GROUP 3A, ENGLISH-AMERICAN STUDIES
ALLEN GINSBERG, ¡§HOWL¡¨ AND THE LITERATURE OF PROTEST
Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was an important figure in the Beat Generation Movement that took place right before the revolutionary American 60¡¦s. Other major beat writers (also called ¡§beatnicks¡¨) were: Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. The beat poetry was meant to be oral and very effective in readings. It developed out of poetry readings in underground clubs.(a beautiful image of these secret clubs can be found in the movie called ¡§Dead Poet¡¦s Society¡¨ with Robin Williams playing the main character). Some argued that it was the grandparent of rap music. The term ¡§Beat Generation¡¨ was coined by Kerouac in the fall of the 1948 in New York City. The word ¡§beat¡¨ referred loosely to their shared sense of spiritual exhaustion and diffuse feelings of rebellion against what they experienced as the general conformity, hypocrisy and materialism of a larger society around them caught up in he unprecedented prosperity of postwar America.
The beat poetry was the most anticanon form of literature in the United States. The poetry is a cry of pain and rage, a howl at what the poets see as the loss of America¡¦s innocence and as a tragic waste.
Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey. His parents were second generation Russian- Jewish immigrants, left-wing radicals interested in Marxism, nudism, feminism, generally in the modern revolutionary ideas of his times. This background certainly did influence his evolution as a revolutionary poet. His father, Louis Ginsberg, was a teacher and a poet, whose work was published in New York Times. During Ginsberg¡¦s childhood, his mother, Naomi Ginsberg, started to suffer from paranoia. She was institutionalized and eventually lobotomized. She died in an asylum in 1956. her life is the subject one Allen¡¦s poem entitled ¡§Kaddish¡¨ and which was written as a compensation of her funeral service.
After he graduated a public high school, Ginsberg won a scholarship from Columbia University where he became a famous student, making friends with Williams Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Another important person was Neal Cassady who helped Ginsberg accept his homosexuality. Then he fell in love with his fellow student Lucien Carr. When Lucien Carr was convicted for murder, Ginsberg was ordered to undergo psychiatric counseling. He was suspended from the university for a year. Before receiving The Bachelor¡¦s Degree he worked as a welder in the Brooklyn Naval yards, as a dishwasher and night porter. Ginsberg was also accused of possessing stolen goods. He pleaded insanity and spent eight months at Columbia Psychiatric Institute. He was experimenting with drugs, hanging out with junkies and geniuses, brooding about his homosexuality, struggling to find his voice as a poet.
Later he campaigned for the liberation of American anti-drug laws. He wrote poems like ¡§Mescaline¡¨, ¡§Lysergic Acid¡¨ and ¡§Laughing Gas¡¨.
In 1955 he launched ¡§Howl¡¨. It is one of his early works. The poem was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetty¡¦s City Light Press, with a foreword by Williams Carlos Williams:
¡§Hold back the edges of your gowns, we are going through hell¡¨
The police seized the entirely printing on the grounds of obscenity.
¡§Howl¡¨ is a long free verse poem which exemplifies Ginsberg¡¦s ars poetica of spontaneous composition:
¡§All you have to do is think of anything that comes into your head, then arrange in lines of two, three or four words each, don¡¦t bother about sentences, in sections of two, three or four lines each¡¨
The poem was made to be read aloud and became one of the symbols of the liberation of American culture in the 1950¡¦s.
The most important fragments and words are easy to identify, together forming a remaking of ¡§Howl¡¨:
«¡§I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving...