An excerpt from
(Poem #293) Howl
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war, who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull, who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York, who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their torsos night after night, with dreams, and drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and endless balls, incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time in between Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind, who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo, who sank all night in the submarine light of Bickford's, floated out and sat through the stale beer afternooon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox, who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge, a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire escapes off windowsills off Empire State out of the moon, yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars, whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement, who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall, suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak furnished room, who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts, who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night, who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kaballa because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas, who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels, who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy, who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain, who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa, who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago...
The dedication reads 'for Carl Solomon'. 'Howl' is not a poem that could ever be described as beautiful, or evocative, or inspiring, or mystical, or any of the myriad other adjectives that reviewers like myself are wont to use. Indeed, it doesn't seem to be very 'poetic' (in the traditional sense of the term) at all; it's unstructured to the point of incoherence, violent, bizarre, crude, sprawling, energetic ... all told, more of a delirious rant than a poem. Yet poem it is, and a brilliant one at that. In the sheer _scale_ of its undertaking it has very few peers , while the mode of expression is both stunningly original and perfectly suited to the underlying emotion / theme / state of mind. An incredibly wild ride... thomas.  Dylan's 'Desolation Row' springs to mind, as does T. S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland'. [Digression] 'Howl' in its entirety is a very long poem indeed, and I meant to run only a dozen or so versets... as it happened, each time I picked a good place to stop, I'd discover something new and magical a line or two downstream, and would feel compelled to extend my selection. I guess it just goes to show... [Minstrels Links] In previous posts I've mentioned Ginsberg's inheritance of Whitman's mantle; you can read more about the former at poem #244, and about the latter at poem #246. 'Desolation Row' can be read at poem #227 [Notes from the Net] Allen Ginsberg's monumental poem was first heard in a series of famous readings that signaled the arrival of the Beat Generation of writers. The first of these readings took place in October 1955, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. It was Allen Ginsberg's first public performance, and it made him instantly famous at the age of twenty-nine. The poem is part Walt Whitman, part Old Testament hellfire ranting, and hundred-percent performance art. The lines in the famous first part of the poem tumble over each other in long unbroken breaths, all adding to a single endless sentence... Ginsberg is describing his fellow travelers, the crazy, lonely members of his community of misunderstood poet artists, unpublished novelists, psychotics, radicals, pranksters, sexual deviants and junkies. At the time that he wrote this he'd seen several of his promising young friends broken or killed... [various lines in the poem] describe real-life events by people Ginsberg knew, but the poem is especially dedicated to Carl Solomon, Ginsberg's crazy-insane hyper-intellectual friend who he'd met in a mental hospital years before: -- [broken link] http://www.charm.net./~brooklyn/Poems/Howl.html To accusations that "Howl" is a negative and destructive poem, Ginsberg responded by saying: "The title notwithstanding, the poem itself is an act of sympathy, not rejection. In it I am leaping out of a preconceived notion of social 'values', following my own heart's instincts - allowing myself to follow my own heart's instincts, overturning any notion of propriety, moral 'value', superficial 'maturity', Trilling-esque sense of 'civilization', and exposing my true feelings - of sympathy and identification with the rejected, mystical, individual, even 'mad'. "Howl is the first discovery as far as communication of feeling and truth, that I made. It begins with a catalogue sympathetically and humanely describing excesses of feeling and idealization." "Only if you are thinking an outmoded dualistic puritanical academic theory ridden world of values can you fail to see I am talking about realization of love. LOVE." "To call it work of nihilistic rebellion would be to mistake it completely. Its force comes from positive religious belief and experience. It offers no 'constructive' program in sociological terms - no poem could. It does offer a constructive human value - basically the experience - of the enlightment of mystical experience - without which no society can long exist." -- [broken link] http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~slatin/20c_poetry/projects/gh/eberhart.html [Afterthought] This, by the way, is one poem that I'd _strongly_ advise you to read out loud.