“Howl” by Amy Newman

Since I was first exposed to him in my first years as an undergraduate at a California community college, I have thoroughly enjoyed and been moved by Allen Ginsberg.  His 20th century epic poem “Howl” has long been a pillar of sorts in my imagination, and I’ve taught the poem for years.  It’s certainly a piece of my mental furniture.  It came as no surprise that I was very intrigued when I came across the poem of the same name by contemporary poet Amy Newman.

What Newman has done in this re-imagining/repurposing/re-creation is to create the Howl of women in the contemporary world (especially the West, I’d argue).  Ginsberg’s “Howl” was always the howl of the downtrodden, the neglected, the left-out, but surprisingly, is predominantly male and focuses on primary male experience.  The spirit of Ginsberg’s poem translates well, though, to the voice of woman, and her experience in 2015.

I will admit that I resisted the inhabitation of Ginsberg’s famous poem by this new voice initially.  It was so clearly Ginsberg and so clearly not.  I was also concerned (after not seeing the three part structure that was Ginsberg’s) that this recreation of “cover,” if you will, would lack the redemptive spirit of Ginsberg’s poem.  I was pleased to find plenty of redemption in the neon-lit advertising dark alley of American womanhood.  There is a love and beauty and brightness that comes through and envelopes the poem entirely, as the redemption of Ginsberg’s speaker does in his “Howl.”  Newman has created a truly interesting and valuable poem, and it’s certainly worth a read, especially for fans of the Beats.

–from The Poetry Foundation–



For Toni Keller

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by wedding 
planners, dieting, in shapewear,
dragging themselves in cute outfits through the freezer section for the semifreddo bender,
blessed innovative cloister girl pin-ups burning to know the rabbi of electricity in poverty, obedience, in the dream stick of opium and the green Wi-Fi fuse,
who marveling and cramping and wired and allergic lock themselves out of their apartments in the trenchant imperfect delight of early day,
who bared their minds to bar friends by the train in twilight and saw tiny figures like fireflies splendoring apartments Botoxed flat like canvas,
who passed through universities with sensual indulgence addicts 
devoted to the indefinite space of maps and science labs while the committees shifted paperwork,
who left the university from a numbing homesickness for the rez and the old alcoholic lover family father temper crack methamphetamine birdsong,
who galvanized in excitable need and microdermabrasioned took the lonely exit ramp on the nature, constitution, and forces of matter,
who failed their enzyme multiplied immunoassay technique not once but more than once because some guy came into her room talking about publishing, hash and vintage cardigans, drunk to the abdominals looking for speed crank coke & codeine,
who took Molly and mint and Motrin and methaqualone naked in the unhappy light of Saved by the Bell on the hotel flat screen,
with spring of 1924 beautiful imaginary wheat stalk wanderlust 
nylons travelhope,
not allowed to explore alleys or ride the rails or hitchhike either because of the magnetic pink and with all the years of training spread out boundless the rules and safety tiresome before them,
Paradise papery Wisconsin-Madison visionary blue green crosshatched for elevation maps baked wild open unspoiled lands of Lake Kivu & Congo, ardent delirious combustible desire to go astray rove stir evolve princesslike,
who busted out against parents’ wishes clattered cross-county in a Model T with another girl to see the iron pyrite fool’s gold The West and the finally wide open-legged Pacific zones,
who wrote letters anyway to old boyfriends before setting out on the breathless orange high desert confusion with gold carrying canvas buckets for the extra water for the car,
who talked all night in the tourist camps and were up with the sun and snappish with hunger,
the navigators in terror of the steep mountain road refreshing the radiator with water inhaling the rust steam fragrance of open road red oxygen metal and a lunar happiness,
whistlingsinging bowwowing mooing at the glamorous elations of altitude and the hayburner no handcuff no hush money open whangdoodle fiery western sky deposits of gold and silver lost stories gun-toting candlemaking dance hall prostitute stowaway freedoms not to mention ball bang bareback gamahuche cowboy,
who listened while the mechanic romanced over velocity and atonement die-stampings on sheet steel and drop forgings while the diner waitress ground out pies and pies and pies,
wandering nylons suffering while the word of engagements and new babies began its bone descent by mother’s phrasing and martini lunch date with the old school of the hot comb and the inner ear,
who broke up with boyfriends and walked tap heels on streets for dentist’s appointment a doctor’s appointment an interview a newspaper grocery dinner tomato,
who found the sublet which for what she was making she could 
afford but the roommate had trouble with rent alarm clock rooster 
cock boyfriend,
who saw her clothing was available in size 00 so it was time to disappear entirely,
who took a job selling print invitations to promoters where the desk was dusty with coke Aunt Mary Aunt Nora Aunt Hazel and also dust,
who took the cab to the Upper West Side to deliver the express mail package of rocks and rocks of powder for the boss in his high-ceilinged mirrored walls, comatose blonde sylph and suits of bright licorice acrylic fibers,
who watched the mistress arrayed in pelts panther drunk and ringed with minerals achieving her highest human form,
who leaving in the elevator sad at her scuffed boots of the underclass felt the mirror reflection of her mother repeating little lamb who made thee dost thou know,
who considered the elevator’s speculum dilating her cataract radioscope telescope manifestation,
who listened to the TODAY show while she Kindled exasperated on an exercise bike in the new pink Manhattan Island 22.7 square miles of dawn,
who carried her infant in a baby sling she designed herself out of thrift store fabrics,
who wept because caesarean was a term for last resort, having felt cheated by the dictionary of the pain of real meaning and deliverance of child into atmosphere,
who anyway flamed ardent and breathless in illuminated swinging as she sang lulling smooth neurons already waddling inside the babygirl’s palimpsest brain,
who watched the girl with highlights blow her boyfriend and then blew her boyfriend and then copulated analytically with a stranger waiter painter truck driver in a sorcery of forgetfulness,
who philosophized in the meadow flowers on her back to the sound of black flies stirring the leaves and let herself be touched by the rude one so she could see the show without paying and lost that beautiful little gold earring she’d never see the likes of it again,
who contemplated such disappointments again for the tenth time the twentieth thirtieth time the earrings whooshing the Cleopatra shouldered sighs the exchange while everywhere boys are having sex and playing basketball afterward and laughing,
who is up nights and days peeing restlessly endlessly with nothing but cranberry cranberry cranberry eucharist for the body’s 
unyielding sciences and the UTI of the Punishing Boy God who decided who wins,
who felt the embryo always crunching futures with crushing weight of the fixed decree by which the laws of the universe are prescribed the bitch of necessity the bitch of chance and the DNA overlord,
who drove her two babies wild into the lake to what she imagined was whiteness,
who from curiosity and an old curse tried the spinning wheel in the coldest room of the castle and spilled drops of blood on the snow, fell into a sleep that would last a hundred years, until, what else, a boy kisses her,
who lost her virginity to the three bad playing cards in cardboard plastic coated false love the slippery wet Jack of  Text Messages the forcible Jack of All Fours the odd can opener of need filled by the One-Eyed Jack who finally demystifies though it turns out not only slightly painful but truly unpleasant, followed by all the new information,
who tore at it with an honest brutal mad need stripping herself this once of the manicure of propriety and sweetheart headband of the high school dance for his long-form journalism of a cock and ferocious butcher meat smell,
who blonde as a lit match in Denver watched him enter and stare and took the stare not seeing yet inside the iris a splash of sweetened road that turned with pills magic grass breasts bridge rooftop roadside bedside blindside shenanigans honey,
who took iconic photographs on her Brownie camera recording two myths across the street from her house, arms around each other, C.C., secret hero of this poem, lover and marble statue muse, hot Dickens reader — props to the memory of her innumerable pots of spaghetti while the boys with shining minds could wander at night,
who blonde as an aristocrat felt him watch her withhold her soft imaginative thighs while another guilty child bride tumbled sweet on a trampoline it was intoxicating,
who fell deeply for his car thief  master love railroad seducer inhaled the marvelous heartbeat divine heat broke fed it and waited like the road was a closed door to the doctor’s office and Russell Street the anteroom of creation and love before it went mad haywire, if it ever would,
who made cacciatore with the chickens used in the Payne Whitney Clinic trials because they were 14 cents a pound,
who tired of Sheila and the Upper East Side waiting for revolution among porcelain and jumped out/through/out the window to mainline all seven stories, literally broke the window she wanted out that much,
who suffering as a muse in the limestone of ancient outlandish Tangier may have believed in God but even so wasn’t going to discuss it with a bop poet on the telephone,
who hymned the confusing magnetic pink lozenge and painted whore bluesy blue-note secret-love-note whole-note half-note passages bellydancing gentle hip sliding doumbek thrum belly counterpoint shimmyshimmywhimseyfuck,
who skirted her soul’s furnishings in the lazar house of man poetics, its closets filled with vests and ties,
who imprisoned for apostasy chained up delivered the child squallish and reddening into the ballot of time,
who studied painted photographed, raised children and pined, bought kreplach & Whopper Jrs dreaming of three square 
family kingdom of the push mower and powdered milk,
who rode the welfare road trip of pouring innumerable thermoses of coffee, feeling the freedom wind-in-your-hair of wrapping sandwiches in wax paper,
who studied and prayed and wrote in diaries and platinumed hair gleamed gloved hands stewed rabbit in blood and wine like a priest and shot the baby out in blood over everything,
who worked stable and domestic and artful and innovative and sacrificed nothing, fig trees excitedly massively blossoming not that one that disappointed Jesus for not ripening,
who star-spangled lost in her housebound Eden cursed with orchards and a million gossipy daffodils, writing & nursing & not on the lists as he dipped a pen quite elsewhere repeatedly, crying purring the distance openmouthed,
who burned her novel this actually happened destroyed a second Bell Jar dedicated to him call her impossible but the leap from it must have been split-second maddening rapturous,
who blew him three times and then his friend because it was hard to say no when you say no nobody likes you as much when you say yes or even whatever you are loved into momentary relevance existence,
who begged twenty dollars from each friend to pay for a secret abortion, her man needing the child but not her to show his father manliness by imperialism of the womb and eventual abandonment like any suburban mall,
who protested the clinic shouting who themselves got abortions at that same clinic (they had to, don’t tell their husbands) came back and then protested again for the unborn (but they can’t afford another child) but it should be illegal for the poor, this article was in Esquire of all places, America where is your logic,
who stained the host’s linens mad crimson lipstick boy-crazy stigmata 
her animal flesh gash her crown of suburban thorns completely honest about need,
who sketched the body tangible medical painted portraits and lived inside,
who should have been on the road but for the uterus repeatedly 
renewing its lease convincing energy affirmative right honey that’s right honey right there,
who gave a light touch delicate hand beautiful chisel cheek blonde wave Mother Image Madwoman chick and ignu driving inward toward an isolated, lonely peace,
who brewed serious coffee during the murder and scrambled eggs while disposing of the body, the detective as best man and 
silence thereafter, still unpublished,
who hid his shoes hating to but still he left her for Colt 45 malt liquor Johnnie Walker Falstaff Beer,
and lived the biography filled however with biographies of the others for which she made a home flashbulbed in silver their likenesses and tried love in living room, attic, slanted redeemable love their fingers articulated like saints,
who after the understandable and recognizable desire loveshape would then expand, against his will and this was a shame, this lie abandonment anger congenital analgesia against hope plan bugout for ten years,
returning in her saffron clothes her flat dimension the mother saint devotion song of spiritual angers lovingly pressed into an incense cone of spirituality, her image carved by apostles among the lonely 
goat forgotten sheep infant in cozy rags framed by any window to be honored in her eternal loneliness,
Amherst’s Evergreens’ First Congregational’s cupola and conservatory hothouse echoing pure song and archway and hymnal 
restraint, Daisy who bends her smaller life to his in her fenced-in field within which the horse can gallop wildly as she likes, grieve her your best girl
with a still, restrained, almost annoyed sigh, what voice in what 
wilderness, minutest cricket, most unworthy flower I will never be tired — I will never be noisy I will be your best little girl — 
nobody else will see me, but you — but that is enough — limitlessness, wilt thou say,
ah, ladies, good night, good night, good night ladies —
and who therefore know the biology of the soft matter and the cluster of creation in its salty stellar lonely archive is matched by the sweet violence of thought,
who transubstantiated across the desert with both of them finally under the deep clear her blonde beauty and the celestial betrayals arrayed stellar, Andromeda chained naked to a rock, the Pleiades shedding to doves to stars,
to recreate young artists’ castling brains over the mountain’s whelp of monks in open out-of-bodies absolute ascent,
the madgirl and saint unrecognized and writing madrigal in bedroom and recipe in library and songs during class and sketching 
sunflowers for what’s left of us,
and remains magnified sanctified we should be allowed Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba Acanthus whorled and dense and impossibly real multiplying in fields an abundance of sunflowers serious beauty,
with blooming, ridiculous with blooming, arriving and opening in endless profusion forever.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2015).

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