The Howl That Got Heard

Allen Ginsberg - 1979

After a week in which the Supreme Court heard two cases about same-sex marriage, David Biespiel ponders the ways we still live in the wake of Allen Ginsberg’s poem, Howl:

As a lament, “Howl” dissents against the destruction of youth, refutes the violence of industrialism, and grieves over the compromised life of Carl Solomon, whom Ginsberg met in a psychiatric hospital in the late 1940s. And it is an anthem for for homosexual freedom, rights, and visibility.

Ginsberg’s argument is that American industrial violence and cultural intolerance are a cancer at the root of American life and they cause the corrosion of the beatitude of the imagination. Therefore Howl deplores an American Cold War culture that pushes individuals — pacifists, free spirits, anti-capitalists, women, and yes, gays and lesbians — to its dark fringes. Then that same culture accuses those most vulnerable of being derelicts and outcasts who are undisciplined trash that live beyond the mainstream norms.

But Howl helped to create the world we now live in, a world that is opposed to an intolerant America.

Listen to Ginsberg recite Howl here.

(Allen Ginsberg in 1979, photographed by Michiel Hendryckx, via Wikimedia Commons)