Ginsberg “Howl”

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical Naked,
Dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
Angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry
Dynamo in the machinery of night”

I think the most important lines of this poem are the first few lines. These lines introduce the reader to the subjects of the poem and start establishing Ginsberg’s claim that he saw the “best minds” of his generation “destroyed” (1). The examples and images that Ginsberg brings in the first few lines are the basis of his claim, and therefore set the tone for the rest of the poem. They are a preview to the types of examples and descriptions that will make an appearance throughout the course of the poem.

Ginsberg discusses the “best minds of his generation” (1). One might immediately assume, as I did, that the people he is referring to are the doctors, the professors, the lawyers, or the otherwise upper or middle class white-collar workers of his time. However, interestingly enough, once I continued reading the rest of the poem, I realized that he as talking about drug addicts, school dropouts, bums, and the like. At first, I thought Ginsberg was being sarcastic, that he was poking fun at the lowlife behavior of these people. But then I realized that Ginsberg uses the word “destroyed.” This makes it sound as if these people originally started out as great minds, and then something happened to them that somehow prevented their growth and development. In other words, perhaps Ginsberg was mourning the loss of potential great minds. If these people had been given the opportunity to continue on a strong path, to go to school, to learn, and to develop their minds, talents, and abilities, they might have become the next doctors, professors, or lawyers.

The poem as a whole is written as a few very long run-on sentences, but the first line specifically has the words “starving hysterical naked” that are not separated by commas and can almost be read as one long word. I think the lack of commas introduces the poem as well as the actual words do, as this lack serves as a warning to the reader that the rest of the poem is just as fast-paced and just as jarring as the first few words; that the poem will leave the reader feeling almost breathless by the time they get to the end.

Questions for the class:

  1. Why does Ginsberg use the term “best minds” for the low class people that he is writing about? What is his intention – is he being sarcastic, or is he hinting that they could have become great, had they been given the opportunity?
  2. What image does the juxtaposition of “great minds” with “starving hysterical naked” bring to mind? Why do you think Ginsberg specifically chose these 3 adjectives to describe the subjects of his poem?



“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

“who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering             mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light           of Zoo,”


The first section of “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg takes us through an adventure that Ginsberg and his friends go through while they attempt to figure out the deeper questions in life.  Throughout this section, Ginsberg seems to make it as if his group of intellectuals were using drugs such as peyote and Benzedrine to connect “for the ancient heavenly connection”. (4)

At first I thought that Ginsberg was explaining that these hallucinogenic drugs were an influence to enhance their state of being and connect them more to their spiritual side. Lines 28- 32 seem to be telling a different story of how these “best minds” (1) ended up actually abusing drugs to bring them to a negative state. Ginsberg describes this scenario of him and his friends riding on the subway on Benzedrine. He uses imagery when he writes that they “chained themselves to subways for the endless ride.” (28) When Ginsberg used the word “chained” as the way his group is connected to subway, it made me visualize that his group had very little control over their state of being, similar to how in prison, the officers use chains on their prisoners. The prisoners have a small amount of freedom and chains give it a further negative connotation. This made me believe that Ginsberg recognizes that the drugs aren’t actually an enhancer, but actually a tool that would destroy their intellectual minds. He further proved this point when he said that his group’s brains “all drained of brilliance in the drear light of the Zoo”. (31-32) Ginsberg is saying that the drugs lessened the intelligence, or brilliance, of their brains. He also uses symbolism here when he says that they end up at a zoo. The zoo represents the fact that at the end of the subway ride, him and his friends ends up as mindless as animals.

Furthermore, Ginsberg uses a lot of poetic conventions to prove the case that the drugs his group was using were extremely negative. In lines 28- 32, there is a constant alliteration with the letter B, which is seen with the words Battery, Bronx, Benzedrine, brought, battered, bleak, brain, and brilliance. I think that all these words with the letter B were used to connect to the main drug in these lines: Benzedrine. Ginsberg also uses a clever rhyme with “brain” and “drain”. The rhyme emphasizes that the drug really emptied the brain’s brilliance. Another poetic convention Ginsberg used was assonance from the words “wracked” and “battered”.  Not only did the drugs mentally hurt them, but physically as well.

1. Why do you think Ginsberg points out that the subway ends at a “drear light of zoo”? Is it symbolism or it just happened to be that was the last stop?

2. Why does Ginsberg mention that the “noise of wheels and children” bring them down? Why would children be brought up?



Blog Posts Due Monday 3/23 @ 6pm (Commentors 12am)

After reading and annotating Ginsberg’s “Howl,” choose 3-4 consecutive lines that you think are important to the poem as a whole. Introduce these lines, and articulate what you find interesting, compelling, strange, etc. about them. What kind of imagery, rhythm, or other poetic conventions do you see Ginsberg working with here? What larger ideas or tensions do these 3-4 lines help to develop for the poem as a whole? Please use evidence and pose two debatable questions.

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Prompt 3

Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died” presents an I that is representative of a daily life. The constant usage of her “I” followed by a certain routine or action occurring that day displays the voice in O’Hara’s poem. That voice is of one person, and that person in this case is Billie Holiday. After doing a little research on her life I discovered that Holiday had a pretty turbulent childhood and was also a victim of attempted rape. After reading the poem out loud, I started feeling tired. The repetition of the sentences starting with I along with the many commas emphasizes the length of the day described in the poem. The journey of Holiday during this day starts with a lot of energy as the first stanza takes the readers through three different times and provides the year. The first and one of the shorter stanzas manage to cover a span of 7 hours whereas the rest describe the rest of the day which is only about 30% of the day. This journey reminds me of my usual work day. I’d wake up in the morning, full of energy and time and everything around me would move rather quickly. I would work as hard as I could to pass time quicker. Once the morning passed and work was over, time slowed down and things were more easily noticed. I was able to appreciate the little and unexpected things like that man who let me on the bus before him, or the beautiful music this one homeless man played. These things are the smaller things that happen throughout the day that go unnoticed, it’s comparative to the speaker’s visiting of the bank and how her balance was not checked. Ironic as it may be, time actually feels like its elapsed quicker in that second half of the day rather than the first half because that’s the time that you enjoy more. This playing of time could be a ploy by O’Hara to trick our senses of time. Furthermore, reading this poem out loud is tiring as i feel like I’m partaking in each individual action. The turbulent childhood of holiday’s could even be a relevant factor in O’Hara’s usage of her long sentences and overall journey in this poem. The speaker starts the day out as any other person and ends as any other day ends. But O’Hara could also be attempting to make an analogy out to a general life as well as the life of Billie Holiday. As the speaker sweats and loses her breath her day comes to an end as well as Holiday’s life. But that’s a question that I can’t even figure out. Overall the poem presents an analogy to me of my everyday life and in relation to Billie Holiday’s life troubles we are all given a life we can relate to. As O’Hara responds to Holiday’s death with his poem, he also exemplifies a journey of any one person’s day/life and how sudden an end can be reached.

So do you think O’Hara attempts to replicate the readers daily life and day with his poem?
Also what does O’Hara try to emphasize with his last line of the speaker losing her breath?


Why I Am Not A Painter

In Frank O’Hara’s poem, “Why I am Not a Painter” he compares himself, a poet, to his friend, an artist named Mike Goldberg. O’Hara compares Goldberg’s techniques as an artist to his own poetic techniques.

When asked by O’Hara why he has sardines in his painting, Goldberg replied that he put it in his painting because “it needed something there” (9) but then a few lines later Goldberg takes it out since he though “It was too much” (16). In the end though, the painting is named sardines even though there are no sardines in it. Goldberg paints and then paints over it; he comes up with ideas to fill space that then may be later rejected. Though there are no sardines in it his painting is still called sardines because of the rejected space filler.

O’Hara compares Goldberg’s creative process to his own. He explains how he starts off with an idea and after time his idea develops; he may write a whole poem based on an idea never actually mentioned by name in the poem. O’Hara tells us how “One day I am thinking of/ a color: orange” and he then uses this idea, the idea of orange, to come up with words, then lines, and soon pages (17-18).

Goldberg appears to paint and then come up with the meaning behind it. He paints sardines to fill space and then rejects that whole painting but the sardines seem to inspire him to name his new panting sardines after the original painting. This is in contrast to O’Hara who says he first starts off with an idea and then builds on it using his original idea to take him all the way through, though he may not even mention the original idea by name at all.

  1. Why do you think that Goldberg named his painting sardines after the rejected sardines?
  2. Do you think that O’Hara is saying that his way of writing poetry is better than Goldberg’s method of painting or do you think he thinks they are equal but different?

Blog Posts due 6pm 3/18 (Commentors by 12am)

Blog Post: Choose one

  1. In “Why I am Not a Painter”, Frank O’Hara compares his work as a poet with that of his friend, painter Mike Goldberg.  How does he compare his poem “Oranges” with Mike’s painting “Sardines”? How does O’Hara discuss his creative process in his poem? How is it similar to his friend, Mike’s creative process? Now go back to the title of this poem. For O’Hara, what is the difference, if any, between being a painter and a poet?Use evidence to support your claims.
  2. In “Having a Coke with You,” O’Hara mentions a number of paintings and painters  in this poem, Polish Rider, Nude Descending a Staircase, as well as Leonardo (DaVinci), Michelangelo, Marino Marini, the Impressionists, Futurism. Look two of these references up online (you can quote from or even show us an image) and discuss why you think O’Hara refers to them in his poem. What are possible connections between the art references and the person O’Hara is writing to, the “you” of the poem?Use evidence to support your claims.
  3. The Lady in “The Day Lady Died” refers to Billie Holiday, a famous jazz singer. Analyze the journey that the speaker takes in the poem both physically and in terms of the consciousness of the speaker. What kind of journey is this? Where does he start, and where does he end up? What significance do a few of the places he mentions have? What kind of voice do you hear, and what impact does this voice have on you, the reader? Use evidence to support your claims.

Ask two debatable questions.

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“I Too” – Langston Hughes

“I Too” by Langston Hughes reveals several tensions. One tension that I initially noticed was one of equality and freedom. In line 1 of the poem, Hughes states, “I, too, sing America”. He is clarifying here that he is an American citizen. He is an American citizen just like all the other white American citizens but he isn’t being treated like one. The meaning of this line goes way back in time of slavery, when African Americans were treated as less than human. He’s implying that he too is a human, he is “the darker brother” (2). In other words, we are all related, we are all human beings, and there is no reason why because of the color of his skin, he should be treated unequally. He even tries to relate himself, and creates a relationship or a bond that he has with the white men. He identifies himself not only as a black man but as a part of the American society (in a familial way). He is sent to “eat in the kitchen when the company comes” (3-4), as if he is still a black slave in the house of a white man. He doesn’t let this stop him. He relates this line to how slaves were confined to certain areas of the house when guests came over, and had to be kept hidden or out of sight. He laughs and continues to eat, and grow strong in a civil manor because he knows that he is not a slave. He will not hide in the kitchen, he will eat among the others freely.

He refers to the future when he says “tomorrow” (8). He creates a situation where, if he is at the table and guests come, nobody will dare to say to him “eat in the kitchen” then (9-14). In this bright future that he is envisioning, no one is going to tell him to go eat somewhere else because he is welcome to eat wherever he pleases. No one will dare to consider him less than them or unequal to them.

A non-prejudice future where, they will see his beauty. “They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed—I, too, am America” (15-18). The people who discriminated towards him would be ashamed of themselves, they would see his beauty as a human, just as equal and free as they are.

Hughes is trying to combat the tension of racism and inequality, and show that we are all given “natural” rights. He is proud to be an American citizen, and at the end of the poem asserts his pride in being American.

Two questions for the class:

  • What kind of emotions do you think Hughes feels towards the “White Americans”? Do you feel that he resents them? That’s he forgives them? How do these emotions complicate the poem and its meaning?
  • How does this poem make you think about what it means to be an American? How is “America” presented in this poem, and does it make you change how you feel?

Adherly’s Post

In his poem “America,” Claude McKay establishes the largest tension that existed in the United States in the 1920s: freedom and oppression. He states “Giving me strength erect against her [Americas] hate” (6). This presents the tension within the poem and in America at the time. What could he could possibly mean by saying that the same thing that hates him can give him strength against itself? McKay seemed to have a love-hate relationship with the country.

By the 1920s, African Americans were legally equal to whites, however, they were also legally segregated due to The Jim Crow Laws. These contradictory laws defined America at the time; The U.S was an arsenal of democracy, but was concurrently founded on racism and oppression.  McKay portrays this deeply ingrained oppressive behavior when he states, “she [America] feeds me bread of bitterness” (1) and “[America] sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth” (2). America is harming African Americans and denying them the chance to pursue their goals: “Stealing my breath of life” (3). Nonetheless, McKay then quickly turns the poem to express his simultaneous love for America.

Despite the oppression and de facto inequality of the time: “Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood” (7), McKay seemed to think there was hope. He confidently believed that African Americans could attain true freedom and meet their full potentials. He states, “I love this cultured hell” (4). He seems to love America because it allows the oppressed to defend themselves, as their basic human right, despite the oppressions. He believes that it’s worth it to stick around to fight back for freedom rather than giving up: “Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state/I stand within her walls with not a shred/Of terror […]” (8-10). He’s been taught by and strengthened by America to believe in freedom–now he is ready to fight for it. McKay’s positive and rather hopeful mood in the poem is indicative of the newly acquired mood African Americans had in the 1920s.

The 1920s was governed by The Harlem Renaissance, a period of literary, artistic and intellectual movement. It prompted blacks to adopt a new cultural identity and feel pride in their race. Rather than concentrating on the past or the present oppressive conditions, they looked into the future and saw positive change. McKay makes this view clear at the end of his poem, “Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, And see her might and granite wonders there” (11-12). He, as the others, seemed to believe they would receive “priceless treasures” (14) if they stuck around and fought through.


In regards to poetic conventions I also found something interesting (which also helps to reinforce the historical connection to the 1920s): the personification of America. McKay uses the pronoun “her” to personify America. I figured he wanted to make a connection to the relationship of a mother (America) and her child (African Americans). Perhaps “her” could represented a relationship between a female (America) and her lover (African Americans). A mother-child or love relationship is usually complicated. One must depend on a mother or lover for things we appreciate and look forward too, however, we might also become frustrated and want to rebel against them. It’s another kind of love-hate relationship.


-Why does McKay refer to America as “her”? Would it have been different/mattered if he used a male pronoun instead?

-Overall positive message to convey or a negative one? Do you think it conveys said message successfully? How do you think the readers (white/black) at the time responded to McKay’s carefully chosen contrasting words?


Langston Hughes “I, Too”

In his poem “I, Too,” Langston Hughes addresses the concept of racism in America, and the tension that existed between whites and African Americans. He writes that the blacks have to “eat in the kitchen / When company comes” (3-4), as they are not welcome to sit with everyone else. It’s interesting to note that Hughes lived a number of decades after the Civil War, yet tension still existed between the blacks and the whites; the fact that the war was history didn’t mean that racism didn’t exist.
However, although the poem is about the tension that existed, Hughes does not seem to focus on the negatives or on the differences between the races. What he does instead is that he tries to equate himself with the whites. He tries to downplay their differences, instead focusing on how he is similar to them, and how he loves America the same way they do. He brings their commonalities to the forefront of his discussion – they are all Americans, and one day, the African Americans won’t be the only ones to recognize this.
One way that Hughes equates himself with his white peers is by calling himself the “darker brother” (2). He uses the word brother to show that there’s a familial relationship between him and his white peers, and that he’s their brother, their equal. Just like there’s no status hierarchy between brothers, so too there’s no hierarchy between whites and African Americans.
Hughes also says that blacks have to eat in the kitchen “when company comes” (4). This can be interpreted to mean that it is only when company comes that he has to eat in the kitchen. In other words, deep down, the whites aren’t really racist. However, for some reason, they feel that when company comes, when people are watching them, they have to send the blacks to the kitchen. They’re doing it more out of peer pressure than out of racism. They’re afraid that their company is racist, even though they are not.
This could be Hughes reaction to his times – perhaps he felt that a lot of the racism he was feeling was based on peer pressure – whites were afraid to be too nice to blacks for fear that they themselves wouldn’t be accepted in society. What Hughes tries to do is to equate himself with the white population; he tries to show them that he is as American as they are, that he is “eat[ing] well / and grow[ing] strong” (6-7) as well, and that one day, the whites will come to realize this equality as well.

Questions for discussion:
1. Hughes says that the whites will “be ashamed” (17). What will they be ashamed of – of not treating blacks properly, or of something else?
2. I looked at this poem in a positive light; I downplayed the tension by trying to prove that Hughes was really looking at the positives in the relationships between whites and blacks. Is there another way to interpret the poem, by looking at the negative tensions instead?


Blog Posts due 3/16 @ 6pm (Commentors @ 12am)

Each of the three poems you’re assigned for Tuesday’s class responds in a variety of ways to America. Choose one of the three poems and discuss an important tension or problem that you’ve identified. Use evidence to support your claims and ask two debatable questions.

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