cover image The Poem That Changed America: "Howl" Fifty Years Later

The Poem That Changed America: "Howl" Fifty Years Later

, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-374-17344-9

If the opening lines of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" aren't seared into your brain, they will be by the end of this collection of 26 essays compiled by Shinder, a poet (Among Women ) who learned much of his craft as Ginsberg's pupil. It's a shame the poem isn't included, though it feels as if it's quoted in its entirety at various points (the hardcover edition does come with a Ginsberg reading on CD). This collection juxtaposes reflections by writers such as Rick Moody and Andrei Codrescu about the impact of "Howl' on their lives; Billy Collins writes, " wasn't a waste of time for a Catholic high school boy from the suburbs to try to sound in his poems like a downtown homosexual Jewish beatnik." Robert Pinsky writes that he was initially elated by the poem's linguistic freedom even more than by its raw emotion. Though everybody gives the poem its due as an American classic, personal reactions dominate, and nearly everyone has a Ginsberg story to tell, even if it's just about being blown away by hearing him read. For those who have been moved by Ginsberg's words, this collection serves as a stirring confirmation. Photos. (Apr.)