Allen Ginsberg and “Howl”


"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…"

The day after Allen Ginsberg's first public reading of "Howl" in October 1955, publisher and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti sent Ginsberg a telegram requesting the manuscript. The poem was remarkable for its style — long, tumbling, exclamatory lines — as well as its frank treatment of drug use, mental illness, poverty, and sexuality.

Less than two years later, Shigeyoshi Murao, manager of Ferlinghetti's City Lights bookstore, was arrested for selling a copy of Howl and Other Poems to undercover San Francisco police officers. Murao and Ferlinghetti became co- defendants in the resulting obscenity trial. Murao was cleared when prosecutors could not prove that he knew the book’s contents, and the case concluded on October 3, 1957, when Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled the poem had "redeeming social importance."

  1. Allen Ginsberg. Howl: original draft facsimile, transcript and variant versions, fully annotated by author, with contemporaneous correspondence, account of first public reading, legal skirmishes, precursor texts and bibliography. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.