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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Waters Reads Steamy Scene from Lady Chatterley’s Lover for Banned Books Week (NSFW)

See Pat­ti Smith Give Two Dra­mat­ic Read­ings of Allen Ginsberg’s “Foot­note to Howl”

2,000+ Cas­settes from the Allen Gins­berg Audio Col­lec­tion Now Stream­ing Online


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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 — — 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.

  • Iris allen says:

    Can you write the words of the poem? Pls

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