A Poem a Day: Excerpt from Howl

Another dose of Ginsberg: I was not terribly (read: at all) interested in the Beat poets, until I saw the film Howl (2010) and discovered Allen Ginsberg. Although I began this poetry series with his “Kaddish”, “Howl” is the poem that made him famous overnight, and the poem that I’m more familiar with. It was the cause of the controversial trial of 1957, in which City Lights Books publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a poet in his own right, was accused of selling obscene material to the public in the form of Howl and Other Poems. The film is fun (and stars a delightful Jon Hamm as the defense lawyer), and, for the most part, I find “Howl” delightfully visceral and furious.

James Franco as Ginsberg in Howl (2010)

James Franco as Ginsberg in Howl (2010)

Excerpt from “Howl”

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,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York,
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, alcohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford’s floated out and sat through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi’s, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills off Empire State out of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark’s bleak furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,

who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas…

Ginsberg in San Francisco, 1955 (Peter Orlovsky/Archive of Allen Ginsberg)

Ginsberg in San Francisco, 1955 (Peter Orlovsky/Archive of Allen Ginsberg)

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This entry was posted in Literature, National Poetry Month, TV and Film. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Poem a Day: Excerpt from Howl

  1. ABP says:

    You should check out “Howl: 50 years later” I thought it was a really interesting addition to reading his work. I used it when I studied the Beat poets in college. My favorite work has to be America, but Howl had a power all its own.

    Like

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