Voices at Large

Your Right To "Howl"


This month marked the 50th anniversary of a landmark in the battle for free speech. In October of 1957, a judge ruled Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" was of "redeeming social importance" and could not be censored. Available on Howl and Other Poems from Fantasy, the work is now regarded as one of the most important poems of the 20th Century.

This one's close to my heart, people. I love free speech. I love it so much, I want to hold hands with it as we stroll through the park. Maybe I would stop and buy it a rose from a street vendor. And I applaud other people exercising their 1st Amendment right, even if they anger or disagree with me. Go ahead. This isn't Myanmar.

The "Howl" case sprang from the publication of the poem by City Lights Bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti, soon after which he was arrested on obscenity charges. In a cinematic turn, not only was he acquitted of those charges, but the national dust-up over the trial brought a huge wave of attention to the Beat poets of the time, including Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. It also set a legal precedent that still holds today.

The recorded version of Howl and Other Poems was first released on LP in 1959, was repackaged in 1969 and remained in print until 1985 when the company actually ran out of vinyl. The CD version that is available now is the brainchild of Ginsberg and Fantasy's Bill Belmont.

For helping to break the boundaries of censorship and solidify the 1st Amendment, "Howl" is a part of this country's rich history. You may not agree with that, but I'll be damned if I'll let anyone keep me from saying it.

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