This Day In Writing History
On October 7th, 1955, the legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg gave his first public reading of Howl, the epic poem that would become a classic anthem of the Beat Generation and make him world famous. Ginsberg read his poem at The Six Gallery Reading, an event organized by poet Kenneth Rexroth and promoted by Ginsberg that brought together the East and West Coast factions of Beat literati.
The Six Gallery in San Francisco was a former auto repair shop that had been turned into an art gallery. After Rexroth introduced Ginsberg to poet Gary Snyder, the two men planned the Six Gallery Reading and sent out postcard invitations to the event. Rexroth, Ginsberg, and Snyder were all scheduled to read, along with Philip Whalen, Philip Lemantia, and Michael McClure. Ginsberg introduced the group to Jack Kerouac, who would depict the reading in his classic novel, The Dharma Bums. (1958)
Over a hundred people attended the Six Gallery Reading. They were asked to chip in for drinks, and after the collection was taken up, Jack Kerouac went out and bought four gallon jugs of wine which were passed around while the poets read. Ginsberg was next to last to read. He went on around 11PM. Nervous at first, having never given a public poetry reading before, he began reading in a quiet voice. But then he got into the groove and found his rhythm, reading each line in one breath. Jack Kerouac chanted "Go! Go! Go!" as Ginsberg read, and the crowd went crazy.
The Six Gallery Reading got a lot of publicity. Soon, everyone was talking about Allen Ginsberg and his amazing poem, and he became a celebrity. The following year, Howl was published in a collection called Howl and Other Poems (1956). Howl, dedicated to Ginsberg's friend and fellow mental patient Carl Solomon, (who introduced him to the writings of Antonin Artaud and Jean Genet) was a revolution in American poetic voice and these gutwrenching opening lines would forever be imprinted in the American consciousness:
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...
Shortly after Howl and Other Poems was published in 1956, the book was banned as obscene, as Ginsberg's poems contained profane language and sexual imagery more daring than the works of other poets of the time. The censorship of Ginsberg's book was a cause celibre among defenders of the First Amendment and the ban was overturned by a judge who found that Howl and Other Poems was not legally obscene because it possessed redeeming artistic value. Ginsberg's writing career took off, and his public readings always drew standing-room-only crowds.
He would become one of the greatest and most influential American poets of all time.
Quote Of The Day
"[Allen] Ginsberg is both poetic and dynamic, a lyrical genius, con man extraordinaire, and probably the single greatest influence on American poetical voice since Whitman." - Bob Dylan
Today's video is a three-part presentation featuring a complete live recording of Allen Ginsberg reading Howl. Enjoy!