I just wanted to direct you all to a remarkable letter that Ginsberg wrote to fellow (and senior) poet Richard Eberhart on May 18 1956. Eberhart was preparing to write a piece on “Howl” and other work from the SF poetry scene, and Ginsberg felt strongly compelled to offer some guidance. ”Howl” is often read as an unhinged, hypnotic rant. But it is a very careful piece of poetry, and Ginsberg brilliantly details what he’s trying to do with sound, rhythm, line length, structure, etc. in relation to other poets–the French, Whitman, and others. He rather bluntly notes that organic spontaneity in poetry “IS A CRAFT not a jerk-off mode.” The man has a way with words!
More broadly, Ginsberg wants to dispel any notion that it was purely negative or nihilistic. Instead, he saw “Howl” as “an act of sympathy,” and he describes how the poem enacts this sense of sympathy and connection, especially in Part III.
Ginsberg wants to make sure his point is utterly clear. To this end, he even includes a “summary” of his letter as a post script. Please take a look at this letter as it will guide some of our conversation about “Howl” in class tomorrow.