BEAT NEWS ARCHIVE
Chorus of Poets Gather
for "Howl" Celebration
by Teresa Conboy
LOS ANGELES -- A horn call sounded the start of the 50th anniversary celebration of Allen Ginsberg's first public reading of his masterpiece "Howl," on this occasion, October 7, 2005 at Skylight Books in Los Feliz Village in Los Angeles. "Howl" was read by a chorus of local poets, friends of Ginsberg and those (as everyone) with a deep sense of appreciation for his timeless words, shouts and cries about a parallel culture of the '50s not otherwise seen in the American dream images portrayed on television at the time. Organized within 24 hours by L.A.-based poet S.A. Griffin, word of the event was spread quickly via the Internet, email and phone calls.
Bookcases were pushed aside, some people stood in a semi-circle, others sat in chairs, and a few such as myself sat around the ficus tree that grows through the center of the store. David Zasloff provided the horn call that preceded a group recital of the infamous opening verse, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...” Then one by one each person calling out from their position read a few lines in perfect verbal unity, not missing a note. The reading of "Howl" took on the musicality of the day, the jazz rhythms that Ginsberg and his Beat friends absorbed into their poetry, with its chant-like beginning, solos punctuated with "go!" and "yeah!" building up to the Moloch crescendo, and then slowing down to its "I'm with you in Rockland" coda. Each voice added its own unique flair and phrasing, moving along with a cadence until the very end, not one person losing steam. The only thing missing was someone running around collecting money for bottles of wine.
The chorus of voices included some of the finest poets Los Angeles has to offer, all who have been instrumental in keeping the art vibrant: Griffin and his wife Lorraine Perrotta (rare books/acquisitions librarian for The Huntington Library), Mike Mollett, Doug Knott howling from the staircase (Griffin, Mollett and Knott are members of the Carma Bums known for their International Superhighway Tour of Words in a '59 Cadillac, hence Cadillac/Car plus Dharma Bums plus karma = Carma Bums), Bradford Bancroft, Bob Branaman, Milo Martin, Stosh Machek, Harry Northrup, Linda Albertano (one of five poets chosen to represent Los Angeles in Amsterdam's One World Poetry), Skylight Books staff/poet, Steve Salardino, Teka-Lark, Ken Tao, and Gregorio Gomez, host of the open readings at Weeds in Chicago for the past 19 years, who added a lively flair to the line "who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt of marijuana for New York."
After the final chorus, Steve Abee continued the motion forward and read "Footnote to Howl." Milo Martin shared his poem written following Ginsberg’s death, which captured the spirit and essence of his mentor. Stosh Machek delivered a powerful, spirited reading of Ginsberg’s "America.” Bob Branaman, part of the Vortex group that came to San Francisco from Wichita in the late '50s, early '60s, spoke briefly about his good friend, Ginsberg (humorously lamenting selling his autographed copy of "Howl" several years ago to David Meltzer "for five bucks").
Reflecting later about the reading that night, S.A. Griffin, who met with Ginsberg a few times in the late '80s said, "All that I wanted to get out of him was 'what is poetry?' We dialogued on it for hours. The conclusion: poetry is candor. All things holy, poem/poet holy."
Special thanks to Skylight Books' Kerry Slattery for saying yes without hesitation to hosting the reading. Slattery and staff continue to stock an always interesting, eclectic mix of books and Skylight was the perfect venue for this anniversary tribute, having previously held memorial readings to such Beat figures as Gregory Corso.
S.A. Griffin’s website
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