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Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript, and Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First ... (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) Paperback – October 10, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Taken all together, Ginsberg’s poems are X-rays of a considerable part of American society during the last four decades.” (The New Yorker)

“Ginsberg is both tragic and dynamic, a lyrical genius...probably the single greatest influence on American poetical voice since Whitman.” (Bob Dylan)

From the Back Cover

The prophetic poem that launched a generation when it was first published in 1956 is here presented in a commemorative 40th Anniversary Edition. When the book arrived from its British printers, it was seized almost immediately by U.S. Customs, and shortly thereafter the San Francisco police arrested its publisher and editor, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, together with the City Lights Bookstore manager, Shigeyoshi Murao. The two of them were charged with disseminating obscene literature, and the case went to trial in the Municipal Court of Judge Clayton Horn. A parade of distinguished literary and academic witnesses persuaded the judge that the title poem was indeed not obscene and that it had "redeeming social significance". Thus was Howl and Other Poems freed to become the single most influential poetic work of the post World War II era, with over 800,000 copies now in print.
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Product Details

  • Series: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; 50th Anniversary ed. edition (October 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061137456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061137457
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.6 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #444,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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(This is a review for the critique of the book "Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript, and Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public...etc.", not about the book itself.)

This book, at a whopping 208 pages, portrays the author, Allen Ginsberg in a cultural and artistic flux as both poet and as creator who's process is also in flux as well. It is also not for the feint of heart except for those who are true fans of the 4 page typewritten epic poem, Allen's first real foray at attempting what can only now be called true free-form poetry from 1956.

The poem itself is full of life and is a ripped-open from the heart - and even his soul - portrayal of his own life; his view of his life from a mirror. This book breaks it down by the entire process - from the original typewritten version to the crossed-out edited parts, the many revisions, the "final" copies of different versions sent to friends who kept them for over 50 years (and luckily some of them, not all of them, reprinted here for the first time ever), to even letters corresponding back and forth from those same friends about it's then-impact, his subsequent secret agony in having opened up a Supreme Court type firestorm over the readings, and much much more ephemera concerning it.

It's a lot to take in, and it can't be done in one sitting. Almost everyone from that time period chimes in - Neal Cassidy, ex-lovers, Ferlinghetti, the publishers, and writings and thoughts by Ginsberg himself, who contributed unlimited access to his own personal papers among his other "scraps of paper," as he called them. (Sadly, Allen would never see this publication in it's final form as he died right before it was published.
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Considering Ginsberg embraced Kerouac's "First thought, best thought," motto, Howl's 50th anniversary edition, which includes many photocopied pages of handwritten and typed revisions, proves Ginsberg did plenty of revisiting and change to those first thoughts. Choosing better, more musical adjectives, adding to and shaping his images to enhance the mental scenery, and the great big cross-outs in pencil, turn this long, occasionally tough read into something wondrous.

Anyone who hasn't read Howl might not get the beauty of this book. Howl, (at first impression, anyway) appears to be a spontaneous effusion of cadence, gibberish, sexual references and glamorized psychosis. It is funny, frank and unashamed, and in those Eisenhower American-era days, what Ginsberg did was a brave and scary thing. He and his publisher, the poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who owned City Lights Books) certainly had their work cut out defending it.

Beyond its great literary status, "Howl" is a political milestone, being initially banned and labeled "obscene" for what by today's standards is laughably mild. This version of Howl is dedicated to Ferlinghetti, who along with the American Civil Liberties Union, championed the poem with First Amendment Protections. As we all know, Howl won its censorship trial to became one of the best and most widely read poems of modern time.
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Here we are granted invaluable insight into the making of "Howl." We see the visions and revisions of Allen Ginsberg, America's poetic enfant terrible, as he composes what is indisputably -- even if the more prim among us recoil from the vividness -- a literary masterpiece. We see his drafts, the marginal corrections, the typescript itself as it evolves into the high-powered dynamo that we know so well.

The annotations to Ginsberg's more recondite references are of immense worth to the reader, who can now situate this poem properly in its literary and temporal climate. Also of vital importance is the small anthology of "precursor texts": the great poems of the past which inspired Ginsberg as he wrote his chef-d'oeuvre -- Whitman, Lorca, Shelley, William Carlos Williams, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Hart Crane, and even old Christopher Smart!

We learn from this variorum edition that Ginsberg's prosody is always controlled, never to the point of hampering his freedom of expression, but always with an eye to enhancing the "diction galvanized against inertia."

Included also is a brief history of the legal battles surrounding "Howl" (in the sedate 1950s, the obscenity caused much startlement!), and a small sampling of the immediate critical reaction to Ginsberg's most famous work. John Hollander's review fascinates, even though it is a hostile reaction -- Hollander's shamefaced pentimento, taking back some of his opprobrium, is appended.

This volume will be of especial appeal to Ginsbergians, to champions of the Beat movement in literature, and to anyone who is fascinated by mid-20th century American literary history.
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