William Carlos Williams: On "Howl"

When he was younger, and I was younger, I used to know Allen Ginsberg, a young poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, where he, son of a well-known poet, had been born and grew up.  He was physically slight of build and mentally much disturbed by the life which he had encountered about him during those first years after the first world war as it was exhibited to him in and about New York City.  He was always on the point of "going away," where it didn't seem to matter; he disturbed me, I never thought he'd live to grow up and write a book of poems.  His ability to survive, travel, and go on writing astonishes me.  That he has gone on developing and perfecting his art is no less amazing to me.

Now he turns up fifteen or twenty years later with an arresting poem.  Literally he has, from all the evidence, been through hell.  On the way he met a man named Carl Solomon with whom he shared among the teeth and excrement of this life something that cannot be described but in the words he has used to describe it.  It is a howl of defeat.  Not defeat at all for he has gone through defeat as if it were an ordinary experience, a trivial experience.  Everyone in this life is defeated but a man, if he be a man, is not defeated.

It is the poet, Allen Ginsberg, who has gone, in his own body, through the horrifying experiences described from life in these pages.  The wonder of the thing is not that he has survived but that he, from the very depths, has found a fellow whom he can love, a love he celebrates without looking aside in these poems.  Say what you will, he proves to us, in spite of the most debasing experiences that life can offer a man, the spirit of love survives to ennoble our lives if we have the wit and the courage and the faith--and the art! to persist.

It is the belief in the art of poetry that has gone hand in hand with this man into his Golgotha, from that charnel house, similar in every way, to that of the Jews in the past war.  But this is in our country, our own fondest purlieus.  We are blind and live our blind lives out in blindness.  Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels.  This poet sees through and all around the horrors he partakes of in the very intimate details of his poem.  He avoids nothing but experiences it to the hilt.  He contains it.  Claims it as his own--and, we believe, laughs at it and has the time and effrontery to love a fellow of his choice and record that love in a well-made poem.

Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title William Carlos Williams: On "Howl" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Allen Ginsberg Criticism Target Allen Ginsberg
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 15 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Howl and Other Poems
Printer Friendly PDF Version
Contexts No Data Tags No Data

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