Allen Ginsberg, in my opinion, is one of the best minds of OUR Generation (and by "our" I mean we as a human race). He was a pioneer for the Beat Generation. He also coined the phrase "flower power." He believed in love. His poem "Howl," when published, was put on trial for being explicit--an obscenity trial. Besides the fact the the court ignored the blatant violation of Ginsberg's First Amendment right to freedom of speech, those fighting to censor his work attempted to measure the poem's validity through pre-conceived literary conventions. "Howl" was thought to be so explicit but also so profound because it broke said conventions. The conclusion of the trial brought attention to the fact that people are entitled to the right of free speech, but understanding is not a guarantee. One does not have to understand art for it to be so. And the artist deserves the right to their own expression and, as such, the right to not explain their expression.
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman recently directed the film "Howl" (2010), a mockumentary of Allen Ginsberg, "Howl" and it's life on trial. All of the dialog in the film is nonfiction, rooted in real conversation, interviews and documentation of the trial. There is a fair amount of creative license given to the acted content. The film has four aspects: Allen Ginsberg in the interview setting, Allen Ginsberg reading "Howl" at a poetry open-mic night, CGI-animation to accompany the poetry readings, and the trial scene. The film bounces between these four aspects. I highly recommend the film, except for the animation. Ask me why in person and I'll certainly tell you--there will be a long conversation about the animation part. Watch the trailer for "Howl" HERE.
The man himself.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts from "Howl." Read the entirety of the poem (I, II, and III) HERE. Read the "Footnote to Howl" HERE.
I'll start at the beginning - it seems slightly blasphemous to begin without it - then add on from there.
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 vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards...
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts.
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music,
who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 A.M. and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closer, and even that imaginary, nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the total animal soup of time--
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!
Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
I'm with you in Rockland
where you band on the catatonic piano the soul is innocent and immortal it should never die ungodly in an armed madhouse
I'm with you in Rockland
where you will split the heavens of Long Island and resurrect your living human Jesus from the superhuman tomb.
Footnote to Howl
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace & junk & drums!
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!
...one day, I hope to have the entirety of this poem committed to memory...