Monday, February 18, 2008

Earliest Recording of "Howl" Discovered in Portland

The Oregonian recently reported the discovery of an audio recording of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" that predates the famous "first" reading in Berkeley on March 18th, 1956. Howl, of course, is the seminal Beat poem and the subject of an obscenity trial when it was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books in 1956. The clear, strong recording was found by John Suiter, a professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, while he was doing biographical research on Reed alumnus and Beat poet Gary Snyder. Snyder and Ginsberg were hitchiking through the northwest and participated in poetry readings at the college in mid-February, 1956.

While this does nothing to diminish the legendary Berkeley reading and it's historical significance, it certainly cements Portland's place in Beat history. After all, Portland features in "On the Road," and many of the Beats - Kerouac, Snyder, Ginsberg and Phillip Whalen among them - passed through on their rucksack travels along the winding roads and trails of the Pacific northwest. It also adds a chapter to Oregon's already rich literary history, and provides a fascinating opportunity for scholars and fans to study the development of Ginsberg's poem and writing practices.

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