Book of the Week

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Poetry has always been known as a medium of change and diversity, but never have the boundaries of classical poetry been pushed so far as when Allen Ginsberg first read his poem “Howl”.

In the Six Gallery on Fillmore Street., a handful of poets gathered for a poetry reading fifty years ago. Among them were Allen Ginsberg and his good friend Jack Kerouac. The poets read their poetry in hopes that their words make a change for the good. But it was Ginsberg’s edgy in-your-face, no-holds-barred reading of “Howl” that got the crowd really riled up. The poem took steps in a direction no one had previously thought of going. Pointing fingers directly at himself and the society around him and addressing topics no one dared to address; homosexuality, drug use, and revolution.

Ginsberg pushed the envelope further by fighting the Supreme Court when they tried to censor and even ban his writing. Thankfully, for the rest of us, he and his publisher, City Lights Books, won the case and the Beat era had been born.

The book, “Howl”, itself is a small collection of poems by Ginsberg which includes the poem “Howl”, as well as some of my other favorites; “A supermarket in California”, and “America”.

“A supermarket in California” was written as an ode to one of Ginsberg’s biggest influences, Walt Whitman. The poem is wildly interesting, painting a picture of the two wandering aimlessly through a produce market in the middle of the night. Both fondling avocados and poking at the meats, as they would eye the young grocery boys. Then wondering out into the night with only Whitman’s beard to guide them. The poem comes to a close with Ginsberg pondering his lonely heart and critiquing the state of love in America.

This thought process would lead perfectly into his poem “America”, which is a strictly analytical piece about all the things America “is” or “is not” and how he fits into this mold. He ridicules America for being so aggressive, so materialistic, and so judgmental. To America, he confesses to going to Communist Cell meetings and being moved by the passion of the speakers, and he refuses to apologize. He confesses to being a queer. He confesses to smoking marijuana. He confesses everything, yet still refuses to apologize.

Ginsberg was not afraid to speak his mind, he stood in the forefront of the beat revolution and shouted his poetry like the commands of a military leader. And the people followed.