The First “Howl” On Record

Josh Jones posts the first recorded version of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” read by the poet himself:

The story of Howl’s publication begins in 1955, when 29-year-old Ginsberg read part of the poem at the Six Gallery, where [Lawrence] Ferlinghetti—owner of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore—sat in attendance. Deciding that Ginsberg’s epic lament “knocked the sides out of things,” Ferlinghetti offered to publish “Howl” and brought out the first edition in 1956. Prior to this reading, “Howl” existed in the form of an earlier poem called “Dream Record, 1955,” which poet Kenneth Rexroth told Ginsberg sounded “too formal… like you’re wearing Columbia University Brooks Brothers ties.” Ginsberg’s rewrite jettisoned the ivy league propriety.

Unfortunately, no audio exists of that first reading, but above … you can hear the first recorded reading of “Howl,” from February, 1956 at Portland’s Reed College. The recording sat dormant in Reed’s archives for over fifty years until scholar John Suiter rediscovered it in 2008. In it, Ginsberg reads his great prophetic work, not with the cadences of a street preacher or jazzman—both of which he had in his repertoire—but in an almost robotic monotone with an undertone of manic urgency. Ginsberg’s reading, before an intimate group of students in a dormitory lounge, took place only just before the first printing of the poem in the City Lights edition.

The text of the poem is here.  The Dish recently posted a recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice here and a purported recording of Walt Whitman here.