Howl by Allen Ginsberg.
A poem he intended as an "emotional time bomb that would continue exploding". And has.
A song of spiritual liberation, a homage to art, an ode to gay love and a lament for his mentally ill mother.
A great turning point for poetry. Capturing the rebellious, hungry, anguished voice of disillutioned youth. Capturing the vernacular speech of the people. Talking straight to the heart.
Performed. Not dead on the page. Not consigned to ivory towerdom. At a time when poets just didn't read their work aloud.
Provoked a storm of moral outrage in America. Was the subject of an obscentity trial.
That's an awful lot for one poem to do.
Go print off a copy.
Go into the bathroom.
Read it aloud to feel the energy bouncing off the tiled walls.
Vibrating off bathtaps.
Feel it reverberate in the words you pen after. Writing from the deep and dangerous and angry and true place inside yourself. Which is the only place you have any right to write from.
In a strange attack of synchronicity I came across Ginsberg's essays Deliberate Prose by the bread counter in Cold Storage (RM9.90!) a few days ago. This is what he said about writing Howl.
I thought I wouldn't write a poem, but just write what I wanted to without fear, let my imagination go, open secrecy and scribble magic lines from my real mind - sum up my life - something I wouldn't be able to show anybody, writ for my own soul's ear and a few other golden ears. ... the first section typed out madly in one afternoon, a tragic custard-pie comedy of wild phrasing, meaningless images for the beauty ...
You can read more about the poem and the waves it created here.
You can listen to NPR's programme about Howl here and hear Ginsberg read his lines.