To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, with nearly one million copies in print, City Lights presents the story of editing, publishing, and defending Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.
This collection begins with an introduction by publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who shares his memories of hearing “Howl” first read at the 6 Gallery, of his arrest, and the subsequent legal defense of Howl’s publication. Never-before--published correspondence of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, and others provides an in-depth commentary on the poem’s ethi-cal intent and its social significance to the author and his contemporaries. A section on the public reaction to the trial includes newspaper reportage, op-ed pieces by Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, and letters to the editor from the public, which provide fascinating background material on the cultural climate of the mid-1950s. A timeline of literary censorship in the United States places this battle for free expression in a historical context.
Also included are photographs, transcripts of relevant trial testimony, Judge Clayton Horn’s decision and its ramifications, and a long essay by Albert Bendich, the ACLU attorney who defended Howl on constitutional grounds. Editor Bill Morgan discusses more recent challenges to Howl in the late 1980s and how the fight against censorship continues today in new guises.
A fascinating assortment of material-newspaper articles, transcripts, photographs, letters from the principals, commentary-on the 1957 obscenity trial in San Francisco that pitted the "people" against City Lights, the bookshop that published and sold Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems.The poem that occasioned it all (and Ginsberg's related work, "Footnote to Howl") appears early in this engaging and at times astonishing volume. And it's not hard to see why some procrustean mid-'50s folk found the poems offensive: Naughty words and allusions to sexual intimacies and street life abound. As the editors explain, Howl was first grabbed by vigilant Customs officers (it was printed abroad), then by San Francisco cops who, disguised as patrons, bought a copy at City Lights. Some will be surprised to learn that Ginsberg was never arrested or charged; only City Lights owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his unfortunate clerk were booked and fingerprinted. After a brief trial (no jury) that included expert testimony from literary luminaries Mark Schorer, Walter Van Tilburg Clark and Kenneth Rexroth (all for the defense), Judge Clayton W. Horn declared, "I do not believe that Howl is without redeeming social importance." Highlights of the trial transcript (sadly, only excerpted here) include testy exchanges and struggles to explain how Howl differs from the Book of Job. Among the most intriguing pieces are reprints from the San Francisco Chronicle, which immediately recognized the free-speech, free-press issues at stake. Morgan (Ginsberg's longtime archivist and author of an upcoming biography of the writer) and Peters (publisher of City Lights) have provided some useful chronologies and some probably superfluous warnings about today's family-values crusaders. Ferlinghetti himself, now in his mid-80s, offers a feisty, if hyperbolic, Introduction. The anti-climactic material that follows the judge's opinion might have found a happier home in an appendix.A volume that will appeal to all who cherish their right to read uncensored the outpourings of the human heart. (Kirkus Reviews)