Poetry Goes Hollywood

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"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked."
Now that's the way to start a poem.

Allen Ginsberg's Howl was one of the mid-twentieth century's most famous, controversial, and challenging poems. Some said it changed American culture forever, leading the way from the staid 1950s to the wild 1960s. Others said it wasn't even poetry at all, that it was nothing more than an incoherent and often obscene rant. (It took a judge, ultimately, to disagree, ruling that the poem did have "redeeming social importance" and should not be censored.)

The semi-autobiographical work sounds a bit like what you'd imagine would result if T.S. Eliot's Prufrock (from Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock) had managed to overcome his crippling shyness through the copious use of recreational drugs. Howl is the raw, edgy cry of a man who sees the world mistaking brilliance for madness, punishing individuals cruelly just for being themselves. It's a poem that's often difficult and unpleasant, always challenging and invigorating.

And it certainly seems an odd choice for a Hollywood motion-picture; it's difficult to imagine Ginseberg's cry from the heart translating onto the big screen. Nevertheless, Howl: The Movie is coming soon to a theater near you, starring heartthrob James Franco as Ginsberg and also featuring prominent actors Alan Alda, Mary-Louise Parker, and Paul Rudd. It will be interesting to see whether they're able to pull it off while keeping any of Ginsberg's original rebel spirit intact.

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Occupation: Lead Editor, Shmoop History
Nate Gillespie is the lead editor for Shmoop History and other content development projects at Shmoop. Gillespie is a Ph.D. candidate (on leave) in US History at Stanford. He received his MA and BA (with distinction and honors) in History from Stanford. Gillespie is the founding director of Stanford History Graduate Memory Project and winner of the Stanford Centennial Award for Outstanding Teaching of undergraduates.

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