Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Holy, holy, holy hyperbole!"

When the young Allen Ginsberg (ably played by James Franco) reads this line from the "Moloch" section of "Howl" in the smoke-filled Six Gallery in San Francisco (on October 7, 1955), the guys in the front row, including Neal Cassady, "secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver", break into laughter. The whole boatload of sensitive bullshit: they know, and Allen knows, that "Howl", far from being the romantic cry of the heart or grand political jeremiad it is often presumed to be, is in fact a brilliantly absurdist poem, whose complex baroque structure teeters between high seriousness and wry self-mockery, hallucinatory fervour and comic deflation.

So the beginning of Marjorie Perloff's exceptionally interesting review in the February 18, 2011, issue of the Times Literary Supplement. I would provide a link but it would only work for subscribers. Still, anyone interested in the movie, the poem, the poet, or the times (his then, ours now) will be rewarded by the trek to any library with a copy.

1 comment:

Tim said...

This letter to the editor in the most recent TLS is worth quoting in full:

"Sir, - Marjorie Perloff (February 18) writes of the hostility of the "New York literary establishment" to Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl. Well, some, but not all. I was a Columbia undergraduate in the late 1950s when Ginsberg was invited there to present his poem, and have it discussed by Gilbert Highet. My friends and I gleefully attended, expecting Highet to skewer the poem with wit and panache. To our surprise, disappointment, and, need it be said, unease, Highet appreciated Howl as a serious poem, and Allen Ginsberg as a serious poet. It was a time when American social and cultural totems were falling, something Highet, a pillar of the New York literary establishment, recognized, and we young blancsbecs [sic] did not.
HUBERT BROWN Route de St-Légier 11, 1800 Vevey, Switzerland."

Perloff criticizes the film for the self-congratulations it extends to the audience for being so "smart". She states—and gives examples—of the New York literary establishment's hostility to "Howl". It knocked my socks off to learn that Gilbert Highet was a counterexample!