Monday, March 22, 2010

Did Howl have a precursor that Ginsberg was writing in the vein of?

That's what the "Portable Beat Reader" seems to suggest, both in commentary and in the reproduction of the poem itself, Kenneth Rexroth's "Thou Shalt Not Kill". Both poems deal with the same topic, that is to say capitalism's impact on artists and on individuals in general. Since this is a review, and I'm keeping the quotations brief, I think I'm in the right to use some of the text of the two poems in order to make a comparison.

for Carl Solomon

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving
hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for
an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to
the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up soaking in
The supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across
the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedam
angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating
Arkansas and Blake -light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene
odes on the windows of the skull,"

"Thou Shalt Not Kill


They are murdering all the young men.
For half a century now, every dar,
They have hunted them down and killed them.
They are killing them now.
At this minute, all over the world,
They are killing the young men.
They know ten thousand ways to kill them.
Every year they invent new ones.
In the jungles of Africa,
In the marshes of Asia,
In the deserts of Asia,
In the slave pens of Siberia,
In the slums of Europe,
In the nightclubs of America,
The murderers are at work.

They are stoning Stephen.
They are casting him forth from every city
in the world.
Under the Welcome sign,
On the higways in the suburbs,
His body lies under the hurling stones.
He was full of faith and power.
He did great wonders among the people.
They could not stand his wisdom."

I there's a connection there, but not one that does Ginsberg any sort of real disservice. Instead, Ginsberg appears to have taken a similar format and fleshed it out to an extent where it becomes an improved stand alone work of art and not something derivative. But it is interesting that the cosmic beatific spontaneous prose wasn't all cthonic, coming from the depths with no sort of precursors but just blowing like jazz. Yet I don't think that Ginsberg claimed that same sort of independence, the same that Kerouac claimed. Anyways, the notion that this stuff didn't come out of nowhere is an enticing one.

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