Friday, July 27, 2007

Howl! intro

William carlos William's introduction to Howl:

"When he was younger, and I was younger, I used to know Allen Ginsberg, a young poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, where he, son or a well-known poet, had been born and grew up. He was physically slight of build and mentally much disturbed by the life which he had encountered about him during those first years after the First World War as it was exhibited to him in and about New York City. He was always on the point of ‘going away', where it didn't seem to matter: he disturbed me, I never thought he'd live to grow up and write a book of poems. His ability to survive, travel, and go on writing astonishes me. That he has gone on developing and perfecting his art is no less amazing to me.

Now he turns up fifteen or twenty years later with an arresting poem. Literally he has, from all the evidence, been through hell. On the way he met a man named Carl Solomon with whom he shared among the teeth and excrement of this life something that cannot be described but in the words he has used to describe it. It is a howl of defeat. Not defeat at all for he has gone through defeat as if it were an ordinary experience, a trivial experience. Everyone in this life is defeated but a man, if he be a man, is not defeated.

It is the poet, Allen Ginsberg, who has gone, in his own body, through the horrifying experiences described from life in these pages. The wonder or the thing is not that he has survived but that he, from the very depths, has found a fellow whom he can love, a love he celebrates without looking aside in these poems. Say what you will, he proves to us, in spite of the most debasing experiences that life can offer a man, the spirit of love survives to ennoble our lives if we have the wit and the courage and the faith—and the art’ to persist.

It is the belief in the art of poetry that has gone hand in hand with this man into his Golgotha, from that charnel house, similar in every way, to that of the Jews in the past war. But this is in our own country, our own fondest purlieus. we are blind and live our blind lives out in blindness. Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels. This poet sees through and all around the horrors he partakes of in the very intimate details of his poem. He avoids nothing but experiences it to the hilt. He contains it. Claims it as his own—and, we believe, laughs at it and has the time and affrontery to love a fellow of his choice and record that love in a well-made poem. Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell.

William Carlos Williams"


So for Williams, the poem's all about about love of men for men, love of the male mind and the male body and everything that comes with it, the horribly good and the horribly bad. Men who use their manly 'tools' which allows them to 'plunge' into the world and "experience it to the hilt"--- and yet, the final invocation is to ladies who need to hold up their gowns. Or men who are like ladies in gowns. A jab at the feminine, nonetheless (no matter if its the bourgeois feminine...its the feminine under attack, since bourgeois and feminine can't be unlinked by Williams nor the Beats it seems)

Howl! contains the male flanneur tradition continued, except with more drugs and more shit. The flanneur may be crazy and imprisoned from time to time, but the mobility is always still central. It's interesting to compare this long outrageously-announced constantly-moving madness with Plath's quiet unperformed and unarticulated poems of madness, which happen to be just as image-filled, horrific, and desperate, but without the mobility. Plath's ultra-white poems (the color of her imagery, not completely but also not un-completely racial--especially with all the African lions running around in contrast) versus the dirty grays and blacks of Howl! (with its own black shadows and Negro-fied background figures leaping in and out of the poem) reveal the conflict for me. Ginsberg doesn't seem to really care about color...a few are mentioned in Howl! from time to time, but I think he wants them all to blur, to create a blurish block where its impossible to pick a single color.

Anyway, just wondering if anyone knew about Plath's connections/possible reflections on the beats. Ariel could be read, somewhat perhaps, in response to the utterly masculinized madness of the Beat generation, where their madness is allowed to be celebrated and idolized, making them freer and freer with every public performance of it, people eating up the (faux) spontaneity as part of all the boyish antics. Ten years later, we have Plath's carefully revised and reworked poems, written alone, portraying a slow and static position, a madness unglorified, poems not read aloud or not even allowed to be read. Not allowed to be dirty, the cleaness is what ultimately seems to be what is so dangerous to Plath.