Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wednesday Poet Series No 5

The Wednesday Poet Series was due for a female poet this week. I do hope the female readers of Stick Poet will indulge me while I take the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Howl to feature poet Allen Ginsberg. I promise to do back to back women to even the series out.

Allen Ginsberg is perhaps the most noted of the beat generation poets. These would include Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs among others. They came into prominence in the late 1950's and early 1960's and represented a counter-culture that was given to spontaneity, open form composition, in their work and a rejection of what they believed was the psychological repression of their times. There were a number of other attachments suggestive of these writers and their friends and followers, many which were negative. Among them was a drug culture. But the writings and works of these people, and most assuredly Ginsberg would have a lasting effect, not only upon poetry and the arts, but significant impact on other areas of American culture.

I am presently reading:The Book of Martyrdom And Artifice - First Journals and Poems 1937-1952. The first thing that struck me about young Ginsberg is the degree to which he was exuberated with himself. Yes, I know there is a common belief that we poets are all about ourselves, but in all seriousness, the degree to which Ginsberg, as early as 1944 outwardly projected extreme confidence in himself was striking. He clearly was intellectually astute and very well read. He had an opinion on just about everything and was not timid in sharing it.

His best know work, Howl, a work that combined biographical references and abstractions. It was first publicly performed in San Francisco on October 7th 1955. Sometime thereafter, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published the work. He was part owner of City Lights Bookstore, a small press publishing house. In 1956, a reporter for the NY Times wrote a piece on the new poetry scene that helped bring Howl into national attention.

In 1957, copies of Howl entering the U.S. from a London printer were seized by customs officials. Obscenities charges were brought against Feringhetti for the publication. The trial only served to give Ginsberg and Feringhetti more exposure for the work. With the support of the ACLU, the publisher won the legal action. The judge deciding that even with the questionable language in the book, the poem was of "redeeming social importance."

Howl- in all three pasts can be read here. (here)

Here are a number of other Howl related resources you might find of interest:

Howl at Wikipedia


Howl at 50 - NPR

The following are some more examples of Ginsberg's writing.

A Supermarket In California America Five A.M. War Profit Litany

Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Letters Sunflower Sutra Nagasaki Days

I would be remiss if I did not make note that Allen Ginsberg's activism included vocal opposition to the war in Vietnam. This in addition to often targeting institutions in his writing as well as frequent mention of drugs and sex made him an easy target for authorities. Herbert Mitgang wrote a 1988 piece on the FBI and writers. It is interesting and focuses mostly on Ginsberg. (view here)

Ginsberg's poetry clearly has a dissonant style to it. He used his writing to speak pretty much what he felt at the moment.

I have selected a few very telling quotes from Ginsberg to close with. I believe these too will give greater insight to both the man and his writings.

"Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does."

"I have a new method of poetry. All you got to do is look over your notebooks... And think of anything that comes into your head, especially the miseries... Then arrange in lines of two, three or four words each, don't bother about sentences ..."

"Wherever I go I see myself in a mirror- it used to be my own selfblood, now it is god's."

"America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel."

"Fortunately art is a community effort - a small but select community living in a
spiritualized world endeavoring to interpret the wars and the solitudes of the flesh."

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