The Written Image: Howl

From the September/October 2010 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Fifty-three years ago this October, Allen Ginsberg's long poem Howl prevailed in an obscenity trial brought against its publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who faced possible jail time and fines for releasing a volume of the poem through his press, City Lights. The image below is from the new film Howl, centered on the drama of the trial and the controversial verses that broadcasters still think twice about airing on FCC-patrolled airwaves. The film, written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, juxtaposes

scenes from the 1957 San Francisco courtroom—with actual transcripts from the hearing providing the script—and moments from an imagined interview with the poet, played by James Franco, woven together with a depiction of the young Ginsberg reading his poem to a roomful of enthralled listeners. Much of the reading is accompanied by an animated suite designed by artist Eric Drooker, who collaborated with Ginsberg to illustrate the poet's 1996 collection Illuminated Poems (which features Howl in its entirety). The film, which premiered at the Sundance Festival earlier this year, is slated for release in New York City and Los Angeles on September 24.