Howl

In a way, Ginsberg never let go of Howl. Year after year, he returned to it, continually adding to the mythology of the poem as a spontaneous work that brought him and the world out of the closet of a repressive society. In 1956, he asserted that his intention in writing Howl was to liberate readers from their “false…self-deprecating image” of themselves and to persuade them that they were “angels.” In 1965, he insisted that Howl, and particularly the last section of the poem, was a true homage to art. In 1974, he defined his work as a literal “coming out of the closet”and an acknowledgement of the basic reality of homosexual joy. Ginsberg considered Howl a magic mirror. Whenever he peered into it he saw another side, another aspect. It had played a significant part in changing poetry in America, by making it more personal, more confessional and similar to the performance arts. Howl also played a small part in changing the world itself by collapsing cultural boundaries at the height of the Cold War and by encouraging cultural rebellion around the world. Ironically, the very fame that Howl brought to Ginsberg may have caused his exclusion from the elite company of the American poets. He wrote Howl with wildness and exuberance, setting himself apart from the respectable crowd of poets. Many of his own Columbia classmates and teachers felt that he’d turned against them and the education he’d received at college. By writing and publishing Howl, he committed an act of cultural treachery. In the act of writing Howl, he discovered the very language he needed, an everyday language and a language of the mundane and the apocalyptic. One of the most important topics in Howl was death, and he consequently talked about suicide. He accurately analyzed the death of so many members of his own generation and the spiritual death of a mechanized world. Fellow poet Kenneth Koch once asked him, “What do you have to have, or to be, to start with, in order to leave yourself open to produce good poetry?”Ginsberg replied, “A little glimpse of death. And the looseness and tolerance that it brings.” When he wrote Howl, he found the tolerance and the looseness he needed in order to create an American masterpiece.

Another important aspect of Howl is certainly sex. Ginsberg describes anal sex, oral sex, and what middle class Americans in 1955 would surely have called promiscuous sex, in a language that expands the vocabulary of poetry.

There’s no sex between married couples in Howl and no sex between longtime lovers; sometimes sex is depicted romantically. Mostly there’s a sense of despair and anxiety about sex. Ginsberg’s heroes hunger for sex much as they hunger for everything else in life.

The sexual hero of Howl is Neal Cassady, who appears as the  “Adonis of Denver” and as a joy to the memory of his several girlfriends.

Allen was very sexually attracted to Cassady, but he had to be careful in concealing the homosexual relationship between them. Writing about romantic love between men was still a taboo topic in the 1940s.

What exactly happened between Neal and Allen? Neal abused Allen: he was the master that humiliated him, but it seems that Allen encouraged the abuse, through specific requests.

So, Neal provided pain, without pleasure and torture without kindness.

In Howl, there’s no word about their intense, sadomasochistic relationship. Rather, Ginsberg chose to present Cassady as the Don Juan of the American West, a sexually liberated boy.

Neal Cassady is the secret hero of Howl because his bisexuality remains under wraps. Surely the public would have been shocked by Cassady’s homosexuality, given that he was a married man with three children.

 

 


 

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