Sunday, February 17, 2008

The first Howl

Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, on a hitch-hiking trip to the Pacific Northwest in 1956, decided to spend February 13 & 14 on the campus of Reed College, Snyder's alma mater, giving poetry readings. The February 14th reading was recorded, and the tape was "duly labeled, cataloged, and then overlooked in the college’s library for more than 50 years. Literary scholar John Suiter rediscovered [it] last summer while researching a biography of poet Gary Snyder." The recording is the earliest known recording of Howl, the poem that a few months later established Ginsberg's fame and became the focus of the media event that announced the Beat Generation to the world at large.

The College site hosts a version of the recording that's supposed to be streamable, but I had no luck listening; playback was garbled. They say they're aware of problems, and will try to resolve them today.


In addition to being alma mater to Snyder (class of 1951), Lew Welch ( ’50,) and Philip Whalen (also ’51), Reed was also the undergrad home of linguist Dell Hymes, a friend of Snyder's during their college years. Hymes later went on to make important contributions to the study of Native American texts, particularly those of the Chumash. He always insisted that language be understood within its various social contexts, and so helped found what's now known as sociolinguistics.The Reed site features an informative look at his career.

The great photo by Dale Smith features Michael McClure, Bob Dylan, and Ginsberg in San Francisco in 1965. It appears to date from the same occasion Larry Keenan documents here.

A hat tip to Ron Silliman for the link to a story about the discovery that ran in the Chicago Tribune.

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