and, in its fay pretense, even a tad rococo. One definitely detects a game of "We're more lost than you," being directed at elder poets who comprehended and identified with 'The Wasteland' and the Hemingway novels. Read Ted Morgan's excellent biography of Ginsberg's friend William S. Burroughs Literary Outlaw (ISBN: 0380708825) to discover just how ridiculously lost most of these young 'Beats' actively aspired to be.
Describing his inspiration for 'Howl' Ginsberg wrote: "I'd had a beatific illumination years before during which I'd heard Blake's ancient voice and saw the universe unfold in my brain." Ginsberg virtually references Blake with his personified God of American crass materialism, Moloch. Like Blake's Urizen and Rintrah and Los, Moloch is a personification of fomenting psychological and social forces. Here, a figment of all the poet fears. But unlike Blake's multi-layered and careful embodiments, Moloch is a hodge-podge... a perfect concave mirror of Ginsberg's own mystical hodge-podge self. And I will end on this point: the generation (let's face it -- the tiny minority within a generation) who felt the resonance of this poem were themselves internal jumbles and hodge-podges. They were and are rootless amoral 'seekers' --'mystic' only in their absence of substantial affect -- that all authentically deep and spiritual people will know well to pity or else shun.
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on October 17, 2001
Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of self-appointed critics who, in order to try to convince others of their own individuality and intellectual honesty, feel the need to let everyone know that they consider Ginsberg (and every other so-called "Beat" for that matter) to be an overrated hack and more of a celebrity than a poet and blah, blah, blah, blah. It is true that Ginsberg's style has been imitated by far too many lesser poets who, obviously, don't posess anything close to the man's talent and it is also true that there's an equal number of people who claim to love Ginsberg but have never actually bothered to sit down and really read anything beyond the first page of "Howl." Inetivably, one wishes that all of these presumed literary critics (regardless of where they stand) would just shut up, read the poems for themselves, and form their own opinions regardless of what the current trend is. For if they did, they would discover a very talented poet who, even if he occasionally seemed to be repeating and parodying himself as he got older, still created some of the strongest American poetry of the latter 20th Century. While Kaddish remains his strongest work of poetry, his much more famous poem "Howl" still carries more of a raw, exhilirating anger. Written to be read aloud, Howl is basically a cry against the conformity of 1950s America but the anger found within still reverberates almost half a century later. Certainly, his vision of a drug-abusing community of outcasts wandering along darkened city streets remains as relavent as ever. Like any apocalyptic poem, it can be credibly charges that at times, Howl is superficial and there's not much beyond shocking images. I don't necessarily disagree with this -- Howl, for instance, doesn't carry the same emotional weight as Ginsberg's more personal Kaddish. However, if Howl is all image, they're still very powerful images. Would I feel the same passion for this poem if I didn't know the much-reported stories of Ginsberg's "best minds of my generation destroyed by madness?" In short, if the beats hadn't been so celebrated by the media, would this poem have the same power? Honestly, who cares? The fact of the matter is that yes, the beats were celebrated (or hyped depending on your point of view) by the media and Howl is a powerful poem. All other considerations are simply unimportant doublespeak. As for the other poems contained with Howl, they are a mixed batch but all have their value. Some are a little too obviously based on Whitman (much as countless other poets based too much on Ginsberg) but they all have their points of interest. Its obvious that none of them were chosen to overshadow Howl but to a certain extent, that works very well. After the rage and madness of Howl, its good to have these other poems to "come down" with.
With all this talk of anger and rage, I should also mention that Ginsberg's sense of joy is a component of his poetry that too many critics either fail to mention or ignore all together. Whatever you may think of his talent, it is obvious that Ginsberg loved poetry and found his greatest happiness through the discovery of new forms of poetic expressions. For all of its apocalyptic ragings, Howl never grows shrill because one can sense the fact that Ginsberg had a lot of fun composing (and performing) the poem. A few years before his own death, I was lucky enough to attend one of Allen Ginsberg's readings. Though he read mostly from Kaddish and his shorter poems (perhaps, understandably, trying to make sure we understood he actually had written other poems beyond the one everyone kept citing), he also read a bit from Howl. He proved to be an amazing reader, going over these words he must have seen over a million times past, with an almost childlike enthusiasm and joy. As he did this, I looked out at the others in the audience and basically, I saw rows and rows of identical looking "intellectuals," all posessing the same dead-serious expression on their face, nodding at each relavent point as if to make sure everyone understood that they understood genius. Contrasting their forced seriousness with Ginsberg's uninhibited joy, I realized that there was only one true tragesy as far as Allen Ginsberg was concerned and that was the fact that his self-appointed acolytes always took him for more seriously then he did himself. To consider Howl and Ginsberg without joy is like considering language without words.
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on March 26, 2001
Ginsberg is one of the top ten poets who have ever lived. A true visionary like Blake. *Howl and Other Poems* is his best work--his equivalent of the *Songs of Innocence and Experience* More than just a poet, of course, he is also a mystic and prophet. He sees the truth behind the surface. The beauty behind the pain of America's idealistic outcasts of his generation as they go "mad" from having seen to much and hoped for too much and pushed things too far. The ugliness and desparation that hide behind the nice orderly facade of everyday life. Ginsberg's poetry can express the most absolute dispair (the "Moloch" section of "Howl" still feels like a close brush with death even though I've read it hundreds of times), but he can also express such amzaing spiritual joy. In this regard he is more like the Sufi poets than anything Western. This sense of the divine within all things and all experience. The "Holy! Holy! Holy!" litany in the footnote to "Howl" ; the love song to Love itself in "Song." This little collection expresses more in less than 100 pages than is imaginable unless you have experienced it first hand.
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