On Reading Ginsburg’s “Howl”

Once, I possessed an open mind,
Which I assure you was my own.
I used it to read Ginsberg’s “Howl”
Well, I don’t wish to be unkind
But those words seemed randomly sown.
My first reaction was a scowl.

So I tried a second reading.
His  words looked clipped and pasted,
Mashed to the page with cruel force.
Was he desperate?  Was he bleeding
Or perhaps just strangely wasted
By some bizarre urban remorse?

Was there a narrative to track,
Or should I have even bothered to try?
Words like photos pinned up on a board
And in between them all is black.
Could I, from this, some deep meaning pry?
Was there something I ignored?

I thought it some chaotic list,
From a generation not so great,
Of a world’s load of flaws.
His knowledge of words can’t be dismissed
And it’s not a poem I hate
For the picture that it draws.

But frankly, the Howell to be well versed in
Is the rich one they call… Thurston.


R.I.P. Cassini

Oh stalwart vessel! Did siren ring song
Snare you like an Odyssean sailor?
They say your conversion did not take long
From probe into vaporized con trailer.

Armchair trailblazers now salute you
And your glancing into the vast unknown.
Now you mix with the Saturnian dew
Or perhaps through hexagonal storms are blown.

Like bold chest clutching stage deaths of yore
You bravely gave yourself to the ages
All to make room for some alien spore
Instead of Earth borne microbial rages.

You brought us the music of the spheres
Now forever etched on midnight sonneteers!


The Harvest

Set not too quickly oh dangling moon
For we need effect of your soothing beams.
Treat the raging apes to some subtle tune
That lulls them into tranquilizing dreams.

With backlit nimbus set care adrift
To be marooned on some distant shore
Or lodge it tightly in some comet’s rift
That it might not be found… forevermore.

Gild with ease the spheres where music plays.
Such overtures are all too lacking
At our clumsy Earthbound soirees
Where good taste has, of late, been slacking.

Oh host that ennead, before you sink,
Of every muse that makes mankind think…
Far beyond this place of rude distraction
To ponder some Hesperidean satisfaction.

Struck thus and with cares neatly dispatched
A mind may, at last, find peace securely latched.


A sonneteer who lives in Sifton, Washington, Gregory Spicer was born in Portland, Oregon in 1963 and graduated from Clark College In Vancouver, Washington in 1989.


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13 Responses

  1. Neal

    the beat poets were fictive guys whose style came across as cutting edge until the rest of the muggles caught up with them. They helped me understand my grandparents’ use of the word “common.”

  2. James A. Tweedie


    What a great opening couplet:

    “Once, I possessed an open mind,
    Which I assure you was my own.”

    This begs the question as to whether, at some point along our earthly pilgrimage, we become so burdened with cultural, intellectual, and other experiential baggage that we cease to be “open minded” in the same way we were before. I don’t have an answer, but I suspect that it is one of those yes and no conundrums. The only thing that has not changed in my life is, curiously enough, Bob Denver. He will always be the original “Howl” himself, Maynard G. Krebs.

    • Gregory Spicer

      An Interesting observation James. Most of the feedback I get is about the surprise ending. Truthfully, I had not been exposed to much “beat” stuff outside of “So I Married An Axe Murderer” so I think I was about as open minded as any of us ever is when I read Howl for the first time a few years ago. After a couple of readings my T.V. generation brain kept going back to Jim Backus. As for Krebs, I always loved his reaction whenever someone within earshot mentioned the word “work”.

  3. James Sale

    Yes, I agree. And in 50 years’ time Howl will be so inconsequential we won’t even feel the need to write a poem about it! Well done.

  4. "Weird" Ace Blues

    So much of what Mr. Spicer has to say about Ginsberg’s “Howl” is right on target. Sadly, I, too, have to admit I plowed through the Beats.

    American S***hole
    by “Weird” Ace Blues
    “ως ανδρων γενεη η μεν φύει η δ’ απολήγει.”
    —Homer in the Iliad, Book VI, line 149
    “So of men, one generation arises, another passes away.”
    —translation, “Crude” Abe Lewis

    I saw the souls of one more generation wrecked
    by madness, starving, naked and hysterical,
    slide down the streets and roads with energy unchecked
    in search of angry fixes, starry-eyed and dull,
    who smoked beneath polluted skies all kinds of things,
    while looking out across the tops of urban sprawl,
    their brains hallucinating round in fiery rings
    illuminating nothing but their own lost hells,
    academies condemned in their imaginings,
    while taking over universities for spells,
    destroying poetry with fresh obscenities
    by hanging body parts up out to ring, like bells,
    insisting on a new set of insanities
    enroute to park, to pad, to bar, on foot or train,
    in car or bus, through wild, ungodly vanities,
    in taxi or on subway, that they chased in vain
    to Saint John of the Cross, in search of holy love,
    but couched in Zen, to rushing rants undone, insane.
    What in the swirling World’s whirl were they thinking of?
    unhappiness in passive lives gone chemical,
    nuclear, biological, derivative?
    ideas ill thought out, crazed and polemical?
    unnerved by loneliness, a lack of discipline,
    but rooted in a hole abscessed and cynical,
    evisceral, invisible, on insulin?
    to recreate in syntax and in measure what
    they had already burst with nitroglycerine?
    confessing to the rhythm of the shaking butt,
    allowed to say aloud what could be left unsaid,
    that death had not obliterated yet—th’ aching gut?

  5. "Weird" Ace Blues

    Mr. Spicer’s “R. I. P. Cassini” shows his ability, with humour, to bring traditional thoughts up to date. As Mr. Turner has done in “Apocalypse,” and others as well, Mr. Spicer in his work is attempting to “domesticate burgeoning new vocabularies.”

    As to Mr. Sale’s desire that we not read Ginsberg, I agree, though I would argue we could do so sparingly, and with an extremely critical mind; for we must not put our heads in the sand, like the myth about ostriches; for if the ostriches actually did that, they would die of asphyxiation. Actually the myth possibly comes from the fact that ostriches do dig shallow holes in the ground for their nests.

    Anyway, if I remember correctly Mr. Sale took on Michael Schmidt’s “Lives of the Poets,” an ambitious 800+ page book with more pages devoted to Ezra Pound than Shakespeare, and which was filled with American nihilists. I think he has a great “stomach” for the less than satisfying, which reminds me of the surreal Postmodernist poem by Louis Simpson, succinctly demonstrating that required strength (a key word from a Mr. Sale essay).

    American Poetry

    Whatever it is, it must have
    A stomach that can digest
    Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems.

    Like the shark it contains a shoe.
    It must swim for miles through the desert
    Uttering cries that are almost human.

    Finally, in a larger sense, I would say that in all fields of human endeavour, jewels of truth and goodness are rare, and one must plow through vast tracts to find them.

    • Gregory Spicer

      Thanks for the feedback on “R.I.P. Cassini” Mr. Blues. You are extraordinarily perceptive with what I am doing there. I love the intrinsic glory of classical poetic diction (and reason enough to procure old dictionaries) and I want to see it cheerfully recombined with more up to date sentiments so that the glory might be reborn. I see the desire for this here at the SCP and elsewhere.

      You are also clearly perceptive regarding criticism. Criticism is a kind of dissection and so a potentially traumatic process but one we must put ourselves through in order to avoid future evils, particularly, sand traps for my bird brain.

      One thing I think critical to the success of classical poetry is a sense of wholesome theatricality a la Sideshow Mel on “The Simpsons” who, in the one episode, had been a Shakespearean stage actor. I wonder what people might think when they realize that The Bard’s well developed sense of glory would travel through the centuries on the flimsy brains of actors and T.V. comedy writers to lodge itself within my own inconstant thoughts. Both he (Mel) and the “Master Thespian” character on those old Saturday Night Live Sketches are rewarding examples of good theatricality specifically because they are not maudlin. If we mire ourselves too much in the fading embers of nostalgia we risk being burned by the aesthetic sin of banality, eh?


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