Friday, March 30, 2012

Allen Ginsburg's Father and His Surprising Reaction to "Howl"

Christopher Bram's new book, Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America is packed with great stories of the gay literary powerhouses who rose to prominence after World War 2 - Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, and more.

But I'll remember the book for the amazing quote from Allen Ginsberg's father - Louis Ginsberg - who was himself a poet and college teacher. After that fateful first reading of "Howl" on October 7, 1955 Ginsberg sent a mimeographed copy of the completed poem to his father. The poem was shocking, sexual explicit, ground-breaking in its substance and style. As author Christopher Bram writes: "Louis Ginsberg's response was both perceptive and prescient."

My expression, at first blush, is that it is a weird, volcanic, troubled, extravagant, turbulent, boisterous, unbridled outpouring, intermingling genius and flashes of picturesque insight with slag and debris of scoriac matter. It has violence; it has life; it has vitality....The poem should attract attention and perhaps be a sensation; one will hear defenders and detractors. But it should give you a name. (page 33)

And indeed Louis was right on all counts. The book is full of just such amazing quotes, startling anecdotes and fresh insights into the work of these authors, who so shaped our country's literary landscape.

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