Saturday, February 27, 2010

Howl and Other Poems

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 1956.

The center-piece of Ginsberg's book is the title poem, “Howl,” which is divided into three parts. The first section structures itself within the syntactical confines of a single, eleven-page sentence comprised of appositives and digressions that expounded upon the lives, goings on, and locations of the “best minds of my [the poet's] generation,” otherwise known as his “angelheaded hipsters” (9). In addition to the extended syntax, other aesthetic elements of the poem include an anaphoric refrain beginning with the word “who” followed by a verb in the past tense, the use of highly sexual language, which more often than not is homoerotic in nature, for example, “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly/ motorcyclists, and screamed in joy,/ who blew and were blown by those human seraphim” (13), the use of a Whitamanesque catalog, a diction effused with the colloquial jargon of jazz musicians and the counter-culture movement that mixes the sacred with the profane, and deviant syntax, either in the form of absence or excess (e.g. with regard to the latter: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!” etc). Poems in the collection explore the prose form, such as “A Supermarket in California” and “Transcription of Organ Music,” while other poems, such as “Sunflower Sutra” and “America” employ excessively long lines. Juxtaposing these poems side by side interrogates the difference between the two in an associative manner. The final three pieces of the collection could be considered, by traditional standards, more “poetic,” in that they use shorter lines broken into stanzas and offer the reader customary tropes and images, such as flowers, love, and the physical body.

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