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Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression Paperback


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Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression + Howl and Other Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets, No. 4)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers; First Edition edition (November 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872864790
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872864795
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, the poet's archivist and biographer Morgan and City Lights publisher Peters, and City Lights was Howl's original publisher) have assembled this intermittently fascinating collection of documents, mostly related to the book's obscenity trial in San Francisco in 1957. These documents provides a coherent narrative of the composition of the poem, as well as the prosecution of publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti and one of his City Lights employees and their eventual exoneration. The poet's letters discussing the publication of his book are often illuminating, particularly the massive letter to John Hollander that dissects every element of Howl, but not all the correspondence is equally interesting. Similarly, the lengthy trial transcript is entertaining at times, but would have benefited from being rendered into prose and excerpted appropriately. The book is certainly useful as a reference tool for those researching Ginsberg or obscenity law, and will interest Ginsberg completists, but this isn't a smooth read for a general audience. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—This compilation of essays, correspondence, court transcripts, memoirs, newspaper accounts, and photographs concerning the 1956 publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems adds up to a fascinating account of one of the most significant cases of censorship in U.S. history. The editors do a superb job of setting the stage leading to the court case and of providing thoughtful testimony to its lasting importance. Among the many helpful features: a chronology of Howl the book and Howl the case; another of censorship in general; reproductions of several San Francisco Chronicle articles, editorials, and letters to the editor; and the complete text of the poem. By far, though, the most compelling parts of the book are the "Howl Letters" and large sections of the official transcript from the 1957 trial. Most of the correspondence is between Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but there are letters to and/or from Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, Louis Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady. These letters provide a window into the meaning and significance of Ginsberg's great poem. Besides Ginsberg and the chief defense lawyer, J. W. Ehrlich, the other person who shines brightly in these pages is Ferlinghetti, a longtime champion of free expression. This book is a gold mine for reports on censorship, especially those in need of primary-source material.—Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Terence Clarke on October 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
When I read this book I felt a certain nostalgia, because the "Howl" obscenity trial took place fifty years ago when I was a kid, and the Beatnik writers, of whom Ginsberg became the most famous, seem so rarified to me now. It's as though they had been filmed in black and white and the movies now jump and rattle as we watch them, the images scratched, browned and antiquarian. Also, it gave me considerable pleasure to know that the government censorship that the "not guilty" judgment in that trial abolished had remained abolished ever since.

In October, 2007, however, I learned that this is not true.

For the fiftieth anniversary of the trial, Pacifica Radio, the organization made up of the community-supported radio stations KPFA, KPFK, WBAI and others, considered the possibility of broadcasting a reading of the poem "Howl". It happens that, besides being the object of a landmark First Amendment freedom of speech judgment in a court of law, "Howl" is one of the truly remarkable poems of the twentieth century. So a commemoration of it seemed altogether laudable. But because of feared Federal Communications Commission rules on what constitutes obscene or unacceptable speech on the public airwaves, Pacifica determined not to do the broadcast on its stations. They worry that if the FCC fines them for broadcasting unacceptable speech, they will have to involve themselves in a freedom of speech trial, the costs of which could bankrupt Pacifica and put the stations out of business.

So the problem is subtler now than it was in 1957. You don't have to wait for actual censorship itself. The very fear that it will come causes organizations to muzzle themselves now. Perhaps you'd win in a trial.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Linval on November 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book and Ginsberg's Howl at the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. What a great experience it was to peruse the shelves and aisles of this literary landmark. Howl on Trial is a great read into the Beat culture and San Francisco Renaissance of the North Beach area in the 1950s.
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By Woody on December 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nicely edited book on everything to do with Howl and the trial. The trial transcript excepts are the best part. Absolutely wonderful.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on November 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl and Other Poems", Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression presents the inside story of editing, publishing, and defending the poem Howl in the context of censorship of literary works, and the 1957 obscenity trial in San Francisco that supposedly represented "the people" versus City Lights, the bookshop that published and sold "Howl and Other Poems." Howl on Trial includes correspondence between Allen Ginsberg and numerous others concerning the poem and efforts to censor it; a selection of newspaper reportage, magazine essays, cartoons, photographs, and letters to the editor that reveal the cultural climate of the mid-1950s; excerpts from the trial transcript; ACLU defense counsel Albert Bendich's reflections on the Howl case; and much more. A fascinating examination of the battle for free speech in microcosm, offering insights into the ongoing struggle for the right to express ideas without fear or harassment.
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