Friday, 7 October 2016

Howl - Allen Ginsberg


Sitting watching the sun go down over Exmouth after reading Howl, I wondered what might have become of Allen Ginsberg had he not acquired world-wide fame as a poet? If Howl had not been picked up on and published by City Lights Books in 1956 and had it not caused such a scandal, would Ginsberg have remained working as a market researcher and kept his homosexuality a secret? Would he have followed his mother's advice to be good, to get married and to stay away from drugs? Would one of the world's greatest poems have gone undiscovered?

'I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...' And with those words a door was shut on the 1950s and a new one opened leading to the Sixties. Not just by themselves alone, of course, but without these words and the life pursuits of Allen Ginsberg the world wouldn't be quite the same as it is today.
The Fifties bawled and the Fifties screamed, stamping its feet like a petulant child saying "No, I won't! No, I won't! (The world) is mine! It's mine!" And in a fit of temper it lashed out at Howl - at words on a page - to try and make Ginsberg's poem go away. When it failed to do so, thanks to an Amendment called 'Freedom of expression', the Fifties sloped away and sulked, gnashing it's teeth and festering resentment.
Ginsberg and his friends stepped forward and into the sunlight of a new era where they said Yes! to freedom, Yes! to love, Yes! to peace, Yes! to drugs and - just as importantly - No! to Moloch.

'Holy! Holy! Holy!... Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman's an angel!' And a million young people agreed whilst J Edgar Hoover and his kind said "What the fuck?" and made plans to claw back the ground they had lost by the use of guns, cheap heroin and Cointelpro.

And here we all are today. Ginsberg's dead but so is Hoover, Nixon, Reagan and a whole host of others just like them. The same fight, however, continues in a myriad of different forms. La lotta continua. It's a never-ending tug-of-war between light and dark, love and hate, peace and war; an inch gained here and a mile lost there but through it all Howl stands as a shining example of the power of words. As a shining example of the importance of words and art in matters of changing the world. As proof positive that Ginsberg was (almost, though not entirely) on the side of the angels whilst Hoover and Nixon et al were on the side of... at best you could call it repression but at worst you could call it death.

For anyone who's never read Howl, I'd advise they do so - at least twice. Then rather than appeasing the forces of the conservative Right and their remorseless quest for the subordination of the human race; grow a beard, rumple your clothes, wear sandals, play a bongo drum, start listening to jazz, become sexually immoral and up your drug intake - if that's your bag. Either way, take heart from Ginsberg's poem - and indeed his life - and be inspired.
John Serpico

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