The Poem That Changed America (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
Allen Ginsberg’s controversial rhapsodic poem “Howl” has been called the most influential American poem since T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). “Howl” was first presented to the public at the now-legendary reading on October 7, 1955, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, an event that is described in Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums (1958). Howl, and Other Poems (1956) was published in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Pocket Poet series, with an introduction by William Carlos Williams, and sold close to one million copies in the fifty years after its first appearance in print. Soon after its publication it became the subject of a widely publicized obscenity trial, which ended with an acquittal for Ginsberg and his publisher on the grounds that, despite the objectionable expressions it contained, the poem was not totally without redeeming social importance.
Ginsberg’s reading of the poem launched his own career and established “Howl” as the most widely read and discussed poem of the post-World War II era in the United States. Immediately after the reading, Ferlinghetti indirectly compared Ginsberg to Walt Whitman by sending him a congratulatory telegram, using almost the identical words Ralph Waldo Emerson had used to praise Whitman upon the first publication of Leaves of Grass (1855) exactly one hundred years earlier.
In order to commemorate and to celebrate the fiftieth...
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2007)
The Boston Globe, April 30, 2006, p. E2.
Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 4 (February 15, 2006): 175.
Library Journal 131, no. 5 (March 15, 2006): 73.
New Criterion 24, no. 10 (June, 2006): 96-97.
The New York Times Book Review 155 (April 9, 2006): 24-25.
Poetry 188, no. 5 (September, 2006): 442-448.
Publishers Weekly 253, no. 5 (January 30, 2006): 50-51.
The Washington Post, April 16, 2006, pp. T4-T5.
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