American Poetry of the Twenty-First Century

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Sophomore (College 2nd year) ・Literature ・MLA ・1 Sources

Howl was published by Allen Ginsberg in the summer of 1955 in an apartment at 1010 Montgomery Street during a period when freedom of speech was limited. Poets and authors should be allowed to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas freely and openly. The poem describes the condition of America and the lives of individuals as the poet sees them, in parts. The poem raises the question of political and cultural conservatism, which has ruined the minds of many writers in the United States of America. When the poem was written and distributed, the government exercised the power to capture and even halt the printing of books. At this period the government could even restrict the sale and the reading of a given book if it chose to do so. The banning then, as much as the poem had some obscene sections was more of the government's influence rather than a reasonable ban. Poets and movie producers express their emotions and views through writing, and they should be allowed to do so without any restriction. The banning of the poem was a form of restriction on what a poet or a writer could write as it placed limitations on the extent he or she could go in expressing his feelings about a given situation or scenario. Ginseng reveals his pain for the lack of freedom of imagination when he says “What sphinx of cement and aluminium bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?” ("Howl By Allen Ginsberg").
The poem and also the movie are in some way obscene, but the level of obscenity does not warrant such a drastic measure as banning and the resultant restriction on the sales. Ginsberg should have implemented the concept of concealing information or using other words and acts to speak out what he wanted to say, but still, the ban he received and the trial he went through before and after the ban, was unwarranted. The government and the court should have instead instructed him to use censoring technique on what they found obscene rather than halt his work. This is the kind of oppression that Ginseng claimed to have seen when he says that he saw a Moloch and this case a Moloch represented a human avarice that created a society of dehumanized, desensitized and a group of mechanized conformists, ones who did not have the freedom to express themselves. The Moloch depicts people who did not have a mind of their own but did everything as per the instructions, and the commands from the authority. The concept of the Moloch is what made ginseng seem as if he was inciting the society against the government.
The film, however, has multiple scenes that are marred by homosexuality and sexual profanity. During the days when the film was produced, cases of homosexuality were unheard of and were by all means prohibited. In concurrence, the poem also depicts the status of the society, the corruption as the poet openly talks about the homosexual episodes that would happen, especially with the motorcyclists. The language that the narrator in the film uses as well as the one that the poet employs in his poem would be unacceptable to the society, at that time, and there is a need to at least use a language that incorporates hidden meaning rather than being so flank. Statements such as “who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts, who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy, who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,” are too profane for some members of the society.
Howl is a real rage against conformity, inhibition, Puritanism, censorship and any other aspect that is used to hinder people from behaving as themselves or being just who they are. In both the film and the poem, there are so many limitations that are placed by the society and the government on what they should do and on how they should do it. It is these limitations that the writer tries to stand up against. In the poem, it is clear that what is profane and what is holy are both measured and weighted equally. The poet uses such expressions as “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists” ("Howl By Allen Ginsberg") to depict this situation. Looking at it critically, it seems like there is no significant difference between what is holy and what is profane. The poem is a howl of defeat from the living hell of confinements and expectations from both the society and the government that the people are subjected to; the state they are unable to come out of or to free from. On the other hand, the poem “Howl” can be taken as a howl of defiant laughter; laughter upon a society that has refused to change. It can be taken as a peal of laughter upon a community that has refused to go for its freedom.

Works Cited

"Howl By Allen Ginsberg". Poetry Foundation. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 May 2017.

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