Friday, 11 March 2011


I acquired my copy of Protest, sub titled -The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men, Edited by Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg, Panther Books three shillings and six pence, when it was first published in paperback, June 1960. I remember staying up into the early hours reciting the poem Howl to at least two young women, possibly three, with only one understanding the what its author, Allen Ginsberg was seeking to communicate. (one I met through the local Young Socialists, one on a Youth CND match from Liverpool to Hull and the other via an advertisement in the New Statesmen which read Nihilist waiting for the bomb to drop seeks......).

The Panther book alleged that the writers of Protest collectively were rebels without cause which was nonsense because there are always causes for any form of rebellion even if the perpetrator is not able to articulate or do so with objective accuracy. The second claim was that the writers were shocked by nothing which was another nonsense statement because the majority were shocked by much of what they experienced in contemporary society and throughout their upbringing and educational experiences. They were also described as defying society and convention as if this was new and amazing when artists, philosophers and political thinkers have done this throughout human history, seeking attention and recognition by someone other than their own voice which they continuously strive to make original and unique

This morning March 10th 2011, after noting that the dawn approaching 6 am and enjoying a good swim of 50 lengths and a 15 minute sauna, reading the Daily Telegraph, enjoying a bacon roll after calling in at Asda, and then having a hair cut on the way to Metro station, and a second cup of coffee of the morning at the Tyneside Film Theatre, I was the first into the Electric screen theatre at 10 to 11 for the day’s performance of the film Howl. For a few minutes I thought I might comprise the entire audience but over the next five minutes I was joined by half a dozen men of varying ages, one group of two men and a women, and two couples, one female and one male and female. I was tempted to reach for a pen and notebook and rush around asking why they wanted to see this film.

In black and white the film recreates the first reading of the poem by Ginsberg at the Six Gallery on October 7th 1955, shortly after I left school at sixteen and commenced work in central London, soon attending traditional jazz clubs in Soho and drinking pints of brown and mild. Parts of the poem are interpreted through animated sequences, and also entwined with the examination of key witnesses for the prosecution and for the defence in the 1957 obscenity trial together with the summing up and the verdict. There are also scenes of experiences in the life of Ginsberg to that point, and film ends with notes on what happened to some of the characters referenced in the work and to Ginsberg himself. I noted the Wikipedia note that the one individual who was arrested for selling published copies of the work and went to prison is not mentioned in the film.

Ginsberg explains in one interview that the work was an emotional expression of his condition at the time of writing and that it was only subsequently that he fully understood some of its significance. It was not until 1960 that I intentionally opted out of my previous “conventional” life style, although in retrospect my whole life has been unconventional. I never described myself as a beatnik although sporting a beard and wearing a brown duffle coat other might well have done so.

At one level Howl can be viewed as an explicitly coming out by someone who with the help of a psychiatric therapist worked out that he wanted to spend his days in creative writing and making love to someone who happened to be of the same physical sexuality. Then as now I thought the poem was a statement of honest reality, of openness, of being free and of being true to oneself. Ginsberg never explained his choice of title for the work although in 2008 while the film was being prepared friend Peter Orovsky his life partner, speculated that it may have derived from the Hank Williams song Howling at the Moon which he had sang one night to Ginsberg.

The work is in three parts commencing with the familiar opening line I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterically naked.....

The Wikinotes are excellent for providing information on the content references which I was not aware at the time or subsequently until now but which were confirmed by Ginsberg before his death, for example “ who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan Angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, was the result of Jack Kerouac telling Ginsberg about Philip Lamantia’s celestial adventure after reading the Qur’an. I mention this because today the fake right wing Senate investigation into Muslim fundamentalism in the USA begins potentially heralding another dose of American fascism against the concept of freedom to.

Another reference is to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass which the professional witness for the prosecution at the trial suggested was the sole basis for the form of the poem and therefore it could be dismissed because it lacked its own form originality, something which in fact it has. This witness was something else and his self exposure as a moronic academic was one the joys in this film.

The rhythm of Part one is created by commencing sentences with “who” and brings me to the third reference which appeals to me is that of “ eli eli lamma lamma sabachtani Oh God why have you forsaken me. The cry of all those with a powerful faith who are then tested and making Ginsberg’s move from agnosticism to exploration of his Jewish roots before moving on to Buddhism.

“ who rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the gold horn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love into eli eli lamma lamma sabachtani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio with absolute heart of the poem of life butchered of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.” and which brings to an end part one.

Other lines from part one which have remained with me are

“who poverty and tatters and hollowed eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.

“ who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,”

In Part 2 the connecting link is Moloch representing the negative aspects of industrialization and a devilish monster.

“Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgement? Moloch the vast stone of War! Moloch the stunned governments.”

The third section is an address to someone he met in a psychiatric institution and where the link is “I am with you in Rockland” and where my favourite line is “I’m with you in Rockland where you must feel strange.”

My version does not include his footnote expression of pantheism that everything is Holy which I like because it encompasses the concept that everything that exists whether defined as good or evil, happy unhappy is contained with the concept of God and is therefore holy and not to be rejected.

The 1957 obscenity trial was not against the creator of the work but its City Lights publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union. The judge referred to the soul of the American constitution and the freedom to speak. He argued that the poem was written by someone using their language and that the prosecutor seemed to be wanting everyone to confirm one particular form of expression. He said the poem was of redeeming social importance and dismissed the case. The prosecution as with the publishers of Lady Chatterley’s Lover here in the UK revealed the inevitable divide which occurs within society when one group believes they possess the ultimate knowledge and enlightenment and attempt to impose on everyone else.

Allen Ginsberg born 1926 wrote the work in his late twenties and went on live longer than all his contemporaries such as Kerouac and Burroughs, dying aged 70 in 1997 and became as well known for his “ humanism and in a romantic and visionary ideal of harmony among men”, taking part in decades of non violent protest against” censorship, imperial politics, and the persecution of the powerless.”

He came to England in 1965 when I embraced social work and what I describe as my third way and together with poets from both sides of the Atlantic gave a recital which filled the Royal Albert Hall and attracted the media attention of the day with mixed feelings and viewpoints, Christopher Logue, Spike Hawkins, Ton McGragh were there with Harry Fanlight, Alexander Trocchi and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Where we parted company Ginsberg, as I did time and time again is with his failure to understand that the application of communism had created regimes as abhorrent as Fascism. I also disapproved the experimentation and sometimes addiction to drugs because it involves surrendering self control and fuelling criminal behaviour

The underlying expression of dissent against dictatorships being expressed in the Middle East of North Africa and he Arabian states has also brought forth important figures from my past experience.

Because of his work on the use of non violent people power which influenced me some fifty years ago, I was delighted to see that Gene Sharp was still alive and being interviewed on Al Jazeera about unfolding events in North Africa and the Arabian states. Gene was born in 1928 and became Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts and a Noble Prize Nominee. His work was influenced by Gandhi, Thoreau and others and he became the first writer of the use of civil resistance and non violent revolution during the last quarter of the 20th century. He was jailed for nine months after protesting the conscription of soldiers for the Korean War and in 1983 founded the Albert Einstein Institution as a body to promote the use of non violent action in conflicts worldwide. I break off from the writing to for a pamphlet of Gene I thought I had and realise that I have not sorted into order the three shelf unit of pamphlets and booklets since arrival here seven years ago.

Gene published Waging Non Violent Struggle 20th century practice and 21st Century potential in 2005 and contains information on how to plan non violent struggles so that they can become more effective. It is thought his writing had influence on some fo those who acted recently in Tunisia and Egypt.

The other figure who emerged recently, also on Al Jazeera was Ralf Schoenman, a self proclaimed Marxist revolutionary, the antithesis of the work of Sharp and whose behaviour was the reason why I resigned from the Committee 100. I will leave that part of my life to the next writing which includes the latest episodes of the Sopranos and the Boardwalk Empire.

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