On Friday night a few of us came together, drank too much, ate steak sandwiches, barked about politics for a bit, and then raised our sad glasses in memory of an old friend.
Then we did what we'd often done years before during college parties and mushroom trips: we howled Howl.
We howled Howl with our hearts and souls. And I realized at some undetermined point in the past decade or so I must have decided that it was no longer cool to howl Howl. That it was somehow trite. That the carnage and excess of the Beat Generation, the subsequent New Age that grew from that lineage and the whole beatnik 2.0 uber cool that infuriates me about this age had somehow tarnished that poem.
Well, I'm here to report back from the field: Howl is untarnished. Further, as any work that belongs in the Canon of great literature, it continues to offer new insights to the maturing reader. It is a work of art. Howling Howl is never trite.
I used to urge in younger years that you haven't really lived until you've howled Howl, preferably in the woods where the trees can hear. Preferably by a raging river to meet the violence head on. Preferably high up looking out over the city into the eyes of the skull. Preferably around a fire passing it around the circle, a spliff going the other way.
Written out of a certain madness into a certain madness, Howl is a collection of influences and attitudes that permeated that moment in history: A rebellion against 1950's white bread American culture; a triumphant declaration of a new generation; the ravings of the madness that lurked in shadows that the mainstream refused to understand; the beauty of love, especially man love, homoerotic, outspoken, balls out love.
It marries Whitman's freedom to Blake's vision using William's syllabic precision and spontaneous outburst with a strong hit of jazz, a sprinkle of buddhism, and crazy. All for the sake of love, honest, naked love, sacred poetic, potent love.
Said the great Kenneth Rexroth: "'Howl' lies in one of the oldest traditions, that of Hosea or the other, angry Minor Prophets of the Bible." Sacred rage.
Said Williams in his introduction to the poem: 'Literally he has, from all the evidence, been through hell. On the way he met a man named Carl Solomon with whom he shared among the teeth and excrement of this life something that cannot be described but in the words he has used to describe it. It is a howl of defeat. Not defeat at all for he has gone through defeat as if it were an ordinary experience, a trivial experience. Everyone in this life is defeated but a man, if he be a man, is not defeated.'
And further: 'Say what you will, he proves to us, in spite of the most debasing experiences that life can offer a man, the spirit of love survives to ennoble our lives if we have the wit and the courage and the faith -- and the art! to persist.'
And more!: 'We are blind and live our blind lives out in blindness. Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels. This poet sees through and all around the horrors he partakes of in the very intimate details of his poem. He avoids nothing but experiences it to the hilt. He contains it. Claims it as his own -- and, we believe, laughs at it and has the time and affrontery to love a fellow of his choice and record that love in a well-made poem.'
And finally, my favourite ending to any piece of writing ever: 'Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell.'
What Ginsberg wrote was a call to sanity and he chose a form and content that he allowed to degenerate into and from the insane so that it too could be redeemed.
Reflecting today on what has been a hard weekend. The silly squabbles, mindless differences, petty furies that carry us through too many days. So hopeless. It all ends one day. We reflected last night on an old line I often say to close friends that if we are really lucky one of us will break the other's heart some day. Cause that means we loved, and were loved. And dammit, I'm not sure anything else much matters, all the high falutin talk on this website aside.
The footnote to Howl is posted in it's entirety below. Written after the rest of the poem, some time later, it, unlike the degradation of the first three parts, is about redemption, holy, transcendent redemption, in a jazz styling. It is the resurrection. Read it aloud. Howl it, unafraid. Weep openly about whatever deserves weeping. Breathe in that sorrow. Redeem the world around.
Footnote to Howl
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy!
The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand
and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is
holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman's an
The bum's as holy as the seraphim! the madman is
holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is
holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy
Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cas-
sady holy the unknown buggered and suffering
beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks
of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop
apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana
hipsters peace & junk & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy
the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the
mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the
middle class! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebell-
ion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria &
Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the
clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy
the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the
locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucina-
tions holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours!
bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent
kindness of the soul!