Go, Man, Go! Rediscovering Howl

On my impromptu day off, I’m making the terrible choice to blog instead of catching up on the massive amount of research to be done before the promised land of graduation.  This is senioritis, English-major-style: I blow off writing about literature so I can instead write about literature.

I’ve recently revisited the marvelous, hypnotic “Howl,” in which human creative fountain Allen Ginsberg pours forth a series of word combinations that, while not always making logical sense, come together to paint a perfect picture of urban-based nausea and burnt-out despair.  I had an intense love affair with Beat writings in my high school days and had since kind of forgotten about the 50s in favor of 18th and 19th century word-flowers.  I remember now what I loved so much about these guys–the spontaneity, the clusters of evocative words, the torrential flow of the phrases.  What I never got to appreciate before, though (because I am ancient and YouTube wasn’t a thing when I was in high school) was the sheer delight of hearing Ginsberg perform it.  And when I say perform, I mean perform.

If you read the poem, it’s stirring, certainly; if you listen to him read it, you can hear the music and mania of it.  It’s a whole new dimension. The Beats tried to model their works after jazz, both in their flow and extemporaneous improvisation, so their works are meant to be heard.  In some ways, I see it more like singing Gospel songs at a Baptist service than listening to a jazz band, though.  (This is especially releavant, I think, if you consider the holy-holy-holyness of his footnote to “Howl”–it’s like a combination of a mantra being chanted and the possession experienced during Pentecost.)  While hardly ‘Christian’ in content, “Howl” so demands audience participation and so catupults the listener into a spiritual-seeming revelry that I think the comparison is unavoidable.  The first time this poem was read, Jack Kerouac ran around the room screaming, “Go, Go!”  And, when you hear Ginsberg reading it, rattling off line after line, it’s easy to picture yourself as Kerouac and getting caught up in the experience that way.

But enough jazzy, Beaty fun.  Back to the schoolwork at hand.

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