Allen Ginsberg: An angel-headed hipster’s owl

Plaque marking the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s reading of “Howl” poem at the Six Gallery in San Francisco (© Flickr/Lynn Friedman)

In early October 1957, American poet Allen Ginsberg was hanging out in Amsterdam jazz cafes. At the same time in San Francisco, a Federal Court judge ruled that his poem “Howl” was not obscene. The work became a rallying cry for the movement known as the Beat Generation with its famous opening line: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”.

50 years later, with more than a million copies in print, “Howl” continues to inspire artists and activists. David Swatling explores the origins of one of the most celebrated and controversial poems of the 20th century and discovers its striking relevance to the world today.

Producer: David Swatling

Broadcast: June 2007