The Wheeler Centre
View all episodes in this series
Hallucinatory, chaotic and confronting, Allen Ginsberg’s 1955 poem Howl sits with On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs at the very centre of the Beat literary canon.
With its wild, visceral depictions of sex, drugs and madness, Ginsberg’s poem is perhaps as famous for the obscenity trial that followed its publication as for its disturbing and much-parodied opening lines. Like the other Beat writers, Ginsberg was influenced by jazz music and aimed to capture in his writing something of the rhythms, spontaneity and subversive undercurrents inherent in jazz traditions.
Recorded live at The Toff in Town, Maxine Beneba Clarke reads Howl to modern music by jazz composer Darrin Archer. Archer’s composition, called Drunken Taxicabs of Absolute Reality: Howl to Music, features a seven-piece jazz band and aims to create a sonic landscape that accompanies and interacts with Ginsberg’s seminal poem.
Ginsberg himself described Howl as a ‘tragic custard-pie of wild phrasing’. Tune in to Archer and Beneba Clarke as they bring that wild phrasing to life, more than 60 years after Ginsberg’s first reading.