Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reflecting on Howl: Language and Image

When I first read Howl, I had quite a hard time understanding what Ginsberg was trying to get across to the audience. But after watching the film, I feel like I have a much better understanding of him as a person and what he was sharing in his poems. Originally, like many others, I did not see the literary merit in his poems. I can’t say that I completely understand his poetry but I can at least acknowledge his style of poetry. In the movie, he acknowledges the trouble that most people have with understanding his type of poetry: “The problem when it comes to literature is this. There are many writers who have preconceived ideas about what literature is supposed to be but their ideas seem to preclude everything that makes them most interesting in casual conversation. Because they think they’re going to write something that sounds like they’ve read before instead of what sounds like them or comes from their own life.

What happens when you make a distinction between what you tell your friends and what you tell your muse? The trick is to break down that distinction. To approach your muse as frankly as you would talk to yourself or to your friends.”

Most of our initial reactions to his poetry is that it is far too vulgar. However, it seems necessary. As an individual, he grew up at a time that homosexuality was portrayed as a sickness (at least much less accepted then than now). His experiences seem to really influence his style of writing. He couldn’t express the way that he felt explicitly so he would turn to his poetry in order to express his emotions. This is where he reveals himself to the world that he is gay. Throughout the movie, this actually is quite apparent with the amount of times that he speaks about it as well as all the animations that were portrayed. Other than the explicit mentions, there were more subtle images of penises throughout the animations. Around the 30th minute of the film there were trees that were growing that ultimately took on the form of a penis as well as the shooting star that seemed to visualize one as well.

Although his poetry is quite vulgar and repeatedly mentions the image of penises, his message is often misinterpreted. Ginsberg informs us that “the poem is misinterpreted as promotion of homosexuality. Actually, it’s more like promotion of frankness about any subject.” I appreciate how he tries to break the distinction between his muse and his friends. This gives his poetry a more genuine feeling to it since he tries to give his audience a portrayal of who he truly is rather than euphemizing himself through words. I really enjoyed this film since it gave a better understanding of this poet, especially since it was quite difficult to understand his style of writing.