Howl

Since we’re only working on one poem on Tuesday, I think I’d like to spend a little more time on the Cheever and Oates at the start of class, so be ready for that.

Comment here for Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl.”  A little background–Carl Solomon, to whom the poem is dedicated, is a fellow (though more minor) poet, whom Ginsberg met at the Rockland Psychiatric Center.  Ginsberg had been sent there as a sort of court sentence, but Solomon (after engaging in some of the Dadaist activity chronicle in Part I) was treated in much more depth, including a variety of shock treatments, as referred to in Part III.  As likely surprises no one, much of the poem was composed while Ginsberg was having a peyote vision, though it was revised pretty thoroughly afterward.

Since the poem is so bizarre, I’ll ask you simply to  identify some aspect of the poem in your comment that you don’t understand.  We’ll try to work through these next time.

Incidentally, a film about “Howl,” Ginsberg, and the obscenity trial it provoked was released a couple years back, starring (who else?) James Franco as Ginsberg.  It’s a good little film–the best thing about it being a series of animations illustrating the poem itself.  These are posted on Youtube–they don’t cover the whole poem, but you’ll get the idea.  There are seven parts: start here.

Ginsberg has long been associated with the Beats, about whom we’ll speak more next time.  Some of the other key figures–

Jack Kerouac (novelist, major work On the Road)
William S. Burroughs (novelist, major work Naked Lunch)
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (poet, major work “A Coney Island of the Mind”)
Gary Snyder (poet, major work Turtle Island)

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16 Responses to “Howl”

  1. andycrazn says:

    i had a really hard time reading the poem. the little animation didnt help and just made me visually confused on what the text/animation really meant.

  2. Id like to just give a thumbs up to Gordon for pointing out the Watchmen connection. I did the same in my response paper. Hurm.

  3. hamidah says:

    I did not really understand “Howl” but I did try to analyze it closely. For example, towards the ending of the poem Ginsberg repeated the sentence “I’m with you in Rockland.” The speaker probably was explaining that he is with Carl Solomon through anything and everything. No matter if they were apart or not. They were connected even if the distance between them was huge. It sounded like they were apart physically but mentally they were linked.

  4. mhealy101 says:

    Obviously , this is not a poem you can just read once and understand what Alan Ginsberg was trying to get at (kudos to the people who were able to!) . In my opinion, this was an extremely complex poem which needed constant re-reading. I think for the most part I understood what was going on in Part 1 , although there were moments when I would be slightly thrown off at what was going on.For example, “… and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time–“. All I have to say about Part II is , who/what is Moloch?

  5. Zasha Lucas says:

    I had to read the poem twice because it was just so confusing. It is not really the type of poem I would read. The part that was most confusing to me was the I part just because I did not know what he was trying to prove or tell us. The word Moloch also, I have no idea what he’s referring to in part II.

  6. jerryLaera says:

    I can’t stop thinking of the line you ended our last class with.. “This will be the most f*****d poem you will ever read”. All I can say say is “Yes, I agree”! His style of writing made it clear that everything stated was a stream of consciousness, a recollection of thoughts or ideas just jotted down into a poem. Part I wasn’t bad to read or understand as we follow the narrator through what it seems like to me as a drug related situation. As for Part II & III, I’m just as lost as everyone else. There is a bigger picture to this poem, is it the obscene life of others in the world? Haha, “Who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,..I can relate to that and have seen that happen.

  7. khaff88 says:

    After reading, “The Howl” I was left confused but I enjoyed the poem at the same time. Part II is where I was the most lost, I do not understand why the word “Moloch” was used in apart every line; I wish I knew what he was referring to. All in all, I liked this poem even though it was a little strange.

  8. jeanine says:

    I have read this poem about three times and Im still confused. But there is something as one of the responses did ask I was curious about the same thing when he said the word asterisks after mother . Was he trying to get us to notice something important ?

  9. GordonWTam says:

    The whole poem itself is quite confusing to me, but one part stuck out to me in particular when Ginsberg is screaming at Moloch. It stuck out because I am a huge comic book nerd and remembered in Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” there was a supervillain who went by that name. Watchmen took place in an America where capitalism went out of control and TOOK control of most aspects of America. When I googled Ginsbergs Moloch, it said it was a metaphor for industry and capitalism. And he appears to curse it. I mean, he calls Moloch a sucker of dongs. No matter what context, that’s not a good thing. I don’t really get this poem. It seems like something a homeless man would scream at me while I’m walking down the street drinking a cup of coffee. Maybe that was Ginsbergs point. I don’t know.

  10. nmulet says:

    Wasn’t there a “Holy!” section to this poem? “Holy! Holy! Holy!” I was wondering why that was omitted, if my memory serves me right.

  11. Something like Howl is a piece that defines the need for personal interpretation. Just as you take one thing from staring at a painting of abstract art, another may find a totally different meaning. Or you may simply not get it all and move on.

    Howl’s got a lot going on in it. The ranting, the raving, the street corner sermon like shouting. If nothing else, Ginsberg’s voice is very distinct in this. I don’t think anyone can truly feel like Ginsberg is doing anything else but shouting his lines. I doubt many read this hearing an internal whisper in their heads.

    And of course, just as true poetry exists, we see very few “rules”. The style changes–yes we have repetition–but overall we see chaos as literature, something that was very well captured on the page by Ginsberg and his peers.

  12. cbergmann says:

    After reading Howl I was thoroughly confused about many things, but one thing that caught my eye was Ginsberg’s use of capitalization. Ginsberg states, “… mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality”. I am not sure why Absolute Reality is capitalized, is it for emphasis or is it a noun? Ginsberg does this again later on in the poem, “the madman bum and angel beat in Time… ”. Again I am wondering what I am missing in these passages? Due to the fact the poem itself is so outrageous to me, I would not be surprised if I missed the point of this entirely.

  13. gvelella says:

    While I didn’t understand most of the poem either, I was curious as to why he used the asterisks after the word mother. Was it an important line he wanted noticed, or was it to censor a word? The poem wasn’t censored much to begin with, in fact not at all with all the sexual content within the poem.

  14. It seems to me that he is talking about the chaos in the world. Different ethic groups, religion, political system, immigrants and the interconnection they form. ” Who burned cigarrete holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of capitalism” . I believe that he is referring to all the abuses and sufferings that go on around us.

  15. Erika says:

    a lot of sexual comments and religious insertions into the poem… In all of this “confusion” comes a solace for him in some way. In discovering the nature of human beings… eloi eloi…sabacthani… my God why have you forsaken me….Golgatha…Jesus from the tomb… a lot…

  16. Jamie Rohr says:

    I am not even going to pretend that I understand what half the poem means, because it all stands out as a jumbled mess of craziness. So looking deeper into the poem a line that stood out to me was ” who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night.” I guess I don’t understand why the repetition of the word boxcar and what grandfather night means. Also, most of the other lines , while I may not understand the full sentences, I can get a gist of the madness that occurred. Unless I know what grandfather night means and the importance of the boxcar, I wont understand this sentence.