Allen Ginsberg- Howl

Ginsberg’s Howl is one of the major works of beat writing. This “beat” cultured centered around non-conformity and spontaneous creativity.  As mentioned in the introduction of this work (p2591), Ginsberg’s Howl may have seemed spontaneous on the surface, however a closer look shows that the spontaneous nature rests on the “care and self-consciousness about rhythm and meter.” Below is a link to a reading by Ginsberg of Howl, I

http://www.reed.edu/news_center/multimedia/2007-08/howl_unedited1.28.08.html

I feel there is a lot to be gained by listening to this poem because so much of it is auditory. For example, in the first “movement,” I feel that the repetition of who creates a beat and almost a feeling of a beginning on a measure. In the second section I feel the repetition of “Moloch! creates a bass line for the rest of the poem to work off of. In the footnote, I see it as almost a variation of section II. Does listening to Ginsberg reading this poem help you hear an almost music to the poem, does it change how you read the poem?

Howel has some very dark images within it. Today in class we talked about whether or not there was a moral to the readings, do you feel that there is a moral to be found from Howl?

Despite the 100 year gap between Whitman and Ginsberg, there is a connection between both their writing styles and the themes of which they write. Our introduction gives Whitman credit for introducing Ginsberg to the long poetic line.It continues on to say that Ginsberg’s poetry is “a melancholy reminder of what has become, after a century of Whitman’s vision of American plenty” (2592). In what ways are Ginsberg’s vision and his poetic techniques similar to Whitman’s?  In what ways does they differ?

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5 Responses to Allen Ginsberg- Howl

  1. vlevasseur11 says:

    I agree that listening to Howl is really useful, but it helps to have read the poem beforehand, since we’re not the audience that Ginsberg was speaking to and might need to visualize, on the page, the references he is making as we listen.

    With regard to the moral: I don’t think I found a message. What you takes from the poem might just depend on how you as the reader relate to the references Ginsberg makes. Ginsberg paints us a picture full of details from the 50s and I don’t think we can pick up on all of them. I think we can learn something about ourselves based upon what parts of the painting he makes with his words catch our attention, or make us laugh (as heard in the recording), and refer to something we are knowledgeable about. e

  2. amandalynn9 says:

    The moral, hmmm. In the context of our discussion of Plath’s poetry today, perhaps this moral is honesty in the face of the curses an industrialized society brings. For every angelheaded hipster looking for an angry fix, as Ginsberg describes, there’s a million more average joe’s looking for a similar fix through the “exciting” and “confessional” work of Ginsberg and Plath. Plath’s response, in both her “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” poems seems to be to give them the “strip tease” – to slowly reveal a part of herself to the audience, all the while acknowledging the voyeuristic exploitation involved in this. Ginsberg took it one further. At times his poetry is a feast for the soul – at other times our recoiling (as well as the startled reactions of the general public towards his poetry once it began to circulate beyond the Beats) at obscene descriptions reveal how “proper” society has made us, and reveal our own conformities. Ginsberg’s poetry seems to say, “you said you wanted the poet revealed, so now I’m going to reveal it all to you.” I don’t know if this is a moral or not, but I love that honesty.

  3. ldhare says:

    I heard Howl read before I read it myself (Andrew Tham read it on the octave radio show) and so I had a sort of idea of how it should be read. When I read it for myself then, I did read it out loud and I definitely could feel the rhythms of jazz. Also, listening to Ginsberg read the poem, there is definitely a sort of chant-like quality that is almost hypnotic, similar to Stein’s poetry.

    Do I think there is a moral in Howl? As in, do I think Ginsberg presents the reader with a clear idea of what is right and what is wrong? If there is a message, I think it is definitely that the great minds of the counter culture had been destroyed by society, by the 50’s American zeitgeist. I think that Ginsberg would definitely stand behind the actions of his comrades, no matter how immoral they would be perceived by the society of the time.

    I like the tie between Whitman and Ginsberg. I think the obvious is that both utilize the long poetic line, and the catalog style in which many things are listed in quick succession. Both seem to make attempts to speak for their generation. However, Ginsberg writes about a specific group, the beats, whereas Whitman tries to speak for an entire nation. Also, I think its interesting to note that both were homosexual men and while Whitman wrote in support of the nation of which he was on the fringe, Ginsberg’s America is a lot darker (though as we discussed, not terribly bleak).

    Sorry, that kind of dragged on.

  4. elliejo44 says:

    I agree with ldhare’s description of the link between Whitman and Gisberg. Both poets utilize the technique of the catalog, but to different ends. While Whitman wants to be expansive, including every American in his catalogs, Ginsberg uses the catalog to describe the experiences and culture of a movement that wants to break away from mainstream culture- so while Whitman’s catalogs are inclusive, Ginsberg’s are necessarily exclusive.
    I was also struck by the obvious and often explicit references to masculinity and male sexual organs in Ginsberg’s poetry (sweetening snatches? really??), which are also present in Whitman’s poetry. While I like to think I’m not a prude, the constant references to male-ness and almost Freudian phallocentrism kind of alienates me from these works- the “best minds of [Ginsberg’s] generation” and the wandering, irreverent beat culture seems, according to Ginsberg, the exclusive domain of males.
    I hope this makes sense- let me know what you all think!

  5. gluck987 says:

    In response to your first question, I think there is a lot to be gained from hearing “Howl” read aloud. I think you made some wonderful points about the poem’s musical qualities, particularly your description of “Moloch” as a bass line. That being said, of course, there was a significant culture surrounding the decryption of “Howl,” and every line has been painstakingly “footnoted” with relevant background information. Though “Howl” is absolutely gut-wrenchingly powerful when read aloud, I think Ginsberg gave us a real gift in his attention to detail and precision. It’s a testament to his remarkable skill that his piece can have so much aesthetic appeal while containing a strong degree of autobiographical depth upon further examination. “Howl,” I think, is a kind of Gonzo journalism. In it, Ginsberg observes a radical subculture and reports it back to us filtered through a deeply personal and emotional lens.

    I’m also really interested in your questions about Ginsberg’s relationship to Whitman. Certainly, the style of “Howl” must be compared to “Song of Myself,” in its long lines, carefully crafted free verse and fusion of the individual and the universal. Both poems are ambitious, unwieldy, passionate monsters, articulating what their respective authors perceive as a “new” American myth. Of course, Ginsberg and Whitman have quite different myths. The former deals in sex, drugs, transience, ennui and despair. The latter deals in solidarity, interconnectedness, progress, growth and proliferation. It seems to me that the two poets were very much of similar minds, but reacting to radically different cultural contexts. Whereas Whitman wrote during the conception of the American dream, Ginsberg wrote while the American dream started to die. I see them both as optimists, in their own ways, but Ginsberg’s idealism has been tried more harshly than Whitman’s, and it gasps for breath.

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