Monday, April 8, 2013


by Drew Martin
I ran past my town’s bicycle store yesterday and spotted a hipster-marketed, fixed-gear bike with flat-black paint, which was branded as Beatnik. Later in the day I watched the 2010 movie Howl, which shares a narration between a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and asides from Ginsberg, played by a too fresh James Franco.

I like what the film could have been but the safe acting and Disney-like cartoon interstitials dumb down the poem and the era. The angle is the trial of Howl’s publisher who was arrested and charged with disseminating obscene literature, but these scenes are so poorly acted they do nothing for the film. Jon Hamm plays the defense attorney but he is no different in character than Don Draper from Mad Men.

The film does work as a simple primer of the poem for people who do not know anything about this period and how it relates to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Franco's Ginsberg asides are interesting. I liked most the line that the artist and writer need to be as open and honest with his or her muse as he or she is with his or her best friend. I listened to Ginsberg reading Howl in its entirety after the film. It has the desperate romance of Thomas Wolfe, the rambling of Walt Whitman, and a drunken sobriety of Rumi. To use Howl as a template would most likely yield bad poetry but I like this style as a way to review and synthesize, but not analyze, thoughts and experiences.

Click here to watch the trailer for Howl
Click here to listen to Allen Ginsberg read Howl