HOWL turns 50, and we can still hear Ginsburg's voice, howling across time. I wonder if it would be possible for a single poem to have such a deep impact today. I doubt it; we have so many sources of information now--hundreds of tv stations, millions of websites--our minds are pulled in so many different directions; I think it would be hard for one poem to take root, to change the culture, the way HOWL did. Media was simpler then, less diffuse; also, there was more room to revolutionize language--the Beats did things with words that hadn't been done before. Of course there is always room for revolution, for evolution, but at this point, language has been turned inside out, upside down, explored from every angle. There aren't as many traditions to smash now. I imagine technology is providing the new creative frontier, the new howling space.
When I was getting my MFA, I took an amazing seminar on ancient cuneiform poetry with Cass Dalglish. She talked about how cuneiform can be read in many different ways--each symbol has multiple potential meanings, and the reader thus has a lot of freedom; the text itself becomes a fluid, living thing, rather than something fixed. It is open to interpretation. She gave us each clay and reeds, and we wrote our own cuneiform poetry in the style of Enhedduana, the writer of the first signed text (she wrote a hymn to the goddess Inanna 4,000 years ago.) As we drug the reeds through the red clay, forming ambiguous curves and lines, Cass Dalglish told us that hypertext is bringing back that same multi-layered way of reading--reading on the computer has become less linear than reading on the page; we click on links that take us to new places; we make associative leaps that aren't possible with the printed word. I find this so interesting. Perhaps the next HOWL will be more like a chorus, a melding of the human voice with the technology that amplifies it, that multiplies it. I am in love with the bare human voice, the bare printed page, but the possibilities of hypertext are very exciting.
Speaking of technology, I have my computer back. Yay! It's fast and clean and it feels so good against my fingertips, the balls of my hands.