As you read the first lines of "Howl" and "Kaddish", the overall tone of the poem hits you right in the face. Allen Ginsberg, the poet, presents these two poems as complaints and injustices. He justifies these complaints in the pages that follow. Ginsberg also uses several literary techniques in these works to enhance the images for the reader. His own life experiences are mentioned in the poems, the majority of his works being somewhat biographical. It is said that Allen Ginsberg was ahead of his time, but in fact he was just riding the wave of a literature revolution. The decade of the 1950's was a time of change. America and the world was experiencing a transition from innocence to a more knowledgeable society. Revolutions in all aspects of life were going on: civil rights, sexual, rock and roll and the introduction of new experimental drugs in the communities of San Francisco and Greenwich Village. Out of all of these revolutions came the beat generation, a group of young Bohemian writers who wrote and thought about the things that Americans used to "throw under the rug". Names can be mentioned: Jack Kerouac, Philip Whalen, Lawrence Felinghetti. Perhaps the most famous and most criticized of these "beatniks" is Allen Ginsberg. Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey. His mother, Naomi, was a Russian immigrant, and his father Louis was a poet and Paterson, NJ teacher. Allen's childhood was not always a happy one; Naomi went back and forth from mental hospitals and endured the physical abuse of Louis. She also had Communist leanings, thinking that spies were out to get her and that Hitler was on the way. All of these are mentioned in some of Allen's works, the topic of many of them. After being dismissed from Columbia University, he joined the merchant marines and sailed to the West Coast. In San Francisco he befriended young men just like himself: angry, pessimistic about the future, confused about their sexuality, and not knowing what their place in life really was. After he was released from the merchant marines, he went back to the Bay Area. These young men began to hold meetings where they would read poems and share ideas. They also formed a sense of friendship, because they were all that they really had. "Howl" is a three part poem written in 1955 to his friend Carl Solomon. In it he talk about the "best minds of my generation destroyed by madness" "It destructively catalogues evils of our time from physical deprivation to madness" (Eberhart, Page 25). The first part of "Howl" is a list of the atrocities that have allegedly been endured by Ginsberg and his friends. These atrocities accumulate to form a desperate critique of a civilization that has set up a power structure that determines everything people do. This power structure is dictated by the conservative society of America. The theme of the poem is given in the first part: it is one of question, seeing the things going on and hoping things get better. By "burning their money in wastebaskets" he shows that anyone who does not fit into societies mold is made to feel that life is hopeless. The imagery used here is very well placed- dark "Negro" streets give a picture of gloominess, "angry fix" deals with the consumption of drugs. He really blames society for his friends going "mad" when in fact they are not, they are just different. So much pain and pressure is put on them that they are "demanding instantaneous lobotomy" Ginsberg is also aware of the fact that these atrocities are not just occurring in San Francisco and New York but in all of America, big and small. He mentions Houston, Chicago, Denver, North Carolina, etc. No one is excluded from the changes that are happening. The allusion in the first part of the poem reflects the tone and the way that Ginsberg feels about the future of the world. You can be...
Bibliography: Bartlett, Lee (Editor) The Beats:Essays in Criticism McFarland Press London 1981 French, Warren. The San Francisco Poetry Renaissance Twayne Publishers Boston 1991 Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and other Poems City Lights Books San Francisco 1956 Ginsberg, Allen Kaddish and other Poems City Lights Books San Francisco 1961 Hyde, Lewis (Editor) On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg The University of Michigan Press Ann Arbor, MI 1984 Merill, Thomas. Allen Ginsberg Twayne Publishers Boston 1988 Stephanchev, Stephen. American Poetry Since 1945 Harper and Row Publishers New York 1965 Turco, Lewis. Visions and Revisions of American Poetry The University of Arkansas Press Fayetteville, AK 1986 Footnotes 1) Eberhart, Richard "West Coast Rhythms" from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 2) Rexroth, Kenneth "San Francisco Letter" from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 3) Eberhart, Richard "West Coast Rhythms" from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 4) Grossman, Allen "Allen Ginsberg:The Jew as an American Poet" from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 5) Shapiro, Harvey. "Exalted Comfort" from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 6) Alvarez, A. "Ginsberg and the Herd Instinct" from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg 7) Shaprio, Harvey. "Exalted Comfort" from On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg"
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