Review: Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems by Allan Ginsberg

Beat movement icon and visionary poet, Allen Ginsberg broke boundaries with his fearless, pyrotechnic verse. This new collection brings together the famous poems that made his name as a defining figure of the counterculture. They include the apocalyptic “Howl”, which became the subject of an obscenity trial when it was first published in 1956; the moving lament for his dead mother, ‘Kaddish’; the searing indictment of his homeland, ‘America’; and the confessional ‘Mescaline’. Dark, ecstatic and rhapsodic, they show why Ginsberg was one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century.

I had never read anything from the Beat Movement and was thinking about watching the Kill Your Darlings movie with Daniel Radcliffe in it (still haven’t done it!) so thought I should probably check out Ginsberg.

I don’t really know how one actually reviews poetry, because I feel like it’s such a personal thing. I can’t tell you to love the poetry I love, because it’s so deeply connected to me as a soul. I feel like poetry doesn’t really lend itself to reviewing, unless it’s truly awful- but again… that’s the reviewer’s opinion. Now I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop!

I was surprised by how dark and strange these poems were. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I was surprised. Not unpleasantly though,  because I did very much enjoy them!

There was such energy in his poetry. It moves in violent, jerky movements that just make sense, while being crazy at the same time. It’s so dirty and gritty, pulling no punches at all. It appeals right to the most obscure, filthy part of your mind that you keep locked down in societal propriety. Ginsberg smashes that, which is probably why he was put through an obscenity trial. As my true love, Oscar Wilde said, “The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame”. As usual, he’s right.

There’s loads of Biblical references, as well as all kind of other allusions to stuff like Greek mythology, literature and politics. It’s unlikely you’ll understand absolutely everything, but that’s fine! You’ll likely get the gist of it anyway.

My favourite was Kaddish, which is a truly confronting poem about Ginsberg’s childhood and mother’s mental illness. It was horrible but somehow beautiful. He goes into all kind of disturbing depths here, so if you’re prone to offence or are very religious, I’d likely give this one a miss. I found it to be an emotionally exhausting piece of poetry, but at the same time, it was great.

I’m going to be reading more Beat Generation works at some point, because of this anthology is anything to go by, I’m going to really like it.

4/5 Stars


6 thoughts on “Review: Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems by Allan Ginsberg

  1. I totally agree with you that poetry is personal! That’s why it breaks my heart to hear people say they don’t like poetry- it just means they haven’t found the right poet or poem yet! I’m about to read Howl for my American Lit class actually so I’m glad to see you enjoyed it. If you haven’t read On the Road yet, I highly recommend it. Kerouac’s writing is so simple and honest but also beautiful.

    • I agree with all my heart! It’s such a personal thing, there’s a poem somewhere out there for everyone. I think people are frightened off by school and thinking they always have to analyse it rather than just let it flow.
      I hope you love it!
      I’ve been told On the Road is amazing, one day! I have way too many books I need to read!

  2. Always great to see Oscar 🙂 How can you not love a man who has one of his characters say this: “Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not”

  3. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday (on a Wednesday!)- Ten Authors I Discovered in 2015 | bookarahma

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