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

We’ve brought you some choice tid­bits recent­ly from beat poet grand­dad­dy Allen Gins­berg, includ­ing his first record­ed read­ing of “Howl” and a glimpse of his anno­tat­ed col­lec­tion of pho­tographs. And we’ve also served up a few deli­cious treats from god­moth­er of punk poet­ry Pat­ti Smith, like her recount­ing of William S. Bur­roughs’ advice to writ­ers and a read­ing of Fed­eri­co Gar­cia Lor­ca.

Today, we bring the two togeth­er, in two ver­sions of Smith read­ing Ginsberg’s “Foot­note to Howl,” the orgias­tic coda to his 1955 epic. This makes so much sense I won­der why we haven’t fea­tured it before, and yet, here we are. In the first ren­di­tion, above, from 2012, Smith is backed by Philip Glass, her own Incred­i­ble Band, and some saf­fron-clad Tibetan monks. The ensem­ble con­vened in hon­or of a vis­it by the Dalai Lama.

There are doubt­less dozens of sto­ries to tell about Gins­berg and Smith. My favorite is their first chance meet­ing in 1969:

It’s Novem­ber 1969 and Ms. Smith is try­ing to buy a cheese sand­wich at the Horn & Hardart Automat on West 23rd Street in Man­hat­tan. When she finds her­self a dime short, Gins­berg approach­es her and asks if he can help. He offers her the extra 10 cents and also treats her to a cup of cof­fee. The two are talk­ing about Walt Whit­man when Gins­berg sud­den­ly leans for­ward and asks if she’s a girl.

“Is that a prob­lem?” she asks.

He laughs and says: “I’m sor­ry. I took you for a very pret­ty boy.”

“Well, does this mean I return the sand­wich?”

“No, enjoy it. It was my mis­take.”

Holy that sand­wich! Watch Smith above in Flo­rence, Italy forty years lat­er, chant­i­ng a cap­pel­la from “Foot­note to Howl” while the audi­ence claps, and howls, along. It’s decid­ed­ly rough footage, tak­en with a hand­held cam­era (cell phone?) from the crowd, but the audio is good, and it’s stir­ring stuff despite, or because of, the raw qual­i­ty.

Head over to The Allen Gins­berg Project for a few more record­ings of Smith read­ing from “Howl.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

“Expan­sive Poet­ics” by Allen Gins­berg: A Free Course from 1981

James Fran­co Reads a Dream­i­ly Ani­mat­ed Ver­sion of Allen Ginsberg’s Epic Poem ‘Howl’

Watch Pat­ti Smith Read from Vir­ginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Sur­viv­ing Record­ing of Woolf’s Voice

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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