Reading + Performance:

A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's book as well as the American book launch for the 2005 publication of The Baby Beat Generation (The 1970s San Francisco Renaissance)


Friday, December 16th, 8:00 pm
Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
56 Broadway, downtown Asheville
Admission: $7 / $5 for BMCM+AC members and students w/ID


Poets: Thomas Rain Crowe, Jeff Davis, Sebastian Matthews, David Hopes, Ted Pope, Gillian Coats, Jaye Bartell
Special Guest: Richard Cambridge from Boston, winner of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize
Music: Q Jazz Trio (from Asheville)


The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center will join with bookstores, galleries and other venues across the country in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl. The controversial poem was labeled obscene by U.S. Customs as 520 copies of the book Howl and Other Poems were seized in 1957. The San Francisco Chronicle reported, in part: "Collector of Customs Chester MacPhee continued his campaign yesterday to keep what he considers obscene literature away from the children of the Bay Area. He confiscated 520 copies of a paperbound volume of poetry entitled Howl and Other Poems . . . . 'The words and the sense of the writing is obscene,' MacPhee declared. 'You wouldn't want your children to come across it.' "


Allen Ginsberg's first public reading of "Howl" was on October 6, 1955 at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Lawrence Ferlinghetti sent him a note, repeating Emerson's message to Whitman upon reading Leaves of Grass : "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." But Ferlinghetti added a line: "When do I get the manuscript?" The first edition of Howl, Number Four in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series, was printed in England by Villiers, passed through Customs without incident, and was published by Ferlinghetti at the City Lights Bookstore in the fall of 1956. The first print run was 1,000 copies, a letterpress edition. Originally sold at 75 cents each, a first-edition copy is now worth several thousand dollars.

It was the second printing of the book that was seized by U.S. Customs on March 25, 1957; the charge was obscenity. On April 3 the American Civil Liberties Union (to which Ferlinghetti had submitted a copy of the manuscript before it went to the printer) informed Mr. MacPhee that it would contest the legality of the seizure, since it did not consider the book obscene. Meanwhile, City Lights announced that an entirely new edition of Howl was being printed within the United States, thereby removing it from Customs jurisdiction. No changes were made in the original text, and a photo-offset edition was placed on sale at City Lights Bookstore and distributed nationally while Customs continued to sit on the copies from Britain.


On May 19, the Chronicle printed an article by Ferlinghetti, defending Howl, which stated, "It is not the poet but what he observes which is revealed as obscene. The great obscene wastes of Howl are the sad wastes of the mechanized world, lost among atom bombs and insane nationalisms." On May 29, Customs released the books it had been holding, since the U.S. District Attorney in San Francisco had refused to institute condemnation proceedings. Then the local police took over, arresting publisher Ferlinghetti and bookstore manager Shigeyoshi Murao on the charges of publishing and selling obscene material. Ginsberg was in Tangier at the time and was neither charged nor arrested.


Critical support for Howl, and the protest against censorship in general, was enormous. After a long court trial that summer, during which City Lights and Howl were supported by poets, editors, critics, and university professors, Judge Clayton Horn ruled the book not obscene. The judge went on to set forth certain rules for the guidance of authorities in the future, establishing the legal precedent of "redeeming social importance" that in the next decade allowed Grove Press to publish D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover, and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, and other landmark books. Under banner headlines, the Chronicle reported that the Judge's decision was hailed with applause and cheers, and it was welcomed as a landmark of law.

Ferlinghetti stated, ". . . the People agree that it was the police who here committed an obscene action."


Now entering its fiftieth year of continuous publication, Howl has nearly one million copies in print. At a time when the forces of conservatism and censorship are again posing a particularly ominous threat to artistic and personal freedoms, Howl stands as a prophetic masterpiece, a revolution of American literature and American consciousness, a milestone and a compass to map the direction of the cultural future. In Judge Horn's words, "In considering material claimed to be obscene, it is well to remember the motto: Hon soit qui mal y pense (Evil to him who thinks evil)." And to paraphrase Allen Ginsberg, Holy to him who thinks holy.

The December 16th poetry and music event at BMCM+AC will also celebrate a new publication focusing on the Baby Beat poets, the generation following Allen Ginsberg. The bi-lingual book published in France and entitled Baby Beat Generation: The 2nd San Francisco Renaissance, documents the 1970s San Fransisco / North Beach scene surrounding the publication of Beatitude magazine and the flurry of readings and social / political actions generated by the SF Beats and their "siblings"–the Baby Beats. Books will be on sale at the event, as well as publications by the evening's scheduled poets.


Thomas Rain Crowe, one of the "Baby Beats" from the San Francisco 1970s, and a former editor of Beatitude magazine (one of the first Beat poetry publications), will preside as master-of-ceremonies for the evening, which will feature the following poets: Ted Pope, Jeff Davis, Sebastian Matthews, David Hopes, Jaye Bartell, and Gillian Coats. Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize winner Richard Cambridge from Boston, MA will be the featured guest artist for the evening's events. Music will be supplied by the Q Jazz Trio of Asheville.