Howl and Other Poems is a collection of poetry by Allen Ginsberg. It contains Ginsberg's most famous poem, "Howl", which is considered to be one of the principal works of the Beat Generation along with Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959).
The poem "Howl" was written in Ginsberg's cottage in Berkeley
in the summer of 1955
. Many factors went into the creation of the poem. A short time before the composition of "Howl", Ginsberg's therapist encouraged him to quit his job and pursue poetry full time. That summer he experimented with parataxis
in the poem "Dream Record: June 8, 1955" about the death of Joan Vollmer
. He showed this poem to Kenneth Rexroth
who criticized it as too stilted and academic; Rexroth encouraged Ginsberg to free his voice and write from his heart. Ginsberg took this advice and attempted to write a poem with no restrictions. He was under the immense influence of William Carlos Williams
and Jack Kerouac
and attempted to speak with his own voice spontaneously. Ginsberg began the poem in the stepped triadic form he took from Williams, but in the middle of typing the poem his style altered such that his own unique form (a long line based on breath organized by a fixed base) began to emerge. Ginsberg would experiment with this breath-length form in many later poems. The first draft contained what would later become Part I and Part III. It is noted for relating stories and experiences of Ginsberg's friends and contemporaries, its tumbling hallucinatory style, and the frank address of sexuality, specifically homosexuality, which subsequently provoked an obscenity trial. Though Ginsberg referred to many of his friends and acquaintances (including Neal Cassady
, Jack Kerouac
, William S. Burroughs
, Peter Orlovsky
, Lucien Carr
, and Herbert Huncke
) the primary emotional drive was his sympathy for Carl Solomon to whom it was dedicated (1928-1993); he met Solomon in a mental institution and became friends with him. Ginsberg admitted later this sympathy for Solomon was connected to bottled up guilt and sympathy for his mother's condition (she suffered from schizophrenia and had been lobotomized), an issue he was not yet ready to address directly.
The poem was first performed at the famous Six Gallery in San Francisco. The reading was conceived by Wally Hedrick – a painter and co-founder of the Six – who approached Ginsberg in the summer of 1955 and asked him to organize a poetry reading at the Six Gallery. "At first, Ginsberg refused. But once he'd written a rough draft of Howl, he changed his 'fucking mind,' as he put it". Ginsberg was ultimately responsible for inviting the readers (Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia, and Philip Whalen -- Michael McClure and Kenneth Rexroth were involved early in the process) and writing the invitation. "Howl" was the second to the last reading (before "A Berry Feast" by Snyder) and was considered by most in attendance the highlight of the reading. Many considered it the beginning of a new movement, and the reputation of Ginsberg and those associated with the Six Gallery reading spread throughout San Francisco. In response to Ginsberg's reading, Michael McClure wrote: "Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America... Soon afterwards, it was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore and the City Lights Press. Ginsberg completed Part II and the "Footnote" after Ferlinghetti had promised to publish the poem. "Howl" was too short to make an entire book, so Ferlinghetti requested some other poems. Thus the final collection contained several other poems written at that time; with these poems, Ginsberg continued the experimentation with long lines and a fixed base he'd discovered with the composition of "Howl" and these poems have likewise become some of Ginsberg's most famous: "America", "Sunflower Sutra", "A Supermarket in California", etc.
The earliest extant recording of "Howl" dates from February 14, 1956. Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, after hitch-hiking from San Francisco, read from their poems in the Anna Mann dormitory at Reed College, Snyder's alma mater. This recording, discovered in summer 2007 on a reel-to-reel tape in the Reed College archives, contains only Part I of "Howl." After beginning to read Part II, Ginsberg said to the audience, "I don't really feel like reading any more. I just sorta haven't got any kind of steam."
Overview and structure of "Howl"
The poem consists of three parts, with an additional footnote.
Called by Ginsberg, "a lament for the Lamb in America with instances of remarkable lamb-like youths," Part I is the best known, and communicates scenes, characters, and situations drawn from Ginsberg's personal experience as well as from the community of poets, artists, political radicals, jazz
musicians, drug-addicts, and psychiatric patients whom he encountered in the late 1940s and early 50's. These people represent what he considers "the best minds of his generation", an ironic and shocking declaration since, in what members of the Beat Generation considered the oppressively conformist and materialistic 50's, those Ginsberg called "best minds" were unrepresented outcasts, what the middle class might consider "worst minds". The shocking aspect of the poem was further enhanced by Ginsberg's frank descriptions of sexual, often homosexual, acts. Most lines in this section contain the fixed base "who". Ginsberg says in "Notes Written on Finally Recording Howl
", "I depended on the word 'who' to keep the beat, a base to keep measure, return to and take off from again onto another streak of invention".
Ginsberg says that Part II, in relation to Part I, "names the monster of mental consciousness that preys on the Lamb". Part II is a rant about the state of industrial civilization, characterized in the poem as 'Moloch
'. Ginsberg was inspired to write Part II during a period of peyote
-induced visionary consciousness in which he saw a hotel façade as a monstrous and horrible visage which he identified with that of Moloch. Moloch is the biblical idol in Leviticus
to whom the Canaanites
sacrificed children. Ginsberg intends that the characters he portrays in Part I be understood to have been sacrificed to this idol. Moloch is also the name of an industrial, demon-like figure in Fritz Lang
a film which Ginsberg credits with influencing "Howl, Part II" in his annotations for the poem (see especially Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions
). Most lines in this section contain the fixed base "Moloch". Ginsberg says of Part II, "Here the long line is used as a stanza form broken into exclamatory units punctuated by a base repetition, Moloch".
Part III, in relation to Parts I and II, is "a litany of affirmation of the Lamb in its glory" according to Ginsberg. It is directly addressed to Carl Solomon, whom Ginsberg met during a brief stay at a psychiatric hospital in 1949; called "Rockland" in the poem, it was actually Columbia Presbyterian Psychological Institute. This section is notable for its refrain, "I'm with you in Rockland," and represents something of a turning-point away from the grim tone of the "Moloch"-section. Of the structure, Ginsberg says Part III is, "pyramidal, with a graduated longer response to the fixed base".
The closing section of the poem is the "Footnote", characterized by its repetitive 'Holy!' mantra, an ecstatic assertion that everything is holy. It can be read as the antithesis of Part II. Ginsberg says, "I remembered the archetypal rhythm of Holy Holy Holy weeping in a bus on Kearny Street, and wrote most of it down in notebook there ... I set it as Footnote to Howl
because it was an extra variation of the form of Part II".
The frequently quoted (and often parodied) opening lines set the theme and rhythm for the poem:
- I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
- dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;
- Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
- to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.
Ginsberg's own commentary discusses the work as an experiment with the "long line". For example, Part I of the poem is structured as a single run-on sentence with a repetitive refrain dividing it up into breaths. Ginsberg said, "Ideally each line of Howl is a single breath unit. My breath is long -- that's the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath".
On another occasion, he explained: "the line length ... you'll notice that they're all built on bop -- you might think of them as a bop refrain -- chorus after chorus after chorus -- the ideal being, say, Lester Young in Kansas City in 1938, blowing 72 choruses of 'The Man I Love' until everyone in the hall was out of his head..."
Specific references in "Howl"
"Who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedies among the scholars of war"
- Ginsberg had an important auditory hallucination in 1948 of William Blake reading his poems "Ah, Sunflower," "The Sick Rose," and "Little Girl Lost." Ginsberg said it revealed to him the interconnectedness of all existence. He said his drug experimentation in many ways was an attempt to recapture that feeling.
"Who were expelled from the academy for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull"
- Part of the reason Ginsberg was expelled from Columbia University was because he wrote obscenities in his dirty dorm window. He suspected the cleaning woman of being an anti-Semite because she never cleaned his window, and he expressed this feeling in explicit terms on his window and drew an ironic swastika. He also wrote a phrase on the window implying that the president of the university had no testicles.
"... poles of Canada and Paterson ..."
"who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat through the stale beer afternoons in desolate Fugazzi's..."
- Bickford's and Fugazzi's were New York spots where the Beats hung out. Ginsberg worked briefly at Fugazzi's.
"... Tangerian bone-grindings..." "... Tangiers to boys ..."
"who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas"
- Mystics and forms of mysticism in which Ginsberg at one time had an interest (the concept of "The Dark Night of the Soul" by St John of the Cross is especially appropriate for "Howl"). Kansas/Kansas City could be a reference to either Michael McClure or Burroughs, but that is uncertain.
From "who let themselves..." to "flashing buttocks under barn and naked in the lake"
- Though it could be a reference to anyone's sexual exploits, it's likely a specific reference to Neal Cassady. "Who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N. C. secret hero of these poems" is definitely a reference to Neal Cassady (N.C.) who lived in Denver, Colorado.
"who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the showbank docks waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steamheat and opium"
"... and rose to build harpsichords in their lofts..."
- Friend Bill Keck actually built harpsichords. Ginsberg had a conversation with Bill Keck's wife shortly before writing "Howl."
"who coughed on the six floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology"
- This is a reference to the apartment in which Ginsberg lived when he had his Blake vision. His roommate was a theology student and kept his books in orange crates.
"who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot with eternity outside of time..."
- A reference to Ginsberg's Columbia classmate Louis Simpson, an incident that happened during a brief stay in a mental institution for PTSD. Simpson later became a celebrated formalist poet. Since he was a formalist in the 50's he's often presented as being Ginsberg's opposite. But they remained friendly with one another throughout their lives. Simpson, who moved away from formalism later in his career, even occasionally, defended Ginsberg's poetry.
"who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits..."
- Ginsberg worked in several corporate jobs, including advertising firms. Many say it's when he was advised by his psychiatrist to quit his steady job that he was free to write "Howl." This passage also has some prime examples of Ginsberg's "eyeball kicks."
"who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge..."
"who sang out of their windows in despair..."
- A specific reference to Bill Cannastra who actually did most of these things and died when he "fell out of the subway window."
From "who barreled down the highways of the past" to "& now Denver is lonesome for her heroes"
- Likely a reference to Neal Cassady.
"who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals ..."
- Likely a reference to Kerouac in his first revelation of the double meaning of "Beat" (the negative meaning of tired and broke, the positive meaning of beatific) central to the legend of the origins of the "Beat Generation."
"who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave"
- The first one could have been many of the beats who regularly went to Mexico and cultivated drug habits. The second is likely a reference to Kerouac who regularly went to Rocky Mount, North Carolina (a specific recounting of this can be found in Dharma Bums). As for the third one, as Ginsberg says in "America" "Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister." The fourth is likely a reference to Neal Cassady who was a brakeman for the Southern Pacific.
From "who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism..." to "resting briefly in catatonia"
- A specific reference to Carl Solomon. Originally this final section went straight into what is now Part III, which is entirely about Carl Solomon.
"Pilgrim's State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls ..."
- The first and third are mental institutions where his mother was admitted. She was in Pilgrim's State at the time he wrote "Howl." Rockland is the institution where he met Solomon.
"with mother finally ******"
- Ginsberg admitted that the deletion here was an expletive. He left it purposefully elliptical so the mind will fill in what it wants. In later readings, many years after he was able to distance himself from his difficult history with his mother, he reinserted the expletive.
"obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter (alt: variable measure) & the vibrating plane"
- This is a recounting of Ginsberg's discovery of his own style and the debt he owed to his strongest influences. He discovered the use of the ellipse from haiku and the shorter poetry of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. "The catalog" is likely a reference to Walt Whitman's long line style which Ginsberg adapted. "The meter"/"variable measure" is likely a reference to Williams' insistence on the necessity of measure. Though "Howl" may seem formless, and this is perhaps a purposeful effect of the style, Ginsberg claimed it was written in a concept of measure adapted from Williams' idea of breath, the measure of lines in a poem being based on the breath in reading. Ginsberg's breath in reading, he said, happened to be longer than Williams'. "The vibrating plane" is a reference to Ginsberg's discovery of the "eyeball kick" in his study of Cézanne.
From "who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space" to "what might be left to say in time come after death"
- A more detailed recounting of the discovery of his own style: the "eyeball kick", parataxis, the ellipsis, etc. "Pater Omnipitens Aeterna Deus"/"omnipotent, eternal father God" was taken directly from Cézanne.
"eli eli lamma lamma sabachthani"
- One version of the last words of Jesus: "Oh God, why have you forsaken me?" Though Ginsberg grew up in an agnostic household, he was always interested in his Jewish roots and in other concepts of spiritual transcendence. Though later Ginsberg was a devoted Buddhist, at this time Ginsberg was only beginning to study Buddhism along with other forms of spirituality. So one can read this last line as an ironic mockery of one of the dominant values of 1950's America (Christianity). But an essential aspect of Ginsberg's poetry, and Beat writing as a whole, is a genuine search for spiritual enlightenment outside of the traditional strictures of religious dogma (see for example Kerouac's relationship to Catholicism).
From "Footnote to Howl":
"Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady"
(All quotations taken from http://members.tripod.com/~Sprayberry/poems/howl.txt)
The "Other Poems"
Though "Howl" was certainly Ginsberg's most famous poem, the collection includes many examples of Ginsberg at his peak, many of which garnered nearly as much attention and praise as "Howl"; these include:
- "America" -- a poem in a conversation form between the narrator and America. When the narrator says "It Occurs to me that I am America", he follows with "I am talking to myself again." The tone is generally humorous and often sarcastic though the subject is often quite serious. He references several heroes and martyrs of significant movements such as the labor movement. These include: Leon Trotsky, the Scottsboro Boys, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Wobblies/IWW. He includes several events of personal significance including his Uncle Max coming over from Russia, William S. Burroughs living in Tangier, and how his mother, Naomi, would take him to Communist meetings when he was seven. "America" can be seen as a continuation of the experiment he started with the long line and fixed base of "Howl". Ginsberg said, "What happens if you mix long and short lines, single breath remaining the rule of measure? I didn't trust free flight yet, so went back to fixed base to sustain the flow, America."
- "A Supermarket in California" -- a short poem about a dreamlike encounter with Walt Whitman, one of Ginsberg's biggest idols. The image of Whitman is contrasted with mundane images of a supermarket, food often being used for sexual puns. He references Federico Garcia Lorca whose "Ode to Walt Whitman" was an inspiration in writing "Howl" and other poems. In relation to his experiments with "Howl", Ginsberg says this: "A lot of these forms developed out of an extreme rhapsodic wail I once heard in a madhouse. Later I wondered if short quiet lyrical poems could be written using the long line. A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley and A Supermarket in California (written same day) fell in place later that year. Not purposely, I simply followed my angel in the course of compositions".
- "Sunflower Sutra" -- an account of a sojourn with Jack Kerouac in a railroad yard, the discovery of a sunflower covered in dirt and soot from the railroad yard, and the subsequent revelation that this is a metaphor for all humanity: "we are not our skin of grime." This relates to his vision/auditory hallucination of poet William Blake reading "Ah, Sunflower": "Blake, my visions." (See also line in Howl: "Blake-light tragedies" and references in other poems). The theme of the poem is consistent with Ginsberg's revelation in his original vision of Blake: the revelation that all of humanity was interconnected. (See also the line in "Footnote to Howl": "The world is holy!"). The structure of this poem relates to "Howl" both in its use of the long line and its repetition of the "eyeball kick" (paratactical juxtapositions) at the end. Ginsberg says in relating his thought process after the experiments of "Howl", "What about a poem with rhythmic buildup power equal to Howl without use of repetitive base to sustain it? The Sunflower Sutra ... did that, it surprised me, one long who".
- "Transcription of Organ Music" -- an account of a quiet moment in his new cottage in Berkeley, nearly empty, not yet fully set up (Ginsberg being too poor, for example, to get telephone service). The poem contains repeated images of opening or being open: open doors, empty sockets, opening flowers, the open womb, leading to the image of the whole world being "open to receive." The "H.P." in the poem is Helen Parker, one of Ginsberg's first girlfriends; they dated briefly in 1950. The poem ends on a Whitman-esque note with a confession of his desire for people to "bow when they see" him and say he is "gifted with poetry" and has seen the creator. This may be seen as arrogance, but Ginsberg's arrogant statements can often be read as tongue-in-cheek (see for example "I am America" from "America" or the later poem "Ego Confessions"). However, this could be another example of Ginsberg trying on the Walt Whitman persona (Whitman who, for example, called himself a "kosmos" partly to show the interconnectedness of all beings) which would become so integral to his image in later decades. Ginsberg says this of his of his mind frame when composing "Transcription of Organ Music", in reference to developing his style after his experiments with "Howl": "What if I just simply wrote, in long units and broken short lines, spontaneously noting prosaic realities mixed with emotional upsurges, solitaries? Transcription of Organ Music (sensual data), strange writing which passes from prose to poetry and back, like the mind".
- "In the Baggage Room at Grey Hound"
Some editions also include earlier poems, such as: "Song", "In Back of the Real", "Wild Orphan", "An Asphodel", etc.
The New York Times
sent poet Richard Eberhart to San Francisco
to report on the poetry scene there. The result of Eberhart's visit was an article published in the September 6
, 1956 New York Times Book Review
entitled "West Coast Rhythms." Eberhart's piece helped call national attention to Howl
as "the most remarkable poem of the young group" of poets who were becoming known as the spokespersons of the Beat generation
(Allen Ginsberg, Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Editions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography
, edited by Barry Miles [HarperPerennial, 1995], p. 155). On October 7, 2005
, celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the first reading of the poem were staged in San Francisco, New York City, and in Leeds in the UK. The British event, Howl for Now
, was accompanied by a book of essays of the same name, edited by Simon Warner and published by Route Publishing (Howl for Now
ISBN 1901927253) reflecting on the piece's enduring power and influence.
The 1957 obscenity trial
Howl contains many references to illicit drugs and sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual. On the basis of one line in particular
- who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy
customs officials seized 520 copies of the poem on March 25, 1957, being imported from the printer in London.
A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem's new domestic publisher. Nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Ferlinghetti won the case when Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of "redeeming social importance". The case was widely publicized (articles appeared in both Time and Life magazines). The trial was published by Ferlinghetti's lead defense attorney Jake Ehrlich in a book called Howl of the Censor.
2007 Broadcasting fears
In late August 2007, Ron Collins, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Nancy Peters, Bill Morgan, Peter Hale, David Skover, Al Bendich (one of LF's 1957 lawyers in the Howl
case), and Eliot Katz petitioned Pacifica Radio to air Ginsberg's Howl
on On October 3, 2007 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the verdict declaring the poem to be protected under the First Amendment against charges of obscenity. Fearing fines from the FCC, Pacifica New York radio station WBAI
opted not to broadcast the poem, though it did play it in its entirety on a special webcast program, replete with commentary (by Bob Holman, Regina Weinreich & Ron Collins, narrated by Janet Coleman), on October 3, 2007.
Other interpretations of Howl
Writing in the magazine The New Republic
in 1986, Christopher Buckley
and Paul Slansky
published a 1980s re-interpretation of "Howl", entitled " Yowl
". The poem was published to commemorate the 30th anniversary of "Howl"'s publication, and was a parody, both of the Ginsberg original and of the Yuppie
lifestyle which their version portrayed.
In 2000, at the height of the dot com boom
, Thomas Scoville
wrote a parody of Howl, called Howl.com
, that was widely circulated via email and the web. It focused on internet technology, the new media
business world and the emerging social structures that had accompanied the Internet's rising popularity, such as open source
development and technology celebrities.
Penny Rimbaud's How?
In January 2003 Penny Rimbaud
, founder of the anarchist
, performed Ginsberg's "Howl" as part of the first Crass Agenda
event at the Vortex Jazz Club
's Stoke Newington
. After the gig, Oliver Weindling
, of the jazz-label Babel
suggested releasing a recording of the performance. However, Rimbaud was unable to obtain permission from Ginsberg's estate to use the work, and instead rewrote it, updating it as a critique of post September 11, 2001
, American culture. Of this work Rimbaud states, "In "How?" I have attempted to confront the innate madness of the 'New World Order': It is, I believe, a madness that even Ginsberg could not have foreseen in his wildest Nightmares".
Whilst retaining much of the structure and spirit of the original work, "How?" includes some significant changes, including the substitution of 'Mammon
' for 'Moloch', and the word 'wholly' instead of 'holy' in the poem's celebratory 'footnote'. A recording of Rimbaud's "How?", performed live and unrehearsed with a jazz-ensemble at the Vortex Club, was released in 2004.
As an experiment in Antipoetry and in the tradition of re-writing the poem, commemorating the 50th anniversary of "Howl"'s publication, in 2006, Australian writer and poet Bill Pascoe wrote " Bowel
". While partly a parody of Howl, it keeps good faith with the original, mixing intensely personal experience, socio-political critique and irreverent profanity.
References in pop culture
- A 50th anniversary of 'Howl' took place on November 1, 2006 at The Art Workers Guild in London on the exact day of first publication at City Lights San Francisco, with a reading of 'Howl', tributes to Ginsberg, poetry readings and a screening of 'Wholly Communion' and highlights of 'Allen Ginsberg Live in London'.
- Quoted in the song "Machinehead" by Bush, on the album Sixteen Stone The first line serves as the bridge in this song, with Gavin Rossdale saying, "I've seen the best minds of my generation/they are starving, hysterical, and naked..." Gavin Rossdale has often cited Allen Ginsberg as an inspiration.
- In episode #5, Season 2, of TV show Gilmore Girls, Jess notices a copy of "Howl" on Rory Gilmore's bookshelf. She offers to lend it to him and he declines, but later, he returns it to her, saying that he had merely "borrowed" it when she accuses him of stealing it. He also tells her that he has read it many times before.
- In episode #7F07 of cartoon series The Simpsons, "Bart vs. Thanksgiving", after a nasty incident during the family's Thanksgiving dinner, daughter Lisa writes a poem titled "Howl of the Unappreciated" which begins "I saw the best meals of my generation / destroyed by the madness of my brother. / My soul carved in slices / by spikey-haired demons."
- In episode #302 of cartoon series Daria, while Daria is volunteering at the nursing home to read to senior citizens, one poem she reads is the first stanza, which results in the elderly people disliking her.
- Quoted in the song "I Should be Allowed to Think" by They Might Be Giants (on the album John Henry), which opens with the line "I saw the best minds of my generation / destroyed by madness, starving hysterical," and later includes the line "I saw the worst bands of my generation applied by magic marker to dry wall" to the same beat.
- In the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray, a "beatnik chick" played by Pia Zadora reads the beginning of 'Howl' as she offers to 'get naked and smoke pot' with Tracy Turnblad and friends.
- In the movie Hackers, the protagonist, Dade Murphy, uses the second stanza as a quote that gives him credibility as a member of his high school's Advanced Placement English class.
- The lyrics to the opening verse of the song Nutopia, featuring vocals by Meg Lee Chin, are an obvious tribute: "I saw the best minds of my generation running on empty, superglued to the T.V., dreaming of prosperity, talking incessantly, saying nothing." Nutopia appears on both the 1997 Pigface album A New High in Low and Meg Lee Chin's 1999 solo album Piece and Love.
- Quoted by Warren Zevon in a performance of Werewolves of London at Raul's Roadside Attraction in 1988 (and possible elsewhere). He opens the song with the line "I've seen the best minds of my generation, starving hysterical, naked, and walking through the streets of Portland in the rain."
- During the failed Supreme Court Nomination of U.S. Appeals Court Chief Judge Douglas Ginsberg SNL's "Weekend Update" Anchor Dennis Miller reads a stanza from "Howl" ("I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical,"). Seemingly confusing the conservative jurist for the liberal poet, Miller concludes that the jurist sounded to him "like a heavy cat."
- The poem is directly referenced in the title of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's 2005 release, Howl - also appearing as a title track.
- The lyrics to the opening verse of the Dan Bern song Wasteland are an obvious tribute: "I saw the best of my generation playing pinball / Maked up and caked up and lookin' like some kind of china doll / With all of Adolf Hitler's moves down cold / As they stood up in front of a rock and roll band...". Wasteland appears on his 1993 self-titled debut album.
- Re-worked by The Fugs as "I Saw the Best Minds of My Generation Rock," currently available on the Fantasy Records reissue of their first album.
- Depicted on the cover of Lowell George's solo album Thanks, I'll Eat It Here. The album art contains several pop-/cult references including a picknick scene which shows Bob Dylan, Fidel Castro and Marlene Dietrich as Der Blaue Engel with an open copy of Howl beside them.
- In The Best of Youth, a 2003 Italian film, one of the protagonists, Nicola, travels to Norway, where he falls in with hippies and hears them read the "Footnote" aloud.
- Patti Smith used footnote to "Howl" in her song "Spell".
- An episode of the children's animated TV show Hey Arnold makes reference to Howl when Gerald shares a poem that is a more children-friendly version of the poem.
- New York based Crust-Punk Ezra Kire, in his one man band, Morning Glory, makes reference to Howl with the opening lines of the song Circle N: "I saw the best minds of my generation/destroyed by desperation" on the album This Is No Time Ta Sleep.
- The title of first track on post-hardcore band Refused's album The Shape Of Punk To Come, "Worms Of The Senses/Faculties Of The Skull" comes from "Howl".
- The track "1957" from Buck 65's 2007 album Situation—both of which contain numerous references to 1950s culture—begins with a reference to Howl: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed / devoid of conviction, conflicted, annoyed."
- Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-140-15102-8 (pbk)
- Ginsberg, Allen. Howl. 1986 critical edition edited by Barry Miles, Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography ISBN 0-06-092611-2 (pbk.)
- Howl of the Censor. Jake Ehrlich, Editor. ISBN 1-11117-504-7
- Raskin, Jonah. American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and the Making of the Beat Generation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0520240154
- Miles, Barry. Ginsberg: A Biography. London: Virgin Publishing Ltd. (2001), paperback, 628 pages, ISBN 0-7535-0486-3