I encountered Howl when I was seventeen years old – back in the heady days of 1967. Back then I was a rebellious youth full of angst and disillusionment. I did not like the society I was part of. I did not want the career directions being laid out before me. I saw it all as shallow, hypocritical and pointless. I wanted something with more meaning but I did not know what it was. I wanted a life that had some depth and purpose. I rejected the whole stupidity of comfort, status and ‘fitting in’ to a society that I considered unfair, unjust and with the wrong priorities. I was on a quest to find something better.
Back then my life was all about Rock Music, friends and girls. I was into freewheelin’ and living in the moment. I wanted excitement and adventure. I wanted to live life to the full.
Poetry had been ruined for me at school. I had been made to learn and recite reams of Tennyson and Wordsworth. It did not relate to me at all. I could not connect.
I rediscovered poetry through the lyrics of the fabulous music I was listening too. Things like the Beatles – ‘Here There and Everywhere’ or the Kinks – ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ and ‘Well Respected Man’ or Dylan – ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, ‘Ramona’, ‘Pawn in the Game’ and ‘It’s Alright Ma, I’m only Bleeding’. They spoke to me. I was in to lyrics and words. I was on the cusp. Little did I know that I was shortly to be knocked out by the likes of Captain Beefheart, Country Joe and the Fish and Roy Harper. Rock Music provided my poetry and opened my mind to real social issues, mystical thought and philosophy. It gave me insight into the meaning I was seeking and a different way of living a life full of passion, love, tolerance and fairness.
Then I rediscovered poetry. I had been reading Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, which transported me into a world that made much more sense to me. I wanted a life that was unleashed. On the cover of Kerouac’s ‘Dharma Bums’ was a photo of the mighty Allen Ginsberg. I found a copy of Ginsberg’s City Lights pocket book – ‘Howl’
The first moment I read those opening lines that Ginsberg had written way back in 1954 I was smitten. It spoke directly to me. I could relate to it. I interpreted it into my own life. I was being destroyed by the madness of my greed-ridden, war-mongering, wealth-obsessed society. I wanted out. I saw myself as that angel-headed hipster searching for that mystical connection to the universe. I was burning for it. I would rather be hungry and naked and real, rather that bloated and living in luxury in meaningless greed.
Suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore. There were other people who thought like me. I had discovered poetry.
These were the words that opened my mind:
‘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,
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,’