Aullido a los 60 años / Heriberto Yépez

“Howl” at 60

Sixty years ago Allen Ginsberg wrote “Howl,” one of the great poems of the 20th century. How can I commemorate it in the minimal space of a Mexican newspaper?

When he wrote it, Ginsberg was a desperate and prophetic young writer. “Howl” captures those poles.

I can’t comment on it extensively. I’ll limit myself to a detail from his first verse that I think tells us a great deal about the entire poem, its form and meaning.

The first line says: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...”

In an earlier version, the verse said “mystical” instead of “hysterical.”

In a version that followed, Ginsberg described those “best minds” as “starving, hysterical, mystical, naked.” But he finally eliminated the commas and “mystical,” leaving “hysterical” in its place.

“Mystical” had to go because the minds, bodies, images and relationships that Ginsberg noted, even though they seek God and the sacred, suffer their separation; their crisis is based on being cut off from God and not being able to join Him.

As the poem advances, Ginsberg seeks to sing about and to them as a praise that sanctifies and leads to the divine, but the civilizing and metaphysical catastrophe the poem describes prevents the mystical union from being achieved.

Ginsberg knew this and that’s why the “mystical” was eliminated and replaced by “hysterical,” that is, by the unease and inner division characterized by hysteria (less clinical than postmodern), fragmentary, disorganized, exposed.

It couldn’t be a theological, mystical poem, but rather a poem whose parts are trembling from a narco-literary, psycho-political nervous breakdown.

Losing the connection to the divine (the mystical connection), however, couldn’t merely be replaced with disconnected pieces, a total hysterical fragmentation. This is why the commas were also taken out, because when they disappeared they built a great protective block for those minds: “starving hysterical naked.”

The hysterical substituted the mystical but, at the same time, it joined everything surrounding it in the world, since it couldn’t join God transcendentally, while it could fuse with the immediate here and now, regardless of how wounded, crazed and threatened those in solidarity might be at its side.

The title itself “Howl” —as a noun or as a verb— contrasts with another final word —“Who”— that provides order to a great deal of the poem, and with the word “Holy” that serves as a conclusion and that together are the anaphoras (expressions that are repeated at the beginning of verses) marking the poem.

What howls, then, is the hysterical, that which has lost its mystical-religious connection. What howls is the destroyed body that keeps calling the divine.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Milenio (México D.F.), 4 April 2015 }

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