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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Ginsberg & Whitman: America’s rebel poets a century apart

By April 21, 2006

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Last fall, poets all over America marked the 50-year anniversary of the famous Six Gallery reading at which Allen Ginsberg’s iconic Beat poem “Howl” was first read in public by gathering to read it again. Now Farrar, Straus & Giroux has issued a commemorative volume of essays edited by Jason Shinder, Ginsberg’s former assistant: The Poem That Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years Later. It’s been reviewed by Greil Marcus in The New York Times, by David Ulin in The Los Angeles Times, and by Allan Jalon in The San Francisco Chronicle -- all agree that the book is more a festschrift, a collection of personal reminiscences & reactions, than a volume of literary criticism. But people are beginning to evaluate the impact of Ginsberg’s work from a longer historical perspective, comparing him to the original model of an American poetic rebel, Walt Whitman.

from The Los Angeles Times CalendarLive (with thanks to Tad Richards of the NewPoetry list for posting the article):
Songs of Ourselves,” by Christopher Reynolds
Noting that this year “Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ hits AARP age,” Reynolds asks, “Can it last like Whitman’s work?” and sets out to find the answer by comparing the lives & lines of “the great unrhymed, long-lined, self-celebratory sensation of the 1850s and the great unrhymed, long-lined, self-celebratory sensation of the 1950s.” He takes his “who’s the greatest” debate to bookstore clerks, poets, critics & publishers, gathering opinions from Malcolm Margolin, Lewis MacAdams & Andrei Codrescu, and in the end refuses to decide between the two: “to some degree it’s pointless to look for distinctions between Ginsberg and Whitman anymore. They’re together forever, fertilizing New Jersey.” But we’d like to know how you feel, dear Readers! In 150 years, will Allen Ginsberg’s poems be remembered the way Walt Whitman’s are now? Click on “comments” below & tell us what you think.

Related articles:
Our profile of Walt Whitman, “American bard of liberation”
Chorus of Poets Gather for “Howl” Celebration: the 50th anniversary, by Teresa Conboy
The Bard His Own Self, Allen Ginsberg says “That's all Goodnight”
Links to purchase Ginsberg’s books & recordings
Selected links to read more of & by Ginsberg on the Net


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