Ginsberg and Howl
American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) is best remembered for his 1955 epic Howl, which was highly controversial at the time and remains one of the best examples of beat poetry in American literature. In Howl, Ginsberg condemned modern America. In 1957, the poem was the subject of an obscenity trial, as it has frank depictions of hetero and homosexual sexual acts. Ultimately, the judge ruled in Ginsberg’s publisher’s favor, citing the First Amendment.
Howl famously opens with the lines: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” The poem was first written through 1954 and 1955, partly in a Berkeley, California coffeehouse. In the work, Ginsberg experimented with parataxis, which sees two fragmented images, often dissimilar, connected without any clear connection.
The poem itself, while referencing many of his friends and lovers, including fellow beat writers Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs, is dedicated to Carl Solomon. Solomon (1928-1993) was a fellow writer that Ginsberg met in the waiting room of the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey.
Ginsberg gave the first public reading of the final poem on October 7, 1955, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. It was published in 1956 in the collection Howl and Other Poems. The poem, while controversial, was an immediate critical success.