Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" - Poetry or prophecy?

GRIN Verlag
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Seminar paper from the year 2003 in the subject American Studies - Literature, grade: 1, Technical University of Braunschweig, 12 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: Allen Ginsberg’s reputation as a major poet is now secure; he has outlived the other major poets of mid-century with whom he is frequently compared, such as Charles Olson, Robert Lowell, and Frank O’Hara, who with Ginsberg make up a core of writers that revolutionized the writing of American verse in the 1950s. [...] Each of these major writers gave to the main currents of verse his own unique voice and intelligence, but it was Ginsberg especially who seems to have awakened America’s youth to the powers of poetry to make stirring prophecies and to reinvigorate the spheres of politics and ideology (Christensen 215). Allen Ginsberg was part of the Beat generation, a group of young authors, among them Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and John Clellon Holmes, who created a new and unconventional kind of literature. Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” is the most popular example of the innovative and provocative writing this group produced. Whereas Robert Lowell and other confessional poets wrote about their lives in a need to confess what was on their minds, Ginsberg went one step further and confessed the sins of a whole generation. “Howl” is a combination of autobiography , apocalyptic vision, catharsis, and prophecy. So what makes Allen Ginsberg and his poetry special? How was it possible that he awakened America’s youth and reinvigorated the political spheres? Why is his reputation as a major poet secure? How did he revolutionize poetry? In which way can he be called a prophet? And if he indeed was a prophet of his times, is his literary work consequently poetry or prophecy? In order to scrutinize this question the goals of the Beat generation have to be defined: how was the term ‘beat’ coined? In the Beat movement, Ginsberg represented the prototype of a Beat writer and later became the guru of America’s youth. His tone of voice when reading “Howl” and his literary concept for his poetry illustrate the prophetic character of his work. For that matter, the book analyzes the three parts of “Howl” with regard to its rhythm and imagery.
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GRIN Verlag
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Mar 8, 2006
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Language Arts & Disciplines / Linguistics / General
Literary Collections / American / General
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Thesis (M.A.) from the year 2004 in the subject American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography, grade: sehr gut, Technical University of Braunschweig, 47 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: “We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression.” This is what the nameless narrator of Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel Fight Club says to define his generation, the age group which has alternately been labeled as ‘Baby Bust Generation,’ ‘MTV Generation,’ ‘Invisible Generation,’ or ‘Generation X.’ All of these terms apply to the birth cohort of the years 1961 to 1981. Since these young people are described by generational scholars as the most diverse generation in sociological history, it is not surprising that there are difficulties in finding one common label to define this birth group. The opening quote shows that the young people of this birth group seem to be in a spiritual crisis because they no longer have to fight in wars, they do not have to fight for causes – in short, they do not have to struggle through extreme situations as most generations before them had to do. Instead, they live in a world in which everything seems to be at the ready for them: tons of shopping malls and supermarkets that contain anything one can possibly think of or wish for. Yet, they experience a spiritual crisis. As many members of older generations may now well ask: How can a world of seemingly endless choices and resources be so disturbing as to throw a whole generation into crisis? Three novels that deal with the identity crisis of Generation X are analysed: Generation X. Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991) by Douglas Coupland, American Psycho (1991) by Bret Easton Ellis, and Fight Club (1996) by Chuck Palahniuk. According to studies of Generation X literature, these three novels are typical of their time, as they deal with postmodern, or rather, consumerist culture. Hence, life in the postmodern condition presents the characters of the novels with questions and problems to which there is no definite answer. They struggle with a fragmented world and therefore, the novels show that whereas the generations preceding the Xer birth cohort had issues or events of historical scope and impact that bound them together as a birth group, it seems that the issue that binds Generation X together is their struggle with the culture they live in.
Here, for the first time, is a volume that gathers the published verse of Allen Ginsberg in its entirety, a half century of brilliant work from one of America's great poets. The chief figure among the Beats, Ginsberg changed the course of American poetry, liberating it from closed academic forms with the creation of open, vocal, spontaneous, and energetic postmodern verse in the tradition of Walt Whitman, Guillaume Apollinaire, Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams. Ginsberg's classics Howl, Reality Sandwiches, Kaddish, Planet News, and The Fall of America led American (and international) poetry toward uncensored vernacular, explicit candor, the ecstatic, the rhapsodic, and the sincere—all leavened by an attractive and pervasive streak of common sense. Ginsberg's raw tones and attitudes of spiritual liberation also helped catalyze a psychological revolution that has become a permanent part of our cultural heritage, profoundly influencing not only poetry and popular song and speech, but also our view of the world.

The uninterrupted energy of Ginsberg's remarkable career is clearly revealed in this collection. Seen in order of composition, the poems reflect on one another; they are not only works but also a work. Included here are all the poems from the earlier volume Collected Poems 1947-1980, and from Ginsberg's subsequent and final three books of new poetry: White Shroud, Cosmopolitan Greetings, and Death & Fame. Enriching this book are illustrations by Ginsberg's artist friends; unusual and illuminating notes to the poems, inimitably prepared by the poet himself; extensive indexes; as well as prefaces and various other materials that accompanied the original publications.

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