Drunk Poetry Fans and the First Reading of ‘Howl’

TIME

Before Allen Ginsberg invoked the ire of authorities with the frank (and frequent) depiction of sexual acts in “Howl” — “in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses’ rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too” — he stunned a crowd of drunk poetry fans at San Francisco’s Six Gallery.

On this evening in 1955, Oct. 7, Ginsberg performed the piece in public for the first time at a poetry reading which had been advertised by a postcard proclaiming: “Remarkable collection of angels all gathered at once in the same spot. Wine, music, dancing girls, serious poetry, free satori.”

The wine and the satori — deep understanding, in the zen sense — went hand in hand. In his novel The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac fictionalized the event with…

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