Category Archives: Howl

>Friday’s Weekly Round-Up 15


Howl (more reviews)

Howl’s opening in the UK, as when it opened in the US, has elicited rave reviews. As with any ambitious and challenging work, however, it has also received a few put-down’s. For those of you who want to get an exhaustive (and exhausting!) over-view of all the reviews so far, we would direct you to the movie-review site, Rotten Tomatoes (which was listing, when last we looked, 93 of them!). Interestingly, the response to the film has been almost 50/50, split down the middle, those giving thumbs-up, and those having reservations. Here at the Ginsberg blog, lest we get criticized for being merely hagiographers, (sic), are a few “unsatisfied customers” (are we masochists or what?). Philip French, for example, in last week’s (London) Observer writes:

“Howl was one of the first books I bought in America on arrival there as a graduate student in 1957. Not long after the trial I spent some time in san Francisco, where columnist Herb Caen had just coined the term “beatnik”, and I can’t think of the late 50s without lines from Ginsberg’s liberating poem coming to mind. I also recall a 1958 New Yorker cartoon depicting an eager society hostess standing beside a scruffy, bearded young man in T-shirt and jeans at a cocktail party. A frosty, neatly attired literary intellectual is saying to her: “No, Madam, I do not want to meet a spokesman for the Beat Generation””

Well, if you don’t want to know, then I guess there isn’t any reason in continuing.

Sukhdev Sandhu in the Daily Telegraph is more curt (and more interestingly provocative):

“Every frame of this ambitious and sometimes fascinating film is visually striking. But it feels too celebratory, too triumphant: it captures Howl’s joy, but not enough of its terrors”.

The Irish press voiced similar ambivalences. “Howl is a bit of a mess, and a pretentious one too” ( Pretentious?), writes Paul Whitington in the Irish Independent, tho’ Tara Brady, in the Irish Times, calls it “a tremendous new film..quite unlike any of the many adaptations, biopics, documentaries and lo-fi portraits that have gone before. The premise is simple yet quietly bold: Howl is a film of the poem”

Eamon McCann in the Irish Telegraph, keeping the focus on the poem, takes it one step further

“I came back to Allen Ginsberg’s poem about 10 years ago, nervously. I’d put it away 30 or more years back, hadn’t read or recited it since. I remembered that I’d believed it then not only brilliant, but a tremendously significant literary work that everyone must immediately be alerted to for urgent edification of their souls.(I thought I might well be disappointed) But Howl was a revelation all over again.”

Remembering (Personal Encounters)

Last week’s Guardian article, and indeed the whole Howl film phenomena in general, has elicited a number of personal recollections. Here’s New Mexican poet Bill Pearlman, from his blog, Rough Road Review:

“Read from my work at our PEN Writers Aloud and read a little from each book. At Santa Ana Cafe afterward, somebody asked me where I would start getting acquainted with modern poetry and I recommended Donald Allen’s New American Poetry anthology. I talked of Ginsberg’s wonderful hallucinogen-inspired poem ‘Wales Visitation’ after commenting on some of my own attempts in that realm. Allen’s reading in 1967 at UNM when my community was being formed in the wreckage of the Vietnam catastrophe and our desire to get back to the land and make something with an upsurge of new and poetical energy was pivotal. Allen, as Anne (Waldman) writes (in The Guardian piece), had this amazing capacity to connect with people. I think he was a missionary in a sense, similar to what Ram Dass has become, and he changed lives, my own included. The last time I saw him we all gathered at Vesuvio’s next to City Lights and Jack Hirschman was there, and Peter O(rlovsky), and several poets from the Bay Area. I remember buying Allen a beer and Jack Hirschman) read a poem and Allen was quiet but still the center of the gathering. I read once at Naropa in ’77 and was grateful that Allen came to the reading and gave me the thumbs up.”

And here’s Milwaukee resident, John Eklund (from On – warning: only peripheral Allen content!)

William Honey (we’re cheating a bit with this one too, it dates from 2005) testifies (as do so many) to Allen’s incredible generosity, reading with him on a memorable occasion in Paris at George Whitman’s Shakespeare & Co bookstore (“..what George had forgot to tell me was that Allen Ginsberg was featured poet for the evening..!)

Recitation (A Supermarket in California)

From a report on the blog of the Denver Westword, March 1st, reporting on the local Poetry Out Loud state finals:

“Quinita Thomas of the Colorado School for the Blind knocked “em dead with her rendition of Allen Ginsberg wandering the aisles of a California supermarket and bumping into his spirit guide: “I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eying the grocery boys”.

Seems Allen’s poem is quite the hit in this NEA/Poetry Foundation joint-endeavor to “encourage the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation”. Here‘s Emmanuel Waddell, Alabama winner, reading the same work (“A Supermarket in California”) . And here‘s California’s own Giovanni Espinosa in 2010. And here’s Allen himself reading the poem (“What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman..”)


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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, B, Bill Pearlman, Eamon McCann, Howl, James Franco, Jeffrey Friedman, John Eklund, Paul Whitington, Philip French, Rob Epstein, Sukhdev Sandhu, Tara Brady, William Honey

>James Franco/Allen Ginsberg


Regina Weinreich in the Huffington Post (via her arts blog Gossip Central) has it right, speaking of the zeitgeist, Allen is pretty ubiquitous at the moment. Who would have thought?, Allen at the Oscars!. Well, not Allen exactly, but James Franco, who so remarkably “has him down” in the film role and is co-hosting the Oscar ceremonies tonight. Here’s he and Jon Hamm talking about the (Howl) film last year at the Sundance Film Festival

Franco was, interestingly, interviewed, not only about this role, but also about his upcoming role as another great modernist poet, Hart Crane, this weekend in the LA Times.

There’s another interesting interview with Franco on line at The Jewish Chronicle

And regarding Howl, we really would be remiss if we didn’t alert you to this – ID’s interview with our very own Peter Hale

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Hart Crane, Howl, James Franco, Oscars, Peter Hale, Regina Weinreich

>Friday’s Weekly Round-Up 14


Howl in England

Following up from our notices last week, here’s more English press coverage related to this Friday (today’s) UK opening of Howl. Mick Brown, in The Telegraph, gives the basic background in How I Scribbled Magic Lines From My Real Mind”. Andrew Lowry, in the blog for the same paper, provocatively heads his report “The Beats Were Self-Indulgent Poseurs But The New Ginsberg Film Is Definitely Worth Seeing”. John Patterson in The Guardian points out that The Beats Have Had A Bad Rap But Howl Lets Their Words Speak For Themselves”“Howl, first the poem, now the movie, gives back all power to the words themselves; made to be spoken, scatted, screamed, intoned or sung”. And here’s Tom Huddleston in Time Out – “There’s no denying that this is a bold, inspiring piece of work, putting experimental techniques in the service of a heartfelt, insightful and surprisingly audience-friendly work of art”

Interviews with the film-makers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman about the film can be found here, here and here.

Janine Pommy Vega

We noted in passing and with sadness, this past December, the death of the great poet/bard Janine Pommy Vega and drew your attention to the Woodstock Times obit and to Anne Waldman’s memoir (and here’s a couple of other obituaries (Ken Hunt, writing in The Independent, and an unsigned one from (London’s) Daily Telegraph). This past Sunday friends gathered at the Colony Cafe in Woodstock to salute and pay respects to her, and this coming Sunday (the 27th), it will happen again, this time in New York. The Bowery Poetry Club and The St Mark’s Poetry Project are co-sponsoring “A Praise-Day for Janine Pommy Vega”. The reading/tribute (featuring Andy Clausen, Bob Holman, John Giorno, Anne Waldman, Hettie Jones and others) will take place at the Bowery Poetry Club, starting at 1 o’clock. As with last weekend, the event will also include a video presentation – a screening of Kurt Hemmer’s “As We Cover The Streets” featuring mesmerizing performance footage of Janine.

Speaking of mesmerizing footage, here’s Janine’s long-time friend and companion Andy Clausen in their home in Willow, New York, remembering her and reading her poem “Wartime Kitchen”

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Filed under Andrew Lowry, Andy Clausen, Howl, James Franco, Janine Pommy Vega, Jeffrey Friedman, John Patterson, Kurt Hemmer, Mick Brown, Rob Epstein, Tim Huddleston

>Faulty Memory Syndrome – A Note on an Interview with Jacques Barzun

>Jacques Barzun, man of letters, fixer.

We were glancing over an old (more than 10-years-old) interview we stumbled upon with scholar/teacher/cultural historian Jacques Barzun, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. It appeared in October 2000 in the Austin Chronicle and can be read in its entirety here

In the course of the conversation, the subject turns to Allen

Interviewer: Since you were in Columbia in the Fifties, you were also at the center of the Beats, since they all went there.

Jacques Barzun: Allen Ginsberg was a student of Lionel (Trilling)’s
and of mine, not in our joint course (a seminal “great books” 
seminar), but separately. But we joined together to save him
from the penalties of the law, because he was involved in a very bad 
affair with an older man who seduced him sexually and used him to help
dispose of the corpse of a man that this fellow had killed. Poor Allen, aged 17 or 18, helped to dump this body into the Hudson River. 
Well, was he in trouble there! With the help of the dean of the college (Columbia)– who also knew Allen, the dean, Lionel, and 
I waited on the district attorney who fortunately was a Columbia 
graduate and we said, “This youth is really innocent, although he 
committed an awful blunder and he’s also very gifted in the English 
Department.” We didn’t say he was a poet or that might have queered 
his chances! And that it would be a catastrophe to turn him over to a criminal court and put him in jail. We had to go again to a judge in 
Brooklyn, I think, because Allen came from Brooklyn or something. 
Anyway, the district attorney wasn’t enough, so we went to a second hearing, which was much more sticky. But Allen was let off.

All sorts of bells went off when we read this, so we turned to our resident Ginsberg scholar, Bill Morgan, who provided this necessary, and interesting, corrective:

“This question about the Jacques Barzun comments is a good example of what any biographer has to be very careful about — memory. I have no doubt that Barzun was being completely honest in his answers to the questions about Allen, but his memory here fails him badly. It does make you wonder how often something is repeated that was incorrectly remembered by someone else. That’s why the voices of the last survivors becomes suspect in my mind. For example, why are the memories of Carolyn Cassady, Joyce Johnson, David Amram, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and all, considered to be the “true stories.” There is no substitute for actual first-hand documents written at the time of events, and even those can be incorrect, misleading, or outright fabrications, as well. Oral histories are often entertaining, but I try not to put too much stock in them. The Barzun is a good example of the type, and, like I said, I am quite certain he wasn’t trying to invent stories or gild the lily.

First of all, the question asked is misleading:

“Since you were in Columbia in the Fifties, you were also at the center of the Beats, since they all went there”.

Barzun was Allen’s teacher during the ‘Forties, not the ‘fifties. By the ‘fifties, Allen had already graduated and moved on in his life. Saying Barzun was “in” Columbia makes it sound like he was a student, and saying “you were also at the center of the Beats, since they all went there” doesn’t seem accurate. I don’t think Barzun was at the center of the group and “all” the Beats certainly didn’t go there.

Then, as to Barzun’s reply

This is a case of having many memories blend together after the passage of 50 or 60 years. Allen was a student of both Trilling and Barzun. Allen said in 1949 that he had studied History with Barzun. We could find out the names of the course or courses through his college transcript. But from here on out, Barzun’s recollections are not accurate. I believe that he probably did, like Trilling, try to help whenever Allen was in trouble. Barzun saying that Allen was seduced by an older man (meaning, I assume, Lucien Carr) is not true. I think here he was thinking of the fact that Lucien was being pursued (and seduced?) by David Kammerer, who was considerably older than Lucien. At the time, Carr killed Kammerer, Allen was still a virgin and hadn’t had sex with anyone. Allen did not help dispose of the corpse, Lucien did all that himself. Kerouac helped dispose of the murder weapon, but Allen wasn’t involved in that, and in fact he was never charged as a material witness in the case, as both Kerouac and Burroughs were. The body did end up in the Hudson River, and Allen had just turned 18 at the time, so that part is correct. It really wasn’t Allen who was in trouble at that time, but Lucien, Jack, and William, although you could certainly say that Allen was upset and worried about the situation. So it might be that Barzun helped with the district attorney on Carr’s behalf, (and I recall hearing that the D.A. was a Columbia grad, but that might be my own poor memory). Barzun also seems to be mixing that 1944 story up with the later April 1949 case where Allen gets involved with Huncke, Little Jack Melody, and Vicki Russell and their burglaries. Those three were stealing and storing the stolen goods in Allen’s apartment when they were all arrested after a car chase and crash in Bayside, Queens. And so, although Allen didn’t “come from Brooklyn” it might have been that they had to appear in a court in Queens, or Brooklyn, on Allen’s behalf in that case. It was then that Trilling, Van Doren, and probably Barzun helped by getting Allen posted to the mental hospital instead of jail, and there Allen met Carl Solomon and the rest of the history takes place. Technically Allen wasn’t “let off” but instead spent much of the next year in the psychiatric hospital.

May we go on?

“You knew he was a poet even back then?”.

Allen was writing poetry in the mid-forties, but he wasn’t only interested in poetry at that time, so probably Barzun wouldn’t have thought of him as a poet that early.

Did he send you “Howl”?

No, I don’t think he did…?

I’d be surprised if Allen didn’t send a copy of Howl to Barzun. He sent copies to Van Doren, Trilling, Meyer Schapiro, who were all his teachers, too. Not to mention T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, Pound, Eberhart, W.C. Williams, and Charlie Chaplin !

He sent me a letter from India, where I think he got a fellowship to spend a year or so…

Needless to say, Allen never got a “fellowship” to go to India, he just went on his own. I don’t think he ever got any type of fellowship in his life and certainly not to go to India. I’ve never seen the letter to Barzun that he mentions, but I’d like to. I certainly don’t believe that Allen would have written to him hoping to get a job for a “wonderful guru.” This was a decade before he became interested in Buddhist practice, etc., so it certainly didn’t have anything to do with Trungpa…

So, I’ve gone on much too long, but wanted to show how memory plays tricks on honest people. Don’t believe all you read in the papers (or online)!


Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Beat History, Bill Morgan, Columbia University, Howl, Jacques Barzun, Lucien Carr

>Friday’s Weekly Round-Up 13


Lawrence Ferlinghetti after winning the "Howl" trial. Chr... BOB CAMPBELL / STAFF
(Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1957, after winning the Howl trial – photo by Bob Campbell)
Howl Movie Opening in England

In advance of next week’s UK opening at London’s Curzon cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue, James Campbell has a review in The Guardian – “Howl At The Movies – Is the new film about Allen Ginsberg and the Howl obscenity trial a little too sane?” (Well, we, of course, would say no!).

“I once filmed the middle-aged Ginsberg reading “Howl” to an audience of professors at a literary conference in New York. It was about as wild as a Women’s Institute evening.”, writes The Independents Kevin Jackson, (we think, he’s being tongue-in-cheek here)

His “elegy for the tragic history of poetry on film”, usefully places the Howl movie in a much wider filmic context.

Matthew Sweet will be discussing the film on BBC Radio 3’s Night Waves this upcoming Tuesday night. Tune in if you can.

Meanwhile the reviews continue to roll in (and of the DVD too….

Photographs and Description of the photographs also. This, from England’s Creative Review (with – “the beat goes on” – a not-so-creative sub-header! – “the beat goes on”! – When will editors finally put that tiresome cliché to rest!)

not that we’re suggesting the Boulder Weekly’s “Babes, booze and Buddhism” is much of an improvement! Adam Perry reviews Johanna Demetrakas’ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche documentary (noted here last week) under that lead.

There is also a Variety review of the film here

A new notice/review of Allen’s New York photo show at the Howard Greenberg Gallery may be found here


Producer Hal Willner will be joining Philip Glass (“Hal Willner reads poetry by Allen Ginsberg accompanied by the solo piano of Philip Glass”) in a performance at John Zorn’s East Village (New York City) music venue, The Stone on Feb 22 (this Tuesday),

Michael Browns 2009 composition for cello and piano. Five A.M. “after Allen Ginsberg (after Allen’s poem of the same title), recorded at the Rose Studio at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center can be seen in performance and accessed here

“Drunk Chicken / America, Allen’s collaboration with U2 (previously only available on the 2007 Remastered Deluxe Version of their album, The Joshua Tree, is now being included in a brand-new U2 Collection, Duals – regrettably, a fan-club-only CD

“A Western Ballad”, another interpretation, of, this time, a very early poem of Allen’s, (by singer-songwriter Shannon McNally, announced as the title-track of her newest recording from Sacred Sumac Records), has been temporarily delayed, but will be available and in the stores March 22nd (Allen collaborated with arranger Mark Bingham on a new arrangement of this piece in the late 1980’s. Bingham waited till he had the right singer, Shannon McNally, to record it)

Small World

Finally, spare a thought for Mark Heck (yes, that’s his name!) and his shot for eternity through Allen! (story courtesy the Syracuse Post-Standard)

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Filed under Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Hal Willner, Howl, James Campbell, James Franco, Jeffrey Friedman, Johanna Demetrakas, Kevin Jackson, Mark Heck, Matthew Sweet, Michael Brown, Shannon McNally, U2


Right now in Jim’s Coffee House in downtown, Elyria, Ohio an attempt is being made on the world-record for a marathon, non-stop, poetry-reading. “Snoetry 2: A World Record Winter Wordfest — 150 Hours of Poetry”, organized by Diane Borsenik and her poetry partner John Burroughs (no relation!), began last Wednesday, and is scheduled to go on through till Tuesday, just before mid-night, in an attempt to break the record of 120 hours, set last April by Kansas City’s redoubtable Prospero’s Books.

What pleases us is that Dianne Borsenik’s reading of the complete Howl kicked off the event. Wonder how they’re going to end it?

Meantime, a few upcoming Ginsberg-related events. Angelheaded Hipsters may be taking the stage in London, but here in New York City, and for those in the New York vicinity, the Howard Greenberg Gallery has a generous selection of images up, with the more sober title of The Photography of Allen Ginsberg. That show remains up through March 12th

Similarly in New York, on Friday (Feb 11) at Columbia University’s Morningside Campus. there’s, A Celebration of Columbia’s Beats. Join the Columbia Alumni Association, Professor Ann Douglas, composer and musician extraordinaire David Amram, writer Joyce Johnson, and a cast of dozens as Columbia honors its Beat prodigal sons, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, in the 6th annual HOWL.

The day’s program includes a reading and conversation with Joyce Johnson and readings to David Amram’s music, including selections from On the Road and the complete text of Ginsberg’s “Howl”.

Next Tuesday, Feb. 15, at the Peabody Institute Library, Peabody, Massachusetts, in the second of a free series on “Groundbreaking American Poetry”, North Shore Community College, Professor, Carl Carlsen will be publicly lecturing on “Howl.” “It’s a poem that gives you permission, so to speak”, he’s quoted as saying, “(permission) to go wild and put on the page what ordinarily might seem taboo”.

We’ve already alerted you to Angelheaded Hipsters: Discovering the Beat Movement, the talk in London on Saturday the 19th (please note that that is at 10.30 in the morning).
That same day in San Antonio, Texas (as part of their Howl Festival: Homage to Allen Ginsberg, co-sponsored by the Shambhala Meditation Center of San Antonio and The Twig Bookstore, there will be another Ginsberg-related occasion, Another reading of the complete text of Howl, followed by a marathon (not quite as marathon as Elyria!) open mic reading/ celebration. The Twig Bookstore is at 200 E Grayson Street. Small presses from around the southwest area will be on hand with new books and broadsides.

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Angelheaded Hipsters, Carl Carlsen. Diane Borsenik, Columbia University, David Amram, Howard Greenberg, Howl, Joyce Johnson, Prosperos Books, Snoetry, Twig Bookstore

>Harry Smith Would Have Loved This

>We’re not in the habit (no?) of posting “personal videos” but were curiously transfixed by this

Meanwhile. more seriously, for those of you in London on Wednesday night, Iain Sinclair. Mark Ford and Jack Underwood are at The South Bank Centre, as part of the Special Edition series, presenting Allen Ginsberg and The Story of Howl (hopefully from a more human perspective!)

Meanwhile Howl the movie (and now DVD) continues to draw raves. It’ll be opening later this month in the UK – and don’t forget, its star, in a few weeks time, will be co-hosting the Oscars!

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Filed under Harry Smith, Howl, Iain Sinclair, Southbank Centre