More on the film adaptation of “Howl”

November 22, 2010

While working on my Poetry on the Web paper, I found this link to an interview done with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the makers of the movie adaptation of “Howl.” It was a pretty interesting article and, perhaps surprisingly, a very positive review of the film. The interview offers some cool insight into the nature of translating poetry/the written word into another kind of media. Another neat thing is that the interview was conducted by a poet, D.A. Powell.

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Ginsberg’s “America”

October 28, 2010

A friend of mine from high school is a film major at UMBC and he just shared with me the latest video he made for his Topics in Filmmaking class.  He crafted his own multi-media artistic interpretation of Allen Ginsberg’s “America,” using text, news clips, and music to convey his perspective on the poem.  I thought it was a pretty neat video – check it out!

[kml_flashembed movie="http://vimeo.com/16269047" width="400" height="300" wmode="transparent" /]

(If the embedded version continues to not work, here is the URL: http://www.vimeo.com/16269047)

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“Howl” Movie

October 5, 2010

There has been some discussion on the blog about the upcoming movie, Howl. Honestly, form what I’d seen, I wasn’t too impressed. However, this article by Stanley Fish has changed my mind. Now I’m actually curious to see if I see what Fish does.

And here’s a semi-related article on Franco, seen as an artist, for those of you who are interested.

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KADDISH CHALLENGE

September 22, 2010

Think about your own cultural and or religious belief system. Then, in response to your relationship to someone real or imagined, living or dead (or to Allen and Naomi’s relationship if you like), What would your version of the Kaddish look like?

The following is my seizured attempt at the Irish Catholic version of the Kaddish.
You may notice that my Elegiac Epistle varies somewhat from Ginsberg’s Kadddish, in that, it, for the most part, abandons the repetition of the recipient’s name. That is because we (Irish) invented the understood pronoun – and frankly, it doesn’t matter whether it is understood or not, because it only lends to the circuitous nature of the traditional Irish art of story-telling; however, for the sake of those who are not Irish, I will try not to lose you in confusion.

Last Epistle to Robbie
June 14, 1963 – June 26, 1978
Carried on the wings of doves
accompanied by the cries of vultures into eternity

I

My mind wanders back – to a warm June evening – the last time we were together.
The light turns green, we wait to cross –
wait for the traffic to slowly inch forward-
wait – until the bottleneck clears
and the cars start moving faster,
wait – for just the right moment.
Then we enter our dance with eternity,
laughing and running, we jump and dodge
in-and-out of speeding cars,
daring God to take us.
But He refuses to answer.

We run into Highs flush with adrenaline,
confident in our invincibility.
You offer to spend your last dollar
on a candy bar for us to share.
Waiting to pay – someone calls out a question
from somewhere in the back of the store.
The clerk looks away
for only a second.
I lift a pack of Marlboros from the counter,
put them in my pocket – You pay.
We go out into the night.

We walk next door to the coin laundry.
We’re alone – we’re broke –
You busy yourself with a coat hanger
trying to jimmy the coin slots.
I thumb through the Children’s Illustrated Bible,
a free sample with mail-in postcards in the back,
left on a table in a dimly lit corner
by some lonesome evangelical salesman,
who chose this place –
because it was safe – an easy sale;
no attendant to ask for permission.

I wonder how he stumbled into this place – whether he got lost in his travels.
If he had to forge some paperwork –
Was God happy? Did God smile?
I ask you if you believe,
God has a sense of humor. You say ‘Yes.”
Just then your body shutters all over;
the shock tosses You across the room.
I scramble to retrieve seven coins
scattered across the floor.
I place them in your hand, but you hand them back.
You say you’re ready to go now.

Outside, you hand me a golf ball
and save two for yourself.
We heave them wildly into the vast emptiness.
From out of the darkness – the sound of shattering glass –
wild cries; we run for ourlives , feeling
the breath of our unknown pursuer,
his steps at our backs, as we flee into the night
laughing and shrieking for joy amidst cries of foul.
The unseen stranger, intent on retribution, stumbles
and we are saved by a root springing up from the darkness.
The chase ends in silence.

II

I got the call from your sister three days ago –
She said they found you dead,
crushed under the weight of your Grandfather’s favorite tractor.
I think back to our elaborate dances – taking chances with God
and daring him to answer.
It seems funny, now, how God made the call
when You were doing nothing at all wrong this time.

I remember you telling me once about your parents being deaf
and how it was like you and your sister had your own secret code;
You could speak and your parents couldn’t understand.
You even said you shared a private language, like twin-speak;
only you weren’t really twins, just Irish –
ten months of separation – I thought of her then,
making all of the calls and funeral preparations.

III

I stand at the threshold of the dimly lit parlor,
peering in. A wooden memory pressed tightly in my hand.
I linger- a moment more, outside the door,
staring lovingly at the cross that has left
its imprint upon my hand,
unsure whether I want to part
with this symbol of our relationship
but I know that you, Robbie, would want it.

Looking down into my sweaty palm,
I see –
its just a plain wooden cross, upon a leather strap-
No Jesus hanging – No crown of thorns –
Just a memory.

Wordlessly, your sister waves me in
and I make my meager offering.
She speaks to your parents, silent words
flowing effortlessly from her fingertips.

Your parents, standing on opposite sides of the room,
erupt in angry gestures,
arguing, over the closed lid of your casket.
They grind out guttural utterances.
I imagine that I understand.
Your mother’s hands wave emphatically
through the air, and the frown on her face
shows her displeasure.

Even without words I understand,
her answer is no; but, Robbie, your father
unleashes a crescendo of words.
They dance silently from his lips and body
his eyes pleading for understanding.
Finally, your sister asks me to leave
your cross with her. Your parents will decide
the final disposition of my gift.

As I turn to go, the priest enters
offering little words of comfort
your parents don’t hear.
Discerning his somber black mantle
and escarpment boasting a simple cross,
I wonder –
If he really has faith
in the power of exorcism.

He catches my eyes,
looks in piercingly –
I stare back at an edifice rended.
Peering into the precipice
I see –
You and I dancing into eternity.
The priest, his conversation ended,
turns away.

Homily

Blessed be the Lord, our God, the one true
God who goes before us to make a place
at the table of his father, with all
the Saints who go before him.

Oh Hosanna on highest, in your mercy
all praise and glory are yours forever.

Blessed be the child who goes before us.
Blessed be his father and his mother;
grace to his parents left in their sorrows
to carry on without his cherub face.

Oh Hosanna on highest, in your mercy
all praise and glory are yours forever.

Blessed be the mourners who remember
the loss of his tomorrows. Peace to those
who gather here to say farewell
to this tiny fallen angel of God.

Oh Hosanna on highest, in your mercy
all praise and glory are yours forever.

Blessed be the one son of God who died,
was buried, and rose again to atone
for the sins of all who have fallen short
throughout eternity. Peace be with them.

Oh Hosanna on highest, in your mercy
all praise and glory are yours forever.

Amen. Forever and ever. Amen.
Go now, my brothers in eternal peace
The Lamb of God be with you forever.
Amen – Clink, Clank, Scatter rosary beads.
Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling DesignDesigned by Tim Sainburg from Brambling DesignDesigned by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

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Parody of Ginsberg’s “America”

September 22, 2010

As promised, a parody written by a former student, Lauren Ireland, in which she addresses the Grandma from Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”  You will enjoy it more if you read “America” first.

Ginsberg Responds to Flannery O

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“Footnote to Howl”

September 17, 2010

This post somewhat relates to this one and I was originally going to make it a comment there, but then my discussion got too out of hand and, besides, the Footnote deserves its own damn post considering it got virtually zero class discussion.

I’m finding it hard to believe that the discussion of “Howl” has thus far left out the “Footnote”. For, what is the function of a footnote in any piece of writing? To me, I’ve always seen them as author’s comments on a piece of writing, but though sometimes the information may seem unnecessary to the work as a whole, I find that most footnotes are inserted in order to help illuminated the object of the footnote. In this case, I see Ginsberg’s “Footnote” as being one of the main keys to discovering Ginsberg’s reading, or perhaps even the reading he wants us to have, of “Howl”.

We talked a little bit in class about how some thought the “Footnote” to be cynical due to its excess of “Holy” things, but I find myself in the opposing camp. I read nothing but sincerity in Ginsberg’s voice in that part of the poem. I see Ginsberg reclaiming the horrors of the “Howl-land” as Katherine put it. This lends to her reading of section three as well, except for the sanitation in my view. Instead I see Ginsberg embracing the horror in a Naomi sort of moment where he sees “the key…in the sunlight at the window”.

In this way I see “Howl” and the “Footnote” as comforting in a way–the soothing image of arriving at a cottage in the night is incredibly palpable for me–but I think overall the comfort comes from our ability as humans to acknowledge anything in the world (including the good, the bad and the mundane), embrace any of them and reclaim them to be our own “Holy” things. It seems to me that there could be no greater victory for Ginsberg than his ability and ours to do this.

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Thoughts on Kaddish

September 16, 2010

After class today I was stuck on that final image in Naomi’s letter to Ginsberg: the key being in the bars of the window. I felt like there was something else that I wanted to articulate about it, but I didn’t necessarily know what that was or why I thought so. Later this afternoon, I was talking to a friend on the phone about a class on Beat poetry she is taking at the Yale Divinity School. Currently they are reading Burroughs, and she quoted this to me:

“A man who doesn’t know he’s in prison can never escape. As soon as you realise the planet and your body constitute an almost escape-proof jail, as soon as you know you are in prison – you have a possibility to escape.”

William S. Burroughs

So, feedback  time: do you guys think this is what Naomi was trying to say in her letter? Can we see her bars as manifestations of body and earth, or is that taking it too far? Or can we ever take the Beats, interpretively, too far?

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Ginsberg and Whitman

September 16, 2010

I was re-reading Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and, after our reading for “Howl” last class, I started to see a lot of parallels. Weirdly, (though I think incidentally) section 3 of each involves the direct address, “I’m with you” or “I am with you” to invoke a sense of solidarity in poetry with the reader.

This got me thinking about the differences between Whitman and Ginsberg and for what use they might be using this kind of poetry. What do you all think?

I think that Whitman, though he does get very personal, ends up speaking about something much more objective than Ginsberg. He doesn’t seem to be as steeped in himself in that he generates a kind of identity with all others in America. I’m not sure to what extent Ginsberg is doing that or not, but it seems to me he’s definitely not at the same intensity as Whitman. What do you all think?

“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

“Howl”

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Kaddish

September 16, 2010

Links for information on/text of the traditional Jewish Mourner’s Kaddish:

Here and here

Also of interest, a theatre production of “Kaddish.”

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Ginsberg Reading

September 15, 2010

UPenn has a lovely page dedicated to a collection of recordings of Ginsberg reading his stuff aloud, as well as singing William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. How do you think we measured up to Ginsberg?

http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Ginsberg.php

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Rockland

September 14, 2010

I don’t remember if we mentioned this in class or not, but apparently Howl is now a movie and it’s coming out later this month. James Franco plays Ginsberg and the film is set right around his obscenity trial. Here’s a short clip of Franco reading I’m with you in Rockland :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIZeJmGpKeg&feature=related

I don’t think the end of part 3 of Howl necessarily suggests a feeling of victory. I feel like Ginsberg and Carl Solomon are reacting against the conventions of mainstream society in the fifties, and perhaps this society is represented in the idea of Rockland in the third part of the poem. It’s true that Rockland was a mental hospital and it’s true that Carl Solomon was clinically depressed (as was probably Ginsberg), but I think Rockland also represents the controlling power of authority in general. Ginsberg and Solomon were defiant of the mainstream ideas of the modern American capitalist society and the power of repression that our government possessed; maybe this idea of fighting against authority is a central idea in Ginsberg’s Rockland.

On the title page of the book Howl, I noticed that Ginsberg has included a brief excerpt from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. It reads:

“Unscrew the locks from the doors!

“Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

I have always interpreted this line as Whitman wanting America to see the equality  of all people (including women and homosexuals and slaves). For his time Whitman was a very radical thinker: he openly wrote that he helped an escaped fugitive slave; he wrote passages of pretty clear homo-eroticism, and he argued that the beauty of the human body and form was equal in both sexes. Whitman wanted to give a voice to those who were repressed in American society, and I think that Ginsberg wants to follow in the same vein by voicing the plight and struggle of people in his generation who rebel against the conventions of 1950’s mainstream American society. “Howl,” the title itself suggests an animalistic  cry for freedom from this restrictive society.

But I don’t think there is ever a real victory attained or anything won; there is only the solace in fighting and the realization of human companionship and connection during this struggle against authority.  For Ginsberg, perhaps this feeling of solace comes in the freedom of the soul: “we wake up electrified out of the coma/by our own soul’s airplanes roaring over the/ roof they’ve come to drop angelic bombs the/ hospital illuminates itself  imaginary walls collapse (26).” While this passage certainly is suggestive of a victory, i think that it more-so represents Ginsberg having a vision. Otherwise, wouldn’t he have chosen to end his poem here, with the suggestion of real freedom? Instead the very next line is: “I’m with you in Rockland.” The very last line is suggestive of a connection Ginsberg feels to Solomon and perhaps to all his fellow non-conformists in their struggle against conventional authority.

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Post-class Recap: Ginsberg’s “Howl”

September 14, 2010

On a very personal note, when I first finished reading “Howl,”  I felt like death had his hand on my back.  I was filled with an over-whelming sadness, mournfulness,  hopelessness – and I was breathless, I hadn’t noticed how engaged I was, while reading silently to myself, until I stopped. The end felt like running ten miles straight then slamming into a brick wall.

I had to take a time-out.  I was too worked up, too guilty, too shamed.  I  took a ten minute time-out to calm myself down.           And then,     I read it again.

Was anyone else completely shaken by this poem?

Now, to discuss the point that Dr. Scanlon left us with:

Is the end of “Howl” victorious? Is it comforting?

The ending tone of “Howl” depends entirely on how it is read.  The fluid pauses dictate if the final note is of victory (Ginsberg and Carl Solomon proudly standing on the roof of Rockland, unstoppable, and underwear-less) or of a quiet, safe comfort.   Given the choice, I prefer the latter, which emerges if the last poegraph if read like so: “I’m with you in Rockland in my dreams / you walk dripping from a sea-journey / on the highway across America in tears / to the door of my cottage in the Western night”   This interpretative reading functions to separate the reader, who was formerly confronted as the “you” in this direct address, from Carl, who is an unfamiliar, ruined, and dangerous figure. This reading places him safely back into “my dreams,” where the violent, grotesque reality of everyday life cannot harm the reader.

Although the above interpretive reading places the frightening images of Howl-land behind glass, sanitizes them, the ending could also easily (possibly more truthfully) be victorious.  If read straight through, in one breath, the parting emotion evokes that of my above ridiculous image of Carl and Ginsberg. They have wrestled with the land of Howl, and they have emerged heavily scathed but still breathing.

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America

September 14, 2010

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/Gac1sNbHvRg" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Prof. Scanlan talked about Ginsberg’s “America” today. I was looking it up on you-tube and found this particular version. I think kinetic typography is so interesting, and it’s a great way to include emphasis from a reader, much like we did today in class, but in this form we can see it as well as hear it.

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The Howl Challenge

September 14, 2010

The latest in a series of creative writing challenges that are not required unless you want me to respect and love you.  I’m just sayin’.

1)  Compose at least 15 lines of poetry that begin with the phrase “I saw the best minds of my generation…” and that closely imitate Ginsberg’s formal and syntactical patterns.   2) Post your poem here.

p.s. where are my sestinas, slackers?

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The poet or the poem?

September 10, 2010

I’m looking forward to the report on The Beats next week, because I’m having difficulty finding a way to approach Ginsberg.  I’ve read him before, and he always sends me to war with myself over a key issue:  How much should our opinion of the poet affect the way we receive his poetry? 

On the one hand, I’m enthralled by Ginsberg’s language and imagery; reading “Howl” is like being whirled around a hellish ballroom in the arms of a mad man.  On the other hand, I can’t shake off the knowledge that much of this imagery was drug-induced; in fact, he brought much of his hell upon himself.  Of course, “Howl” describes not only his experiences, but other people’s experiences as well, and encompasses more of life than getting high and then crashing.  (For instance, the businessmen in stanzas five through seven of page 16—“alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade,” “burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue…”)  However, for me the poet’s drug use dilutes the integrity of the entire poem even while it fuels its language.    

I’m aware that many poets and other artists, from Coleridge to the Beatles, used drugs in various ways, to self-medicate, to “release their inhibitions,” or to “reach a higher spiritual plane.” 

The overblown introduction to “Howl” by William Carlos Williams does not resolve the dilemma, but instead highlights it.  Williams writes that Ginsberg experienced a Golgotha, and a “charnel house” comparable to the Holocaust.  This comparison is appallingly inappropriate.  It’s unconscionable to compare the slaughter of innocent people to one man’s self-induced misery.  Williams does “Howl” a tremendous disservice here.

So I’m left with this problem:  Would I appreciate “Howl” (or any other poem, book, movie or song) more, or less, if I took the artist’s personal choices out of the equation?  Over the years that I’ve asked myself this, I’ve usually argued for the independent life of the artwork itself.  Once the poem has been written and released (like a fire balloon!), it must rise or fall on its own merits.  But in Ginsberg’s case I am unable to escape a schizophrenic reading, and am left in the arms of a mad man whose babbling I alternately ignore and strain to understand.

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

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National Portrait Gallery This Sunday

September 9, 2010

Just thought I’d let everyone know that a few of us are going to the gallery this Sunday to see the Ginsberg exhibit. It will be cramped, but we do have room for another person in the car if anyone would like a ride! we’re gonna try to get there around 11:30, which is when it opens, if anyone’s interested in meeting up.

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Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg

August 26, 2010

Just wanted to let everyone know that there is a cool exhibit up at the National Portrait Gallery in DC right now that features Allen Ginsberg’s photography. It includes pictures of famous members of the Beat movement (such as Jack Kerouac) as well as photographs of his friends, lovers and himself. The exhibit ends September 16th, which actually coincides with the week we will be studying Ginsberg.

Maybe we can get together a CoPo car pool?

Link to the exhibit is here.

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Dylan and Ginsberg

August 26, 2010

Hey all,

Saw this article the other day and thought it would be an interesting read for how some of the beat writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg was interacting with other artists in America at the time, namely Bob Dylan. The article has some interesting cursory biographical information concerning Ginsberg’s life and his poems and who could turn down such a great story? I know it’s a little long, but if you have free time I highly recommend it. There’s also a host of other stories concerning the Gins here. Everything from the ridiculous “last soup” to something interesting from the poet’s own mouth.

It was also interesting to discover the title of the article as advertised, “Bob Dylan and the Beats.” Made me wonder if America today cares more for singer poets than for written poets? What do you think–are people bigger fans of someone like Bob Dylan or someone like Allen Ginsberg? I tend to think that simply for his iconic status, Dylan is favored. Perhaps people favor something they can see rather than something they read or can hear? (thinking Kennedy vs. Nixon debate) Thoughts?

Happy reading!

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