November 18, 2016

Ginsberg's First Howl

Allen Ginsberg read his poem "Howl" at the Six Gallery in San Francisco back in 1955. The night was advertised as "Six Poets at Six Gallery” and featured Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen.

Ginsberg was poet number five. He went on about 11 p.m. He was 29 years old. The most surprising thing though is that he had never participated in a poetry reading before.

Kenneth Rexroth organized the reading as a promotion for the new gallery. Ginsberg met Gary Snyder and the others. Ginsberg introduced a pre-On-The-Road Jack Kerouac to the group.

Allen started pretty quietly. But he started rolling with the poem. It is said that he took a deep breath before each of the long lines - then said each line in one breath.

Kerouac chanted "Go, go, go" in rhythm while Ginsberg read. The audience loved it and joined in.

One audience member was poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He sent Ginsberg a telegram the next day borrowing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words to Walt Whitman: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career” and added “When do I get the manuscript?”

The group gathered there that night became the core of the group of writers known as the Beats.

Howl and Other Poems was published by City Lights Books in the fall of 1956. It was subsequently seized by U.S. Customs and the San Francisco police and was the subject of a long court trial at which a series of poets and professors persuaded the court that the book was not obscene.

Plague at the location of Six Gallery, 3119 Fillmore, San Francisco

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