Posts filed under ‘Allen Ginsberg’
I’ve wanted to post a recording of Howl on this site ever since we first started – I can think of few poems that demand to be read aloud, preferably from a high rooftop, as violently as Ginsberg’s beat epic.
Every time I read this poem I am reminded of the Whitman line about sounding your “barbaric yawp across the roofs of the world”. Not since Whitman has poetry been this glorious, this incantatory, the heft and weight of Ginsberg’s grandiose cadences making this a soaring manifesto for a generation and a way of life. Demented, hallucinatory, and in-your-face outrageous, Howl is a work of raw, savage beauty, the ultimate sermon of social revolt, a poem that combines the atmosphere of beat with throwaway lines of exquisite jazz. This is an opportunity to hear one of the twentieth century’s most unique and undeniable voices, the voice of a “madman, bum and angel beat in Time”. If you do nothing else to commemorate yesterday’s National Poetry Day, you should listen to Howl.
October 3rd 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of a court ruling that allowed Howl to be published – declaring it a poem of “redeeming social importance”. The podcast linked to here comes to you courtesy of Pacifica.org which ran a special program to commemorate the occasion (the recording of Howl starts some three minutes into the program), as well as to protest the ironic fact that today, 50 years later, it is still impossible to broadcast Howl on public radio or television without having to fear fines and reprisals from the FCC .
Jaweh with Atom Bomb
Allah cuts throat of Infidels
Jaweh’s armies beat down neighbouring tribes
Will Red Sea waters close & drown th’armies of Allah?
Israel’s tribes worshipping the Golden Calf
Moses broke the Tablets of Law.
Zalmon Schacter Lubovitcher Rebbe what you say
Stone Commandments broken on the ground
Sufi Sam whaddya say
Shall Prophet’s companions dance circled
round Synagogue while Jews doven bearded electric?
Both Gods Terrible! Awful Jaweh Allah!
Both hook-nosed-gods, circumcised.
Jaweh Allah which unreal?
Which stronger Illusion?
Which stronger Army?
Which gives most frightening command?
What God maintain egohood in Eden? Which be Nameless?
Which enter Abyss of Light?
Worlds of Gods, jealous Warriors, Humans, Animals & Flowers,
Hungry Ghosts, even Hell Beings all die,
Snake cock and pig eat each other’s tails and perish
All Jews all Moslems’ll die All Israelis all Arabs
Cairo’s angry millions Jerusalem’s multitudes
suffer Death’s dream Armies in battle!
Yea let Tribes wander to tin camps at cold Europe’s walls?
Yea let the Million sit in the desert shantytowns with tin cups?
I’m a Jew cries Allah! Buddha circumcised!
Snake sneaking an apple to Eden –
Alien, Wanderer, Caller of the Great Call!
What Prophet born on this ground
bound me Eternal to Palestine
circled by Armies tanks, droning bomber motors,
radar electronic computers?
What Mind directed Stern Gang Irgun Al Fatah
Meyer Lanksy? Nixon Shah? Gangster? Premier? King?
one-eyed General Dayan?
Golda Meir and Kissinger bound me with Arms?
HITLER AND STALIN SENT ME HERE!
WEIZMANN AND BEN-GURION SENT ME HERE!
NASSER AND SADAT SENT ME HERE!
ARAFAT SENT ME HERE! MESSIAH SENT ME HERE!
GOD SENT ME HERE!
Buchenwald sent me here! Vietnam sent me here!
Mylai sent me here!
Lidice sent me here!
My mother sent me here!
I WAS BORN HERE IN ISRAEL, Arab
circumcised, my father had a coffee shop in Jerusalem
One day the soldiers came and told me to walk down road
my hands up
walk away leave my house business forever!
The Israelis sent me here!
Solomon’s Temple the Pyramids & Sphinx sent me here!
JAWEH AND ALLAH SENT ME HERE!
Abraham will take me to his bosom!
Mohammed will guide me to Paradise!
Christ sent me here to be crucified!
Buddha will wipe out and destroy the world.
The New York Times and Cairo Editorialist Heykal sent me here!
Commentary and Palestine Review sent me here!
The International Zionist Conspiracy sent me here!
Syrian Politicians sent me here! Heroic Pan-Arab
Nationalists sent me here!
They’re sending Armies to my side –
The Americans & Russians are sending bombing planes tanks
Chinese Egyptians Syrians help me battle for my righteous
house my Soul’s dirt Spirit’s Nation body’s
boundaries & Self’s territory my
Zionist homeland my Palestine inheritance
The Capitalist Communist & Third World Peoples’
Republics Dictatorships Police States Socialisms and Democracies
are all sending Deadly Weapons to our aid!
We shall triumph over the Enemy!
Maintain our Separate Identity! Proud
Defend our own bodies here this Holy Land! This hill
Golgotha never forget, never relinquish
inhabit thru Eternity
under Allah Christ Yaweh forever one God
Shema Yisroel Adonoi Eluhenu Adonoi Echad!
La ilah illa’ Allah hu!
OY! AH! HU! OY! AH! HU!
SHALOM! SHANTIH! SALAAM!
This isn’t the most contemporary poem we’re going to be running in the series, but it might as well be. It’s a statement about both Ginsberg’s talent and the frightening sameness of Middle-East politics that this poem, written in 1974 still seems as relevant and accurate as it did then. The names have changed, obviously, and the Cold War side of it doesn’t matter as much, but replace Al Fateh with Al Qaeda, Nixon with Bush and Kissinger with Rumsfeld, and there you are. The rhetoric of faith and violence, which Ginsberg so bitterly lampoons, is still very much the same.
It’s a classic Ginsberg poem, of course. Part hilarious, part indignant, a political statement completely shorn of any pretense of political correctness. There’s the familiar overblown style, the Capital Letters sprinkled liberally through the whole thing, the jumpy line spacing (unfortunately not replicated in the post above – sorry), the Whitmanesque repetition. This is a rant, and fundamentally unhinged as any rant must be, but it’s a magnificent rant, unmatched in the fierceness of the voice, in the sheer lyrical over-the-topness. When Keats said that poetry should surprise by a fine excess, this is almost certainly not what he had in mind, yet Ginsberg is truer to that principle than almost any other poet I can think of. Even as the bombast of the poem makes you recoil a little, you can’t help being charmed by the accuracy of “help me battle for my righteous /house my Soul’s dirt Spirit’s Nation body’s / boundaries & Self’s territory my / Zionist homeland my Palestine inheritance /The Capitalist Communist & Third World Peoples’ /Republics Dictatorships Police States / Socialisms and Democracies” or by the sheer f***ing precision of “Which stronger illusion? / Which stronger Army?”. Add to which the throwaway phrases which betray how carefully constructed this spontaneous explosion of rage really is (“Egohood in Eden”) and the fact that Ginsberg is entirely without prejudice in his scorn, ladling it out to all equally, and join that to the playful revelation that is this reading, and what you have is a work of pure brilliance.
This is a stunningly contemporary poem in another sense as well – it’s performance poetry of the finest order. This is engagement of language at its most verbal and most inventive. All those performance poets out there, declaiming their half-rap verses in poetry speakeasies? This is the sound they’re looking for, this is the rhythm, this is the beat.
Also, the text of this post doesn’t exactly match the reading – unfortunately I don’t know what text Ginsberg is reading from (or whether he’s just improvising a little as he goes along). The text here is taken from ‘Selected Poems 1947 – 1995’ Perennial Classics Edition: 2001.
“Beatnik-Sputnik. I never can remember those kinds of terms.” – Sputnik Sweetheart, Haruki Murakami
Just one of those days when you want to go back to some good beat poetry.
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families
shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!–and you, Garcia Lorca, what
were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in
an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
The minstrels have good commentary on this too.