Similar to Death of a Salesman, “Howl” offers an indictment of capitalism, greed, American imperialism, organized religion, etc. while also highlighting the isolation and disconnection that has come about as the result of high-rise, big city living/pursuits. The longing to break free of society’s norms is a key theme.
However, as scholars of literature, the poem can be challenging because the text itself is challenging and defying poetic norms. Remember that we are in the postmodern era at this point, so being willing to do something no one has attempted before while also criticizing and simultaneously fetish-izing everything that has come before is standard practice.
“Howl” was banned after its publication in 1956 for obscene content. It subsequently prevailed in obscenity trials and has long been considered by many to be part of the American literary canon, though many students find it challenging.
We should note the structure of “Howl,” recognizing its important poetic elements like repetition. We should also consider the relationship between structure and meaning in this text, as well as Ginsburg’s tone. Offer your thoughts on any or all of the above.
How is Ginsburg similar and/or different to Whitman’s poetry that we read back at the outset of the semester?
In 2-3 sentences, define what you think the meaning or message of this poem is.
How and why is this poem “postmodern”?
Choose three lines from this text (make sure to indicate the line numbers) – “Howl” and “Footnote to Howl” – and discuss their impact or effect on you personally as a reader.
Given that we are in a kind of whirling chaos ourselves right now, I think you might be surprised by what aspects of this poem resonate with you and with your classmates.