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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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“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.
Top customer reviews
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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.)
In a way, this is the final 'version' of the poem, to explain some of the more obscure references that have been argues for years, to make sense of the motivation behind some of the now legendary passages he was thinking about when he typed it up in that dingy one room apartment over 50 years ago.
On a personal level as a poet (I have written several chapbooks of poetry and many pieces of fiction myself), this is overwhelming. You need to be a true scholar of obscure fiction and poetry to understand the real depth and level of commitment he made when he wrote this, knowing he was standing up to over 1,000 years of structured, unassuming, harmless poetry. He was the first daredevil of poetry, daring to howl (forgive the pun) and rage against any kind formality.
This was a new way of writing poetry, a style never really seen, and written with such honesty it surely shows. I read this, ad re-read it, I went over the several dozen revisions, read every bit of notes written and typed and edited and scratched out to friends and lovers and editors, and well, I was mentally exhausted - there is a LOT to take in, but it is worth it.
The book is broken down into several sections, from the many drafts to the annotations, the many appendixes and correspondences to Kerouac, Carl Solomon, Ezra Pound, accounts of the first reading, the legal battles, and finally tons and tons of pictures and facsimiles of the original poem, the edits, an offhandedly snapped picture of the actual room he wrote it in, pictures of friends and lovers and friends, and much much more. It's just too much here to list, but it will be worth it for you to open it up and see for yourself.
If and when you read this, you will come to know the very essence of Allen's spirit, his thinking process, and finally you will not only be just a reader, but you will be drawn in and become part of something that happened once in a lifetime, a groundbreaking piece of writing has finally been given the proper dissection and criticism with the respect it deserves by not only many in his own circles but but Ginsberg himself.
In the past I've written a few special things, but nothing can come close to a poem that was written before my birth, affected First Amendment law, brought together a special kind of writing community and changed forever the way we all approach poetry, and even literature itself.
We have one man to thank, not only for writing it, but for having the kind of support and friendship of so many others whose voices were only heard from the sidelines who supported him enough to back him when the rest of the world did not.
This book is a living statement, of how it was originally thought out, how it was born, and how it even now lives through those who may yet read it and see for themselves that this singular poem, as a document, is as important to us as some who may revere the Liberty Bell, the Constitution and the American flag itself.
To own this is to own a true piece of Americana itself, so do yourself a favor, pick it up, read it, and place it proudly on your shelf.
(Thanks for reading - please check out my other hopefully not-too-syrupy critiques here on Amazon.)