Saturday, October 08, 2005


OCTOBER 8 1955
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

Howl of beat's heart

October 08, 2005 FIFTY years ago today in San Francisco, disaffected young bohemians, with their goatees, berets, angst, wine and marijuana, gathered at the Six Gallery to listen to poetry. It was a cool, hip thing to do and rock'n'roll had not yet been invented.

If they had arrived as individuals in search of confirmation that society sucked, by the time Allen Ginsberg had finished reading his seminal work, Howl, an eloquent, passionate rage against conformity, the 200 or so there left united into new movement: the beats.

"That was the day the bomb went off," says Anthony Bliss, curator of rare books and literary manuscripts at Berkeley's Bancroft Library, home to one of the foremost collections of beat literature.

The Howl Obscenity Trial and free speech

"Beat Generation" is a term referring to a heterogeneous mix of young people, artists and intellectuals of the 1950s (and later) whose unconventional work and lifestyle reflected profound disaffection with contemporary society. They expressed objection and criticism against American materialism in a bitter, harsh and often abusive language. They mocked its conformity, denounced its immorality and set out "on the road" to discover America's true spirit. They experienced with drugs and sex, explored Eastern religions and Western avant-gardes, from dada to jazz "burning for the ancient heavenly connection." (Ginsberg) The Beats rediscovered poetry as a form of public entertainment, returned to its sources in the body, breath, the spoken word and music. The Beat ethos reverberated through the anti-war movement and movements from psychedelia to punk and enjoys a current resurgence.
Members of the Beat Generation, responded to the conformist materialism of the period by adopting lifestyles derived from Henry David Thoreau's social disobedience and Walt Whitman's poetry of the open road. The movement had no shared artistic credo beyond breaking the current literary orthodoxy. Most representative and influential were Kerouac' s novel On the Road (1957) and Ginsberg's poem Howl (1956), and William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. (1959) Other prominent Beat related literary figures were poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet Gregory Corso, and novelist John Clellon Holmes. In a first section of this course we will concentrate on the works of these "core Beats". We will then move on to study the convergence of the Beat Movement with the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance.

Howl was one of those books, and it is a book not just a 'poem', that had a profound impact on me when I was a teenager. The others were the Communist Manifesto, the writings of Bakunin, Freud's Analysis of Dreams, Heinlien's Stranger in a Strange Land, Aleister Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice, the novels of H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, William Burroughs, Samuel Delany and the poems and stories of Edgar Allan Poe. I liked my poets dark, stoned and gothic.

Don't call me a baby boomer, I never did. I am a child of the Atomic Age, the Space Age, the Age of Television, the new Age of Comics, Rock n Roll in the New Jazz Age. In growing up I embraced the Beat/Hippie/Yippie/Freak kulture.... I was baptized in the Anti-War and Liberation Movements of the seventies; youth libertation, womens liberation, gay liberation. Underground comix, Alternative Press and Media was juice for my creativity. The revival of Surrealism, Wobbly labour activism and Paganism was the carnival of resistance I ran away to join.

I was cheered by Hendrix, the poetics of the Doors, the siren call of Leary and the other Experiences of the Doors of Perception that opened for my in-between generation, 1954-64, not really the sixties and not yet generation X.

There now you know a bit more about me......
and at 50 I still Howl.


Anonymous said...

HOWL was the first poem I read that moved me, that made me believe Poets could be rebels. The opening verse still sends shivers down my spine and it still holds much relevance today as if did in 1955.

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