What is the main topic of "Howl and other poems" by Allen Ginsberg?

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appletrees eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Howl" is a potent commentary on the difficult temptations that face artists, as well as the harshness of urban existence. The first few lines are a direct reference to the ravages of drug abuse on young poets, artists and thinkers: "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". In these lines Ginsberg creates an image of drug-addicted artists or poets, whose lives have been reduced to simply looking for their next infusion of heroin, rather than being concerned with creating art. Drug use is often referred to as an 'occupational hazard' for artists and writers; in that drug use is said to broaden one's worldview or expand mental horizons, and drug use also occurs in stimulating social situations that are inspiring to artists. But addiction is the dark side of such behavioral impulses and Ginsberg is commenting on the dissolution of the artistic lifestyle.