Saturday, December 16, 2006

Howl and Other Poems

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights, 1959.

Reviewed by Rebecca Stuhr

“Howl” is one of the great poems of the twentieth century, and in this City Lights collection it is accompanied by nine other Ginsberg poems from the mid-1950’s including

“Sunflower Sutra,”

Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O
my soul, I loved you then!


America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I
need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not
the next world.

And “In back of the real”

Yellow, yellow flower, and
flower of industry,
tough spiky ugly flower,
Flower nonetheless
with the form of the great yellow
Rose in your brain!
This is the flower of the World.

‘Howl” is Ginsberg’s lamentation for his friend Carl Solomon. It begins, “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.” In this poem Ginsberg both celebrates the energy and genius of his generation and morns the waste of that generation’s promise through lives lived too hard . . . "who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in/Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their/torsos night after night/with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al-/cohol and cock and endless balls."

Ginsberg’s use of chant-like repetition gives this poem an ecstatic religious feeling, brought out even more unambiguously in “Footnote to Howl,”

Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours!
bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent
kindness of the soul!

If you haven’t heard Allen Ginsberg recite his poetry check out this video: Allen Ginsberg in concert with Donald Was (Lannan Literary Series) Listening Room Video L2811 v.9

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