Friday, October 7, 2011

Notes For October 7th, 2011

This Day In Writing History

On October 7th, 1955, the legendary American 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 the amazing new poet named Allen Ginsberg and his incredible epic poem. He became a celebrity.

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,
hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking
for an angry
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...

Michael McClure wrote of Ginsberg's reading of Howl, "Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America..."

In 1956, Ginsberg's poem was published in book form as Howl and Other Poems - one of the most celebrated and controversial poetry collections of its time. It contained language and sexual imagery more daring than that in the works of most other poets. 

The following year, U.S. Customs officials seized over 500 copies of Howl and Other Poems that had been sent from its original publisher in London. The poetry collection was declared legally obscene and officially banned in the U.S.

So, when legendary poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti defied the ban, publishing the book himself and selling it at his famous San Francisco bookshop, the City Lights Bookstore, he was arrested on charges of obscenity.

The censorship of Ginsberg's book became a cause celibre among defenders of the First Amendment and the ban was overturned by presiding Judge Clayton Horn, who found that
Howl and Other Poems was not legally obscene because it possessed redeeming artistic value. Ferlinghetti's lead defense attorney, Jake Ehrlich, wrote a book about the case called Howl of the Censor.

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.

In 2010, Howl, an acclaimed feature film about the poetry collection's censorship battle, was released. It starred James Franco as Allen Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers as Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Quote Of The Day

“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.” - Allen Ginsberg

Vanguard Video

Today's video is a three-part presentation featuring a complete live recording of Allen Ginsberg reading Howl. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Bob Sanchez said...

It was my pleasure to meet Alan Ginsberg and hear him read in Lowell, Massachusetts, a year or two before he died. He was good.

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