To what extent does the term "typewriter jazz" apply to Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"?

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The authors and poets of the beatnik generation frequently refer to jazz music in their writings, not only by specifically mentioning the music and artists within the genre, but also by the manner in which they compose their written pieces. The era of jazz that coincided with the Beats was...

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The authors and poets of the beatnik generation frequently refer to jazz music in their writings, not only by specifically mentioning the music and artists within the genre, but also by the manner in which they compose their written pieces. The era of jazz that coincided with the Beats was known as "bebop," which evolved from performing standard pieces as written to using such songs as a loose canvas on which the artists improvised wildly and in unprecedented ways.

Similarly, "Howl" is a perfect example of how the Beat poets treated their typewriters like musical instruments, not adhering to traditional rules of what poetry and prose were supposed to look or sound like. Early in the piece, Ginsberg provides a dynamic characterization of the very movement he represents while referencing jazz music by name:

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 . . .

When read aloud in the appropriate cadence, these phrases are akin to an unrestricted solo by bebop artists such as Charlie Parker or John Coltrane. In addition to being wild and unpredictable in its presentation, the content of "Howl"—from explicit sexual references to economic commentary that was extremely disfavored at the time—is designed to catch the reader off-guard:

who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed . . .
This poem, like so many others from the beatnik era, represents a complete reinvention of literature, as the jazz music of the era was likewise redefining public expectations about what music could and should be.
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“Typewriter jazz” is an accurate description of both the content and the form of Allen Ginsburg’s Howl.

As an integral part of the Beat generation, Allen Ginsburg’s approach to writing poetry and the ideas he discusses are greatly influenced by the by the likes of Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Lawrence  Ferlinghetti (among others). All of these Beat generation writers explored spontaneity and an open flow of emotion much like that of an improvisational Jazz artist. In fact, Jazz is often cited as a primary influence on the Beat generation.

The form and structure of Howl could also be described by the phrase “typewriter jazz.” Early criticism lead Ginsburg to attempt to write with more spontaneity and emotion as well, as though he was literally sitting down at a typewriter and allowing the ideas just to wash over him. We see this in the poem’s long, run-on sentence type lines that spill over from line onto the next.  The structure of the poem suggests a hurried, frantic pace that if we imagine coming from an old manual typewriter might indeed sound like jazz.

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