Written as a cultural weapon and a call to arms, Howl touched a raw nerve in Cold War America and has been controversial from the day it was first read aloud nearly fifty years ago. This first full critical and historical study of Howl brilliantly elucidates the nexus of politics and literature in which it was written and gives striking new portraits of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. Drawing from newly released psychiatric reports on Ginsberg, from interviews with his psychiatrist, Dr. Philip Hicks, and from the poet's journals, American Scream shows how Howl brought Ginsberg and the world out of the closet of a repressive society. It also gives the first full accounting of the literary figures—Eliot, Rimbaud, and Whitman—who influenced Howl, definitively placing it in the tradition of twentieth-century American poetry for the first time.
As he follows the genesis and the evolution of Howl, Jonah Raskin constructs a vivid picture of a poet and an era. He illuminates the development of Beat poetry in New York and San Francisco in the 1950s--focusing on historic occasions such as the first reading of Howl at Six Gallery in San Francisco in 1955 and the obscenity trial over the poem's publication. He looks closely at Ginsberg's life, including his relationships with his parents, friends, and mentors, while he was writing the poem and uses this material to illuminate the themes of madness, nakedness, and secrecy that pervade Howl.
A captivating look at the cultural climate of the Cold War and at a great American poet, American Scream finally tells the full story of Howl—a rousing manifesto for a generation and a classic of twentieth-century literature.
Preface: Allen Ginsberg’s Genius
1 Poetickall Bomshell
2 Family Business
3 Trilling-esque Sense of "Civilization"
4 Juvinescent Savagery
5 Just like Russia
6 Ladies, We Are Going through Hell
7 Another Coast’s Apple for the Eye
8 Mythological References
9 Famous Authorhood
10 This Fiction Named Allen Ginsberg
11 Best Minds
Notes and Sources
Jonah Raskin is Professor and Chair of Communication Studies at Sonoma State University. Among other books, he is author of For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman (California, 1997) and My Search for B. Traven (1980).
"Jonah Raskin's American Scream adds to the ever-growing fact and fiction of the Allen Ginsberg persona. All Ginsberg addicts will have to have this book for adulation and reassessment."—Lawrence Ferlinghetti
"The view of beat America from the middle distance has grown all too familiar over the years, but Jonah Raskin gives us something fresh: an exciting close-up of its pivotal masterwork. He shows us America at the moment of Howl's genesis, an America in turmoil, with its atom bombs and erotic anxieties and incipient alternatives, and gets at the uneasy relationship between nation and poem."—Rebecca Solnit, author of Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era
"Howl remains a genuinely magical poem, not least because its profoundly subversive power has enticed a significant part of several generations into reading it. American Scream does a superb job of setting the story of its creation and reception in a rich historical context. In so doing, Jonah Raskin illuminates much of American art and culture in the second half of the 20th century, and the visionary, contradictory, wonderful soul that was Allen Ginsberg."—Dennis McNally, author of Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America
"Like an Olympic marksman, with steady and unwaivering focus, Raskin has set his sights on what is without doubt the most influential poem of the second half of the twentieth century. When Ginsberg read the poem in public for the first time in 1955 it was clear that he hit the bull's eye, as has Raskin with his brilliant study."—Bill Morgan, author of The Beat Generation in San Francisco
Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Awards finalist, Bay Area Book Reviewers Association
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