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Howl Against Censorship

October 4, 2007

The San Francisco Chronicle reports today on the 50th anniversary of a landmark judgement involving obscenity and poetry.  You can read the entire article by Joe Garofoli here.  Here’s an excerpt:

Fifty years ago today, a San Francisco Municipal Court judge ruled that Allen Ginsberg’s Beat-era poem “Howl” was not obscene. Yet today, a New York public broadcasting station decided not to air the poem, fearing that the Federal Communications Commission will find it indecent and crush the network with crippling fines.

Free-speech advocates see tremendous irony in how Ginsberg’s epic poem – which lambastes the consumerism and conformism of the 1950s and heralds a budding American counterculture – is, half a century later, chilled by a federal government crackdown on the broadcasting of provocative language.

Allen Ginsberg has to be one of my favorite poets of all time and Howl is definitely on my poetry top-10 list.  When a truly great work of art is prevented from reaching the masses because of the threat of massive fines then you know you’re not living in a free society.  Bare one nipple during a televised performance and the whole art world suffers. 

So here are the first few lines of Howl by Allen Ginsberg 

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

I highly encourage you to go read the entire poem if for no other reason than ‘the man’ doesn’t want you to read it.  But also, because it’s just a damn good poem.


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