30 August 2006

Contemplating Ginsberg at Nine A.M.

Call me late to the party, but I just realized Allen Ginsberg's Howl Part I is a 2105 word sentence. An incredibly dense sentence at that. It is one of my favorite poems for the layers of density and incredible tongue torque-ing, stupefying feel of the words in your mouth.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,…"

The poem begs to be read in one breath, which is impossible of course, but the next best thing is just plunging in and treating the poem as a freight train and going along for the ride.

"… who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,…"

I find myself fascinated by the overt and covert religious imagery in Ginsberg's poems, the biblical rhythms and the torrential spewing of words onto the page. They shouldn't make sense, but they do. The poem hangs together tenaciously. Maybe because it was written with such emotion that the sensations somehow etched themselves into the fabric of the poem and transfer themselves to the reader. You cannot read a poem like this and remain indifferent.

"… who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus,…"

I don't see myself writing poetry like this, not at this time, probably not ever. But in reading Ginsberg I start to catch a glimpse of a place, a time, a generation. I branch out and read his contemporaries in an effort to understand. Will Ginsberg influence me, now that I am aware, now that I understand the process of literary influences? Does understanding carry with it the obligation to negate those influences? I hope not. I may never write like Ginsberg, but from reading him I take away a pure, visceral joy for poetry and the power of words in juxtaposition. If that is what influence is, smite me.

"… to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,…"

Excerpts from Allen Ginsberg Howl and Other Poems. San Fancisco: City Lights Books, 1956. Part I.

1 comment:

Wynn Bexton said...

I was heavily influenced by Ginsberg and Kerouac when I was young. I always wanted to write like Kerouac. But, my genre is historical fiction. Still, he was one of my heros and Ginsberg fascinated me. I used the first part of Howl as a preface to my play "The Street" which was about heroin addicts in the 1950's in my town (partly autobiographical as I wrote it about my boyfriend of the time.)

Now I'm off to NYC and hope to go to some of those writer's haunts.
By the way, enjoyed your blog.
And yes, I know that once I move into my lovely new space my Muse will be more than ready to work with me again.