Friday, October 07, 2005

"Howl" at 50

HOWL turns 50 today. "When Allen Ginsberg hurled his shattering poem at a San Francisco audience in 1955," writes Heidi Benson for the San Francisco Chronicle. "[I]t proved to be the depth charge that started the Beat movement."
"Oct. 7, 1955 -- at the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street ... the moment of conception of the Beat movement.

No photographs of the evening have turned up, but by all accounts, when 150 to 200 people showed up at this low-ceilinged former auto-body shop in response to hastily printed postcards, the size of the crowd astonished everybody."

I've written about this event recently regarding the fact that it was a rarity. Maybe that is as it should be. Maybe that's where poetic movements should be born--away from cameras and microphones. The first time I read HOWL I thought: "What absolute madness." Yet, it compelled me as:
"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,..."

Allen Ginsberg took the coals of poetry from the halls of academia, brought it to the streets, fanned it into a flame and scorched the ears of any one willing to listen. Most Americans avoid the dark corners of our nation like dead rodents on the highway. Not Ginsberg. Most people try to steer out of the way, and hope someone else will confront that horid thing. Ginsberg runs to the scene of the roadkill and howls...
"What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!"

It was the dawn of the Cold War. The Korean War had recently ended. Albert Einstein, who encouraged American intellectuals to sacrifice their comfort to protect freedom, died that year. Americans left rural communities to become city dwellers. Allen Ginsberg observed all this and howled and howled and 50 years later his voice can still be heard.

[cross posted from 1000 Black Lines]

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