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Howl: A Graphic Novel

Howl: A Graphic Novel - Allen Ginsberg;Eric Drooker This is a beautiful and strange book, in which Alan Ginsberg’s 1955 poem Howl is complemented by the otherworldly art of Eric Drooker. Ginsberg was one of the original “Beatniks” and hung with such likeminded buddies as Jack Kerouac, Mort Sahl, and William Burroughs. It’s difficult to pin down an exact “Beat” philosophy, but it was more or less nonconformist, disdainful of the materialism of the prosperous 50’s, experimental with recreational drugs, and generally open-minded towards homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, jazz music, miscegenation, and all the other social forces which terrorized the conservative older generation. The poem is divided into three parts, although they are so different, I’m not sure why they aren’t just three different poems. The first part has a ton of esoteric references to various of Ginsberg’s friends, artists he admired, and other figures in the Beat movement. It’s mostly a disillusioned and in-your-face rejection of the sanitized and wholesome images of post-war America that predominated at the time. Not having lived through the 1950’s, my impressions of that era were formed by Leave It to Beaver… an innocent and pure existence in a pristine suburbia, where young rascals like the Beav might get into the occasional scrape- say by accidentally hitting a baseball through Old Man Baker’s kitchen window- but nothing was ever so bad it couldn’t be set right with slice of Mom’s old fashioned homemade apple pie; Scout’s Honor! Allen Ginsburg writes from the underside of the 50’s, and describes realities of America that June Cleaver would never repeat in polite company. Drugs, poverty and violence, for starters: “…starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”Ward, we really shouldn’t have this book in the house! If Wally found it, maybe we could explain, but the Beav? I just don’t know what I would do if he ever got his hands on this!The obscenity charges filed against publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1957 were most likely due to the references of homosexuality:“…who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts, who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy, who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caressers of Atlantic and Caribbean love, who balled in the morning, in the evenings in rose gardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may…”This is also why custom officials refused to admit publications from abroad which contained the (American) poem. Go figure.There are some heterosexual passages as well, which got the Archdiocese and the PTA up in arms:“…who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake, who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver-- joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner backyards…”Gosh Wally, even a creep like Eddie Haskell knew where the line was.Part II is more about the military-industrial complex. I wonder whether Ike got any ideas for his farewell address from Howl. Ginsberg personifies the excesses of capitalism in the pagan god Moloch. I think part II is my favorite.“…Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen!…” Part III is the most personal, and relates to the period in 1949 when Ginsberg was a patient at Columbia Presbyterian Psychological Institute (I’m not sure why). It is addressed to another patient Ginsberg knew there, Carl Solomon. I’d like to know more about this part- who Solomon was, and what his significance was to Ginsberg. Overall, this is a captivating and provocative poem, and the accompanying artwork is perfect. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for its cultural and historic importance alone, I think it is worth everybody taking the time to read it once. I’m fascinated by the Beat movement. Their influence can be seen all over the counterculture of the 60’s, and in such diverse works as Bob Dylan‘s songs, Woody Allen‘s movies, and Philip K Dick‘s novels. It’s weird how the culture changed after World War II. The 1950’s have such a conservative image, but they were really awash in cultural reinvention. Hugh Heffner launched Playboy in the 1950’s. Dave Brubeck brought jazz into the mainstream in the 1950’s. Nabokov mortified readers with Lolita in the 1950’s. Lenny Bruce shocked audiences by talking about abortion, drugs and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950’s. And Allen Ginsberg wrote this primal, maniacal, but also complex and thoughtful poem in the 1950’s. Read it.