Howl at Six

The legendary first reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl took place at San Francisco’s Six Gallery on this day in 1955. Apart from providing a kick-start to the Beat movement, the entire evening is regarded as seminal in related ways, and as delivering on the promise in the advertisements:

6 POETS AT 6 GALLERY

      Philip Lamantia reading mss. of late John Hoffman—Mike
      McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder & Phil Whalen—all
      sharp new straightforward writing—remarkable collection
      of angels on one stage reading their poetry. No charge,
      small collection for wine, and postcards. Charming event.

Gary Snyder followed Ginsberg with a reading of “The Berry Feast,” which Michael McClure describes as “the first deep-ecology poem.” McClure himself read two poems that have been described as “presaging the animal-rights movement.” The following description of the evening is from Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical novel Dharma Bums, published three years later:          

Anyway I followed the whole gang of howling poets to the reading at Gallery Six that night, which was, among other important things, the night of the birth of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. Everyone was there. It was a mad night. And I was the one who got things jumping by going around collecting dimes and quarters from the rather stiff audience standing around in the gallery and coming back with three huge gallon jugs of California Burgundy and getting them all piffed so that by eleven o’clock when Alvah Goldbook was reading his, wailing his poem “Wail” drunk with arms outspread everybody was yelling “Go! Go! Go!”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.