Allen Ginsberg Reads His Famously Censored Beat Poem, Howl (1959)

Before Banned Books Week comes to a close, we bring you Allen Ginsberg’s 1955 poem, Howl. The controversial poem became his best known work, and it now occupies a central place in the Beat literary canon, standing right alongside Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. Ginsberg first read the poem aloud on October 7, 1955, to a crowd of about 150 at San Francisco’s Six Gallery. (James Franco reenacted that moment in the 2010 film simply called Howl.)

Things got dicey when City Lights published the poem in 1956, and especially when they tried to import 520 printed copies from London in ’57. US customs officials seized the copies, and California prosecutors tried City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his partner, Shigeyosi Murao, on obscenity charges that same year. Nine literary experts testified to the redeeming social value of Howl, and, after a lengthy trial, the judge ruled that the poem was of “redeeming social importance.”

Above, we give you Ginsberg reading Howl in 1959. It’s also listed in the Poetry section of our Free Audio Books collection. An online version of the text appears here.

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  • steven says:

    Not just this but many many more audio and video recordings of Allen Ginsberg reading (as well as interview-transcripts, photographs, innumerable links (both to Ginsberg and to his circle), archival lecture-transcripts, cultural commentary, memoirs and more), may be found at The Allen Ginsberg Project – http://ginsbergblog.blogspot.com/ – and very much worth a visit

  • Terrill, Richard " Terry" says:

    Over 40 years ago, listening to a record ( which I later left on the back window ledge in a car where it melt-warped) of this same recording, my late best friend and I had the first of our telepathic experiences: it was unlike later exchanges which involved one-mind skull awareness either with or without visualized words (“crazy” actually drawn crazily in Our Mind before spoken reply ” let’s go” served to offer a confirmed boost since those words were spoken by my friend to me as we entered a room we had travelled far to be in). The ” Howl” One Mind experience was the appearance simultaneously of a woman’s face, that of a person who paradoxically caused us to both earlier and later separate yet become closer. Yes indeed, ” Howl” remains to offer both memory for me and potential for unknown yet sympathetic others.

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