It's April! That means another National Poetry Month is underway! Hope to have a few good posts on poetry and poets. What a wonderful art. To kick off NPM2011, here's famous Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, with his most famous poem, Howl (from Howl and Other Poems). Instead of giving you the longer poem in text, here it is read aloud by Ginsberg. What better way to read a Beat poet than by hearing a Beat poet. HEADS UP: He uses language some might find offensive. But I think it's important to understand.
Beat poetry evolved during the 1940s in both New York City and on the west coast, although San Francisco became the heart of the movement in the early 1950s. The end of World War II left poets like Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso questioning mainstream politics and culture. These poets would become known as the Beat generation, a group of writers interested in changing consciousness and defying conventional writing. The Beats were also closely intertwined with poets of the San Francisco Renaissance movement, such as Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan.
The battle against social conformity and literary tradition was central to the work of the Beats. Among this group of poets, hallucinogenic drugs were used to achieve higher consciousness, as was meditation and Eastern religion. Buddhism especially was important to many of the Beat poets; Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg both intensely studied this religion and it figured into much of their work.
Allen Ginsberg's first book, Howl and Other Poems, is often considered representative of the Beat poets. In 1956 Lawrence Ferlinghetti's press City Lights published Howl and Ferlinghetti was brought to trial the next year on charges of obscenity. In a hugely publicized case, the judge ruled that Howl was not obscene and brought national attention to Ginsberg and the Beat poets.