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HOWL read by Allen Ginsberg


The Vimeo below contains the 1959 Big Table Chicago Reading of Allen Ginsberg reciting HOWL, and the text is scanned from a third edition copy. If you listen as you read along, you will see that the poem is often expurgated.

When Ginsberg reads

Who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists

what we read is

Who let themselves be …… in the ….. by saintly motorcyclists.

On another occasion

Cock and endless balls

is allowed, but

C…ksuker in Moloch!

is not.

Censorship changes, and a liberal age, we know, can be followed by a conservative one. Who knows what awful scissors await in the hands of future authoritarians? The censorship of HOWL in the 1950s is interesting and gives these editions an added value. The second edition, I’m told, was confiscated by Eisenhower, and remains somewhere forgotten in a federal storage garage. The HOWL I read as a young man has long since bitten the dust—Who knows what edition it was? I would like to thank Kenny Angel for letting me borrow his third edition HOWL, which I scanned very carefully because it is worth seventy-five dollars.

Bob Rosenthal, who was Allen Ginsberg’s secretary, told me that during a reading, Ginsberg often stopped and changed a word making a note on the page for a later edition. Listening to this 1959 reading, I notice that he is already doing that:

Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy


Moloch who frightens me out of my natural ecstasy.

Putting Moloch in the present tense certainly makes him more frightening.

Near the end, Ginsberg leaves out one whole breath-line in its entirety:

O victory forget your underwear we’re free

which makes the preceding line

O starry-spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here

the end, which seems more powerful to me.

Perhaps the first thought is not always the best. It’s all in the Vimeo below. Enjoy.





My favorite poem by Allen Ginsberg is IN THE BAGGAGE ROOM AT GREYHOUND, which is in HOWL AND OTHER POEMS too.






Allen Ginsberg, photographed by William Burroughs


Allen Ginsberg, 1992 (Print Collector’s Newsletter)

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