Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression by Bill Morgan, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression

Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression

by Bill Morgan

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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, with nearly one million copies in print, City Lights presents the story of editing, publishing, and defending Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

This collection begins with an introduction by publisher Lawrence


To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, with nearly one million copies in print, City Lights presents the story of editing, publishing, and defending Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

This collection begins with an introduction by publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who shares his memories of hearing “Howl” first read at the 6 Gallery, of his arrest, and the subsequent legal defense of Howl’s publication. Never-before--published correspondence of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, and others provides an in-depth commentary on the poem’s ethi-cal intent and its social significance to the author and his contemporaries. A section on the public reaction to the trial includes newspaper reportage, op-ed pieces by Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, and letters to the editor from the public, which provide fascinating background material on the cultural climate of the mid-1950s. A timeline of literary censorship in the United States places this battle for free expression in a historical context.

Also included are photographs, transcripts of relevant trial testimony, Judge Clayton Horn’s decision and its ramifications, and a long essay by Albert Bendich, the ACLU attorney who defended Howl on constitutional grounds. Editor Bill Morgan discusses more recent challenges to Howl in the late 1980s and how the fight against censorship continues today in new guises.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
For the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, the poet's archivist and biographer Morgan and City Lights publisher Peters, and City Lights was Howl's original publisher) have assembled this intermittently fascinating collection of documents, mostly related to the book's obscenity trial in San Francisco in 1957. These documents provides a coherent narrative of the composition of the poem, as well as the prosecution of publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti and one of his City Lights employees and their eventual exoneration. The poet's letters discussing the publication of his book are often illuminating, particularly the massive letter to John Hollander that dissects every element of Howl, but not all the correspondence is equally interesting. Similarly, the lengthy trial transcript is entertaining at times, but would have benefited from being rendered into prose and excerpted appropriately. The book is certainly useful as a reference tool for those researching Ginsberg or obscenity law, and will interest Ginsberg completists, but this isn't a smooth read for a general audience. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A fitting tribute to Howlon its 50th anniversary, this casebook reprints Allen Ginsberg's (1926–97) landmark poem and collects important sources related to the obscenity trial that followed the 1957 sale of Howl & Other Poemsat Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Biographer Morgan (I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg) and City Lights Books publisher Peters include newspaper articles on the case; never-before-published correspondence from Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and others; significant excerpts from the trial transcript; and Judge Clayton M. Horn's decision exonerating the book. David Perlman's "How Captain Hanrahan Made Howla Best-Seller" and ACLU lawyer Albert M. Bendich's "Fifty Years of City Lights" are among the essays featured. Morgan's concluding piece, "The Censorship Battle Continues," criticizes current Federal Communications Commission regulations that keep Howlfrom being read on the air and emphasizes the need for continued vigilance to protect free speech. With chronologies for Howland "Milestones of Literary Censorship"; highly recommended.
—William Gargan
School Library Journal
Adult/High School
This compilation of essays, correspondence, court transcripts, memoirs, newspaper accounts, and photographs concerning the 1956 publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems adds up to a fascinating account of one of the most significant cases of censorship in U.S. history. The editors do a superb job of setting the stage leading to the court case and of providing thoughtful testimony to its lasting importance. Among the many helpful features: a chronology of Howl the book and Howl the case; another of censorship in general; reproductions of several San Francisco Chronicle articles, editorials, and letters to the editor; and the complete text of the poem. By far, though, the most compelling parts of the book are the "Howl Letters" and large sections of the official transcript from the 1957 trial. Most of the correspondence is between Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but there are letters to and/or from Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, Louis Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady. These letters provide a window into the meaning and significance of Ginsberg's great poem. Besides Ginsberg and the chief defense lawyer, J. W. Ehrlich, the other person who shines brightly in these pages is Ferlinghetti, a longtime champion of free expression. This book is a gold mine for reports on censorship, especially those in need of primary-source material.
—Robert SaundersonCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fascinating assortment of material-newspaper articles, transcripts, photographs, letters from the principals, commentary-on the 1957 obscenity trial in San Francisco that pitted the "people" against City Lights, the bookshop that published and sold Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems. The poem that occasioned it all (and Ginsberg's related work, "Footnote to Howl") appears early in this engaging and at times astonishing volume. And it's not hard to see why some procrustean mid-'50s folk found the poems offensive: Naughty words and allusions to sexual intimacies and street life abound. As the editors explain, Howl was first grabbed by vigilant Customs officers (it was printed abroad), then by San Francisco cops who, disguised as patrons, bought a copy at City Lights. Some will be surprised to learn that Ginsberg was never arrested or charged; only City Lights owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his unfortunate clerk were booked and fingerprinted. After a brief trial (no jury) that included expert testimony from literary luminaries Mark Schorer, Walter Van Tilburg Clark and Kenneth Rexroth (all for the defense), Judge Clayton W. Horn declared, "I do not believe that Howl is without redeeming social importance." Highlights of the trial transcript (sadly, only excerpted here) include testy exchanges and struggles to explain how Howl differs from the Book of Job. Among the most intriguing pieces are reprints from the San Francisco Chronicle, which immediately recognized the free-speech, free-press issues at stake. Morgan (Ginsberg's longtime archivist and author of an upcoming biography of the writer) and Peters (publisher of City Lights) have provided some useful chronologies and someprobably superfluous warnings about today's family-values crusaders. Ferlinghetti himself, now in his mid-80s, offers a feisty, if hyperbolic, Introduction. The anti-climactic material that follows the judge's opinion might have found a happier home in an appendix. A volume that will appeal to all who cherish their right to read uncensored the outpourings of the human heart.

Product Details

City Lights Books
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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author

Bill Morgan is a painter and archival consultant working in New York City. He is the author of The Beat Generation in San Francisco: A Walking Tour of Jack Kerouac's City and a new biography of Allen Ginsberg, I Celebrate Myself.

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