Monday, October 10, 2005

Howl

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix..."
GrabbingSand has already totally scooped me on this one, but things like this are why I re-started this whole blogging thing. For those of you who don't have time to read his thoughts (and I'd recommend that you do), last Friday was the 50th anniversary of the first public reading of Howl by Allen Ginsberg. It must have dropped out the largely unassuming-looking and bespectled man's mouth like a figurative nuclear bomb that night. Really, even now, there is no substitute for reading it aloud.

Back when I still thought I wanted a life in Academia, I had to opportunity to meet Ginsberg. It was an odd occurrence. Ginsberg was at the school where I was pursuing my master's degree to read and sign books in the college bookstore. All the time he was there, he was squired around like royalty by certain members of the English faculty at the time. So much so, that we poor graduate students were, by and large, expressly uninvited to a party that was to be held in his honor.

Of course, some of us crashed the party anyway. Then what? a largely bemused Ginsberg is found in the kitchen avoiding most of the brouhaha. That is the image of him that I like to remember--that and the sunflower he drew in my copy of his collection wrapping around the word "Ah!". I was studying Blake at the time, so it was especially fortuitous.

All that said, I've long had a curious relationship with the Beat poets. Right away, I have to acknowledge their impact, but at the same time, by the time I was in my late twenties, laboring part time at their same craft, I'd gotten awfully tired of would-be poets and critics basing their poetics on poems that were by then a generation old.

There was no winning with some of my peers--either emulate them, good and bad, or get left in the cold. So, I began to tire of them altogether, and later, to actively be angry at some of them. Mostly, for their lack of craft and disdain for revision. However, this definitely does not extend to Ginsberg, merely some of his contemporaries and followers. Heck, even I'd admit they're a hard act to follow. And no one can deny the incredible impact that this poem, and Ginsberg's work as a whole, has had on American letters.

Go read the whole thing.

NP: "What Goes On" - Built to Spill

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