Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Leader of the Beat pack who spread message of disorder
Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30
I was lucky enough to be present at the McMillin Theatre, New York on April 17, 1971 when the leading Beats, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs read from their works.
It was the last time they would perform together. They weren't breaking up but they were going to go their own ways. They had set out to find a style to craft their message that materialism was draining society and a poetic miracle was needed to set the boat right. In the McMillin Theatre on that special night, for the kick-off, Ginsberg recited a poem of his own, 'Howl' in an attractive precise middle-class voice.
It was to become the gospel of the movement. We got the idea immediately that he was running the whole show. From then on it would be Ginsberg's direction which would save the movement from breaking up before it did. Also, it was his well-bred sense of order that kept the Beat movement alive to spread their messages of disorder.
'Howl' is 112 lines long, so between the moment he started the poem and finished it, he would have caught the audience with his episcopal message.
It would become the voice of a new generation who had set themselves free from an outdated morality. It is written in the rhythm which Ginsberg took from Walt Whitman and adapted to the tune of the jazz age.
"The endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx" refers to a Sixties' custom of spending the night on the subway train zonked up, until eventually morning came and the train would end its last night run after it passed the Zoo.
PS: If Ginsberg was alive today he would be 90 and denying it.
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 chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on Benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo.
With the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.
Allen Ginsberg 1926-1997