Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) has always been on my radar but I’d never really read Howl properly until now. I confess to it being my Morrissey obsession that brought him into my thoughts again. Moz’s track Neal Cassady Drops Dead from his sublime 2014 album World Peace Is None Of Your Business containing these lyrics:

Neal Cassady drops dead
And Allen Ginsberg’s tears shampoo his beard
Neal Cassady drops dead
And Allen Ginsberg’s lips tighten and thin
Neal Cassady drops dead
And Allen Ginsberg’s hosed down in a barn
Neal Cassady drops dead
And Allen Ginsberg’s howl becomes a growl

Ginsberg was a renowned poet and a founding member of a major literary movement as well as a champion of human and civil rights. He is most remembered for Kaddish – the tragic biography of his mentally ill mother – but most of all for Howl – the long, relentless, rhythmic verse with it’s famous opening line:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness

The 1965 publication of Howl and Other Poems established Ginsberg as an important voice in American poetry. The Howl obscenity trial shot him to fame and alongside books such as Kerouac’s On The Road and Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, the new Beat Generation had its own literature and spokespeople.

That said, I cannot say that I enjoyed this book myself. A lot of the writing is addled and muddled and full of stoned ramblings (I know that is supposed to be the point in some places but it’s not for me). There is some beautiful language but on the whole I was left disappointed  by this “important” piece of poetry. I did slightly prefer the other poems included – Sunflower Sutra and especially America. I got these more, I guess, and felt more comfortable reading them. For me personally, great writing doesn’t have to be difficult or simplistic, it just has to flow.

I don’t do pretentious so I can’t expand on these feelings. As a reader it wasn’t something I appreciated. As a 1960s hipster or civil rights activist, I probably would’ve done.

So not good, not particularly bad but kind of underwhelming.


Notes on Allen Ginsberg:

  • He was expelled from Cuba and Czechoslovakia in 1965 for his controversial opinions. He also became the subject of a huge FBI dossier
  • He became a figurehead of the global youth movement of the 1960s and has been accredited with coining the term “Flower Power.”
  • Despite his fame and notoriety he lived modestly throughout his almost 71 years, buying second hand clothes and residing in small apartments in New York’s East Village




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