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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“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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“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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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”


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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 :

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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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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