It’s been a while. I’ve been busy overseas for the past 2 weeks and have returned to right where I left off in my semi-satisfying world of the workplace. I may have neglected this blog, but I have not neglected my brain. Ginsberg was on the brain and the brain was on the Beat Generation.
For those of you who didn’t major in English or who just weren’t taught anything about the Poets of the Beat Generation, then here’s a little nugget of knowledge for you. The Beat Generation consisted of a group of Post World War II American writers who became huge icons around the 1950’s. Elements of this “Beat” culture included rejecting imposed standards, creating new innovations in style, drug experimentation, alternative sexualities, rejection of materialism and portraying the human condition in an more explicit fashion.
The best known examples of this generation included William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch (1959), Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956). But other writers such as Lucian Carr, Carl Soloman, Neal Cassidy, David Kammerer, and others, were also very prominent figures of this generation.
History lesson behind us, let’s talk about Howl. Keep in mind that most poems have meaning that comes from not only the words but also from the form in which the poem is written. My quotations are not done in the original form and I have no intention of squandering Ginsberg’s vision in any way. These quotes are also only from part I of the poem.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro street at dawn looking for an angry fix,
What’s interesting about Howl is the complete rawness that comes off the page. This poem talks about a filthy, disgusting world full of drugs, exploitation and uncertainty. Of how one simple thing, something that you thought would help lift you up out of your own poverty and shame, is the very thing that will drive you mad. Ginsberg saw a world that was so strong and so impregnated with grime and pain that there was no way for anyone to escape their own fate.
Who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, who got busted in their public beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York
Every image in this poem is so deeply graphic that you cannot help but envision it. You cannot help but see the seedy underbelly of a city that in reality hides nothing. Ginsberg portrays a world that has no secrets. One that is completely open and honest about its grotesque desires. One that has taken so many victims before this and will continue to long after. Howl depicts the world seen through the looking glass but reminds us that what we see is real. It is not an alternate universe, it is ours and we have been kidnapped, pulled down by it, forced to watch as the world and everyone in it destroys themselves. It shows us that no one is safe.
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in an animal soup of time—and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrating plane,
Howl, in my opinion, is a visionary. A vision of a world we must try to destroy but one we must never forget existed.
If you’re looking for a film about the Beat Generation, go ahead and take a look at Kill Your Darlings. It surrounds Ginsberg, Lucian Carr and William Burroughs and a murder investigation.