Thursday, 29 September 2011

Book Review: Howl: A Graphic Novel by Allen Ginsberg, Animated by Eric Drooker

This week is banned book week.  In honour of this, I chose to read Allen Ginsberg's Howl, a poem written in 1956 and was the subject of obscenity charges in 1957.  The charges were dismissed.  I have heard a lot about this poem in recent years, especially when the movie came out, and was curious about it and thought now was the perfect time to read it.  For a list of more recent banned books, you can check the American Library Associations site here.

Book:  Howl:  A Graphic Novel by Allen Ginsberg, Animated by Eric Drooker, Harper Perenial, 2010, 224 pages, adult, poetry.

Source:  Library.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Allen Ginsburg's legendary and groundbreaking epic poem, Howl, is now a graphic novel—a tie-in to the major motion picture starring James Franco. Featuring graphics by acclaimed New Yorker cover artist Eric Drooker, Howl is a magnificent visual interpretation of a classic work by a seminal Beat writer and contemporary of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

First published in 1956, Allen Ginsberg's Howl is a prophetic masterpiece—an epic raging against dehumanizing society that overcame censorship trials and obscenity charges to become one of the most widely read poems of the century.

My Thoughts:
I enjoyed reading this poem, even though it was difficult sometimes, as well as morbid and full of angst.  The words and language are so rich, I found myself savoring them at times, rereading lines in order to unpack their meaning and meander on their wonderful combinations.

It starts with:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...
...starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves though the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, (p. 18-19)
This lays out the theme for this long poem.  The first section is one sentence, listing how the best minds have been destroyed, so many kinds of madness.

Then there are lines like: 
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue mid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerin shrieks of the fairies of advertizing...
...& the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editor, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality, (p. 98-100)
This is just an example of the writing.  The phrases are so packed full - this is not a poem to race through.

There is definitely the historical significance of this poem, with what was happening in society at the time, the dehumanization of society, the social unrest, the wars.  However, much of this is still significant today as, in many ways, our society is becoming even more dehumanized through technology and television.  There is also no shortage of wars and intolerance.

This particular edition of this poem has been animated by Allen Ginsberg's friend and colleague Eric Drooker and I think he did a brilliant job.  This must have been a daunting prospect, but the pictures are amazing and go so well with the poem and helped me to take in the words.  For the most part, the pictures are dark, sometimes hazy, sometimes without a lot of detail, but they capture the spirit of the words perfectly. 

The whole package of the poem and the animation is beautiful and well done.  I am not sure if I understood the whole poem, but I did enjoy reading this piece of history and savouring the words.


  1. I'm not much for reading graphic novels, but your review of this one intrigues me. I might just have to have a look at it.

    Thanks for stopping by The Paperback Princesses, I'll keep you on my radar :)

  2. This is definitely different than other graphic novels. It is a poem that was animated, more than a graphic novel. That and it is definitely aimed at adults.
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


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