Howl and Other Poems, Howl
a long poem by Allen Ginsberg, forming the title work of Howl and Other Poems (1956), his first collection of verse, for which William Carlos Williams supplied an enthusiastic foreword. The poem is chiefly written in long free-verse lines whose duration is intended to correspond to the individual breaths of the reader. The compellingly incantational effects produced suggest similarities with the work of Whitman and the lyrical parataxis of the Old Testament. Howl is unified thematically by the apocalyptic vision of America's materialist post-war society as the devouring Moloch against which the poem is raised in outraged protest and attempted exorcism. The inviolability of extremes of individual experience, mystical, sexual, psychotic, and drug-induced, is affirmed against the repression, persecution, and mechanistic consciousness imputed to the culture of Moloch. The concluding ‘Footnote to Howl’ is an extravagantly exalted invocation of the cosmic forces of holiness and benevolence. Widespread publicity accompanied the unsuccessful prosecution of Ginsberg's publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for the poem's alleged obscenity. Howl was rapidly accorded the status of the manifesto of the Beat Generation and remains the most compelling single work to emerge from the San Francisco Renaissance.