M. L. Rosenthal (review date 23 February 1957)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Rosenthal, M. L. “Poet of the New Violence.” The Nation 184, no. 8 (23 February 1957): 162.

[In the following review, Rosenthal finds some fault with Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems but considers his poetry original.]

The two most striking pieces in Allen Ginsberg's pamphlet Howl and Other Poems—the long title-piece itself and “America”—are sustained shrieks of frank defiance. The themes are struck off clearly in the opening lines of each:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed
by madness, starving hysterical naked …


America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.

(The entire section is 799 words.)

John Hollander (review date spring 1957)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Hollander, John. “Poetry Chronicle.” Partisan Review 24, no. 2 (spring 1957): 296-8.

[In the following excerpt, Hollander describes Howl and Other Poems as both “tiresome” and exemplifying real talent.]

It is only fair to Allen Ginsberg, however, to remark on the utter lack of decorum of any kind in his dreadful little volume [Howl]. I believe that the title of his long poem, “Howl,” is meant to be a noun, but I can't help taking it as an imperative. The poem itself is a confession of the poet's faith, done into some 112 paragraph-like lines, in the ravings of a lunatic friend (to whom it is dedicated), and in the irregularities in the...

(The entire section is 686 words.)

Michael Rumaker (essay date fall 1957)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: “Allen Ginsberg's ‘Howl.’” In On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg, edited by Lewis Hyde, pp. 36-40. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984.

[In the following essay, part of which was first published in 1957, Rumaker discusses “Howl.” This original material is accompanied by a 1983 updated comment by the critic.]

The language of “Howl” is curiously “materialistic.” I mean it is quantitative (a quantity of verbiage) without reference to quality. I speak later of fever in this poem and I think it's that: the feelings are not precise (are an onrush of emotional bulk) and therefore the words, the language, cannot be precise. The abstractions...

(The entire section is 1766 words.)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (essay date winter 1957)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. “Horn on ‘Howl.’” Evergreen Review 1, no. 4 (winter 1957): 145-58.

[In the following essay, Ferlinghetti gives an account of the charges that were levied against him for publishing and selling obscene writings and his subsequent San Francisco trial, after he published the first U.S. edition of Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems.]

Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which books burn, has finally been determined not to be the prevailing temperature at San Francisco, though the police still would be all too happy to make it hot for you. On October 3 last, Judge Clayton Horn of Municipal Court brought in a 39-page opinion finding...

(The entire section is 4161 words.)

Kenneth Rexroth (essay date 1957)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Rexroth, Kenneth. “San Francisco Letter.” In On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg, edited by Lewis Hyde, pp. 32-33. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984.

[In the following essay, which was first published in 1957, Rexroth, a popular poet often called “Godfather of the Beats,” lauds Allen Ginsberg's “Howl” as “more than the most sensational book of poetry of 1957.”]

Allen Ginsberg's Howl is much more than the most sensational book of poetry of 1957. Nothing goes to show how square the squares are so much as the favorable reviews they've given it. “Sustained shrieks of frantic defiance,” “single-minded frenzy of a raving...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

George Bowering (essay date 1969)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Bowering, George. “How I Hear ‘Howl.’” In On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg, edited by Lewis Hyde, pp. 370-78. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984.

[In the following essay, which was first published in 1969, Bowering discusses the experience of listening to a recording of Ginsberg's spoken version of “Howl.”]

(Poetry is a vocal art. In the following impression of Allen Ginsberg's poem, I will refer not so much to the printed versions as to his spoken version on the Fantasy LP 7005, Howl and Other Poems.)

… The central image of “Howl” is the “robot skullface of Moloch,” the mechanical monolith that eats the...

(The entire section is 3074 words.)

James Breslin (essay date spring 1977)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Breslin, James. “Allen Ginsberg: The Origins of ‘Howl’ and ‘Kaddish.’” The Iowa Review 8, no. 2 (spring 1977): 82-108.

[In the following essay, Breslin explores Ginsberg's life experiences as they are reflected in the subject matter and tone of “Howl” and “Kaddish,” two of Ginsberg's best known poems.]

Most literary people have probably first become aware of Allen Ginsberg through the media, in his self-elected and controversial role as public figure and prophet of a new age. Ginsberg's public personality has changed over the years—from the defiant and histrionic angry young man of the fifties to the bearded and benign patriarch and...

(The entire section is 11848 words.)

William A. Henry III (essay date December 1981)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Henry, William A., III. “In New York: ‘Howl’ Becomes a Hoot.” In On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg, edited by Lewis Hyde, pp. 367-69. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984.

[In the following essay, which first appeared in 1981, Henry describes an early 1980s public reading of “Howl” by poet Allen Ginsberg.]

Night, the hour of poets, on a windy street in the part of New York City where academe meets Harlem. Outside a nondescript building, a man calls to an acquaintance. The second replies, “Allen Ginsberg reading ‘Howl’? It's tempting, but …” He walks on.

Inside McMillin Theater at Columbia University, an audience of...

(The entire section is 990 words.)

Jeff Gaydos (essay date 18 January 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Gaydos, Jeff. “The ‘New’ Ginsberg: Still Full of Life.” Detroit News (18 January 1987): 9B.

[In the following essay, Gaydos reviews the anniversary edition of “Howl” and comments on the simultaneous release of Ginsberg's collection, White Shroud, Poems 1980-1985.]

The “beat generation” has been caricatured and romanticized as much or more than most quirky ripples in the flow of human behavior. And as with most “movements” that become diluted as they get washed through the American mainstream, it's tough to keep a perspective on its value to American life.

You find a set of bongo drums in the attic, think of black...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Michael Leddy (essay date autumn 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Leddy, Michael. “Verse.” World Literature Today 61, no. 4 (autumn 1987): 630-31.

[In the following essay, Leddy reviews a thirtieth-anniversary facsimile edition of “Howl.”]

“It is a rare occasion when a living author illuminates the creative process behind his work,” says the dust jacket of the thirtieth-anniversary annotated facsimile edition of Howl. For once a dust jacket is guilty of understatement: the generosity with which Ginsberg illuminates his text is unprecedented. He and editor Barry Miles have assembled all significant drafts of the poem, reproduced with copious new annotations by Ginsberg concerning composition and revision,...

(The entire section is 380 words.)

Thomas F. Merrill (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Merrill, Thomas F. “Howl and Other Poems.” In Allen Ginsberg, revised edition, pp. 50-69. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.

[In the following essay, Merrill offers an examination of Ginsberg's “Howl” and other works.]


Despite the fact that it has been fashionable to say that Howl exploded on the American literary scene like a bombshell, that San Francisco finally “turned Ginsberg on,” and that this poem heralded in the Beat Generation, it is difficult to find in this admittedly extraordinary poem much that has not been anticipated in inchoate and sometimes even mature form in Empty...

(The entire section is 8418 words.)

Alicia Ostriker (essay date July-August 1997)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Ostriker, Alicia. “‘Howl’ Revisited: The Poet as Jew.” American Poetry Review 26, no. 4 (July-August 1997): 28-31.

[In the following essay, Ostriker considers the influence of cultural and religious Judaism on Allen Ginsberg and his works.]

I have reverenced Allen Ginsberg—man and poet—for three decades, and see no reason to stop now. The first time I met Allen I was amazed, as this essay suggests, by his voice: the power and sweetness and humor of it. His breath, I thought, was the breath of the spirit. The last time was the same, but more so. We were at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo, N.J., in the soft weather of early fall, 1996. At...

(The entire section is 7229 words.)

Tony Trigilio (essay date 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Trigilio, Tony. “‘Sanity a Trick of Agreement’: Madness and Doubt in Ginsberg's Prophetic Poetry.” In “Strange Prophecies Anew”: Rereading Apocalypse in Blake, H. D., and Ginsberg, pp.125-27. Teaneck, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay Trigilio explores the relationship between the prophetic language in the poems “Howl” and “Kaddish” and experiences of psychiatric institutionalization in the poet's personal and family history.]


In 1943, the young Allen Ginsberg traveled by ferry from his home in Paterson, New Jersey, to...

(The entire section is 22365 words.)