Friday, September 10, 2010
Friday Evening on the Lower East Side: Poets' Group Reading of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" opening HOWL! Festival 2010 at Tompkins Square Park
From 5 p.m. till 7:20 p.m. we were in Tompkins Square Park today, thrilled to be attending the annual reading of the Allen Ginsberg poem, “Howl,” originally published in 1956, to commemorate the opening of the Howl! Festival.
It featured performances by the incomparable festival poet laureate, the legendary Anne Waldman (with music accompaniment by Ambrose Bye) and the equally legendary master of the spoken word, John Giorno, plus the fabulous Betsy Andrews, Jennifer Blowdryer, Ana Bozicevic, Guillermo Castro, Steve Dalachinsky, Thomas Fucaluro,
Greg Fuchs, Daniel Gallant, Alan Gilbert, Amy King, Mariposa, Douglas A. Martin, Angelo Nikolopoulos, Amy Ouzunian, Meghann Plunkett, Jon Sands, Susan Scutti, Jean Ann Verlee, Michael Warr, Chavisa Woods, Advocate of Wordz, RA 'R!' Araya. (These were the ones listed on the festival website, and they're).
Doing a yeoman's job as host and emcee was our old friend, the charming, funny master of all he surveys on the Bowery, Bob Holman,
who also ably acted as conductor for the group reading of the greatest American poem of the past eighty years.
And he even helped set up the chairs for the event.
This was one of the best poetry readings we've ever gone to, and we've gone to 2,342 of them since 1966.
But of course we love "Howl" and last fall we got to teach the whole poem for the first time; the book was on our syllabus in Cold War literature at City College (and we even brought some potato salad for our students to throw at us ("who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers...") although they spared us and just ate it.
Bob started by talking about the history of the HOWL! Festival a bit and said we're lucky to hear "Howl" today before we hear James Franco do it in the forthcoming movie (and then Bob said Franco and the film was really a good presentation we've got to see).
Anne Waldman, the poet laureate of the festival, began by reciting a poem by Allen's partner Peter Orlovsky, who died in late May.
Then she read some of her work, accompanied musically on the computer by her son Ambrose Bye, and it was great to hear such powerful work, like the brilliant "Why Am I Daring to Show My Face?" Attention must always be paid to Anne Waldman - not that anyone could or should want to do anything else.
Next up, the great John Giorno, best known for everything but there's Dial-A-Poem and Warhol's Sleep and AIDS activism and Buddhism and his not letting you in at 222 Bowery quickly enough and all this wonderful text-sound and text-text work.
John recited from memory an incredible longpoem, "Thanks for Nothing," written on his 70th birthday three years ago. It was a breathtaking tour de force.
Then Bob announced a kind of recreation of an open mic reading by poets selected by the local rockout poetry centers like his own Bowery Poetry Club, the Anne Waldman-founded (we were there, back in the day) St. Marks Poetry Project, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and others - curated by Nathaniel Siegel.
The poets who appeared in brilliant one-poem takes were, in order, Advocate of Words, whose poem was an exuberant, right-on grito/shout-out to Justice Sonia Sotomayor;
Michael Warr, in from San Francisco, did one of his trademark excellent meditations on American culture and autobiography;
Jean Ann Verlee, evoking racing hummingbirds;
Susan Scutti, whose thoughtful poems we've related to (befitting her book's title, We Are Related) as the son of an Alzheimer's patient;
Jon Sands, who gave us a wry and knowing lament about yuppie cafe baristas;
Meghann Plunkett, who made us think exactly about what "keep your hands to yourself" means;
Amy Ouzoonian, who knows from yoga and diamonds;
Steve Dalachinsky, who in "just keep walking" found a terrific metaphor;
Angelo Nikolopoulos, whom we know from the White Swallow Poetry Series at the Cornelia Street Cafe;
Douglas A. Martin, who can write poetry as stunning as his fiction (we loved Outline of My Lover);
Mariposa, who honored the great Pedro Pietri and Loisida history;
Amy King, whose Slaves to Do These Things you need to read and who we miss seeing at Stain Bar;
Alan Gilbert, whose poem was as good as his brilliant critical essays on pomo lit;
Daniel Gallant, currently executive director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, who read a really smart piece;
Thomas Fucaluro, who read his usual great poem, filled with heart, piss and vinegar;
Guillermo Castro, the Argentine-born author of the recent book Cry Me a Lorca;
Ana Bozicevic, who we also miss seeing at Stain Bar and whose poem had some delicious lines;
RA 'R!' Araya, whose work made us smile (and also wonder if he can get his name changed to less than one letter?);
and Betsy Andrews, author of New Jersey and other books, who ended the reading on a high note.
It was a long series of poets, but we didn't fidget a bit. As we said, this was probably one of the best readings we've ever gone to, but the best was yet to be: the 25-minute group reading of "Howl," which was truly thrilling.
The crowd, an eclectic diverse mixture of people of all ages, genders,
races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and degrees of hipness, seemed wonderstruck.
Lots of clearly were total Ginsberg fans; the woman with a headscarf at the end of our row held Allen's thick Complete Poems.
Anne Waldman began: “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. . ."
And as Bob conducted, individuals taking over various sections, the group intoning much of "Howl" in unison,
the poem so clear you could hear it by the statue of Pomona and the dog run and even by the restrooms.
As the skies darkened - it was a cool but really pleasant early late summer evening - the poem did its magic on most everyone, rising and falling,
its most profound images and allusions satisfying (only at one moment did everyone seem to go out of tune, and it seemed perfectly appropriate), the constant repetition of "Moloch" and the rhythms making their way into everyone's brains until it came to its always surprisingly, satisfyingly almost-but-not-just-upbeat conclusion. Here is the YouTube video.
Like we said, Wow. Thanks to everyone who made this evening's poetry possible, especially Allen Ginsberg,
who we met a few times, mostly in this neighborhood or on the Brooklyn College campus, and you should try to get to the Saturday and Sunday events in this year's HOWL! Festival at Tompkins Square Park.