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The Inspiration of ‘Howl’


As a radical youth, Ginsberg was famous in New York for being one of the founding leaders of the Beatnik generation but it wasn’t until his long-form, stream of consciousness poem ‘Howl’ was put to print that he became known all over America. Upon publication in a McCarthy era America, ‘Howl’ was deemed obscene and Ginsberg was put to trial in San Francisco in 1957. A new film starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg simultaneously recounts the events in the life of a young Ginsberg that led to the writing of the poem, the reaction of society and the trial itself.
There are key locations that impacted both the poem Howl and its subsequent rise to fame. Many of those places are still standing today and have become meccas for both an old and new generation.

Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem ‘Howl’ in the summer of 1955. Supposedly, much of the poem was written at a coffeehouse known today as the Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, California.
Caffe Mediterraneum
2475 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA‎ – (510) 549-1128‎

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Much of the emotional drive in ‘How’l stemmed from Ginsberg’s sympathy for Carl Solomon, to whom it was dedicated; he met Solomon in Columbia Presbyterian Psychological Institute (referred to in the poem as ‘Rockland’) while they were both patients in 1949.
Rockland Psychiatric Center
Orangeburg, New York‎

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‘Howl’ was first performed at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955.
Six Gallery
1632 Market St, San Francisco, CA‎ – (415) 558-9975‎

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‘Howl’ was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore and the City Lights Press.
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA‎ – (415) 362-8193‎

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The earliest existing recording of ‘Howl’ dates to March 18, 1956. Ginsberg and the poet Gary Snyder, after hitch-hiking from San Francisco, read from their poems in the Anna Mann dormitory at Reed College, Snyder’s alma mater. This recording, discovered in summer 2007 on a reel-to-reel tape in the Reed College archives, contains only Part I of “Howl.” After beginning to read Part II, Ginsberg said to the audience, “I don’t really feel like reading anymore. I just sorta haven’t got any kind of steam.”
Reed College
3203 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland, OR‎ – (503) 777-7287

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