Friday’s Weekly Round-Up 15

Walt Whitman

Howl (more reviews)

Howl’s opening in the UK, as when it opened in the US, has elicited rave reviews. As with any ambitious and challenging work, however, it has also received a few put-down’s. For those of you who want to get an exhaustive (and exhausting!) over-view of all the reviews so far, we would direct you to the movie-review site, Rotten Tomatoes (which was listing, when last we looked, 93 of them!). Interestingly, the response to the film has been almost 50/50, split down the middle, those giving thumbs-up, and those having reservations. Here at the Ginsberg blog, lest we get criticized for being merely hagiographers, (sic), are a few “unsatisfied customers” (are we masochists or what?). Philip French, for example, in last week’s (London) Observer writes:

“Howl was one of the first books I bought in America on arrival there as a graduate student in 1957. Not long after the trial I spent some time in San Francisco, where columnist Herb Caen had just coined the term “beatnik”, and I can’t think of the late 50s without lines from Ginsberg’s liberating poem coming to mind. I also recall a 1958 New Yorker cartoon depicting an eager society hostess standing beside a scruffy, bearded young man in T-shirt and jeans at a cocktail party. A frosty, neatly attired literary intellectual is saying to her: “No, Madam, I do not want to meet a spokesman for the Beat Generation””

Well, if you don’t want to know, then I guess there isn’t any reason in continuing.
Sukhdev Sandhu in the Daily Telegraph is more curt (and more interestingly provocative):

“Every frame of this ambitious and sometimes fascinating film is visually striking. But it feels too celebratory, too triumphant: it captures Howl’s joy, but not enough of its terrors”.

The Irish press voiced similar ambivalences. “Howl is a bit of a mess, and a pretentious one too” ( Pretentious?), writes Paul Whitington in the Irish Independent, tho’ Tara Brady, in the Irish Times, calls it “a tremendous new film..quite unlike any of the many adaptations, biopics, documentaries and lo-fi portraits that have gone before. The premise is simple yet quietly bold: Howl is a film of the poem”

Eamon McCann in the Belfast Telegraph, keeping the focus on the poem, takes it one step further

“I came back to Allen Ginsberg’s poem about 10 years ago, nervously. I’d put it away 30 or more years back, hadn’t read or recited it since. I remembered that I’d believed it then not only brilliant, but a tremendously significant literary work that everyone must immediately be alerted to for urgent edification of their souls.(I thought I might well be disappointed) But Howl was a revelation all over again.”

Remembering (Personal Encounters)

Last week’s Guardian article, and indeed the whole Howl film phenomena in general, has elicited a number of personal recollections. Here’s New Mexican poet Bill Pearlman, from his blog, Rough Road Review:

“Read from my work at our PEN Writers Aloud and read a little from each book. At Santa Ana Cafe afterward, somebody asked me where I would start getting acquainted with modern poetry and I recommended Donald Allen’s New American Poetry anthology. I talked of Ginsberg’s wonderful hallucinogen-inspired poem ‘Wales Visitation” after commenting on some of my own attempts in that realm. Allen’s reading in 1967 at UNM when my community was being formed in the wreckage of the Vietnam catastrophe and our desire to get back to the land and make something with an upsurge of new and poetical energy was pivotal. Allen, as Anne (Waldman) writes (in the Guardian piece), had this amazing capacity to connect with people. I think he was a missionary in a sense, similar to what Ram Dass has become, and he changed lives, my own included. The last time I saw him we all gathered at Vesuvio’s next to City Lights and Jack Hirschman was there, and Peter O(rlovsky), and several poets from the Bay Area. I remember buying Allen a beer and Jack Hirschman) read a poem and Allen was quiet but still the center of the gathering. I read once at Naropa in ’77 and was grateful that Allen came to the reading and gave me the thumbs up.”

And here’s Milwaukee resident, John Eklund (from On – warning: only peripheral Allen content!)

William Honey (we’re cheating a bit with this one too, it dates from 2005) testifies (as do so many) to Allen’s incredible generosity, reading with him on a memorable occasion in Paris at George Whitman’s Shakespeare & Co bookstore (“..what George had forgot to tell me was that Allen Ginsberg was featured poet for the evening..!)

Recitation (A Supermarket in California)

From a report on the blog of the Denver Westword, March 1st, reporting on the local Poetry Out Loud state finals: “Quinita Thomas of the Colorado School for the Blind knocked “em dead with her rendition of Allen Ginsberg wandering the aisles of a California supermarket and bumping into his spirit guide: “I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eying the grocery boys”.
Seems Allen’s poem is quite the hit in this NEA/Poetry Foundation joint-endeavor to “encourage the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation”.

Here‘s Emmanuel Waddell, Alabama winner, reading the same work (“A Supermarket in California”) . And here‘s California’s own Giovanni Espinosa in 2010. And here’s Allen himself reading the poem (“What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman..”)

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