Ginsberg's poetry with its exhilarating openness of subject and form and visionary qualities owes much to a tradition stretching back through Walt Whitman to William Blake. Added to this are influences from his Jewish background, the rhythms of jazz, his sexual orientation and his deep engagement with Zen Buddhism. His public performances were legendary, his friend Herbert Gold described him as "an Olympic-class ranter". We're delighted to be able to present several of Ginsberg's most famous poems in the Archive. The first of these, 'America', is an amazing rendition in front of a live audience recorded in 1956 - Ginsberg's irrepressible humour delight his audience even as his poem enumerates reasons to despair with contemporary American culture. The same target is evident in 'A Supermarket in California' with its garish neon light and piles of consumer goods. In this unlikely setting Ginsberg encounters Garcia Lorca and Walt Whitman, making explicit the poetic mantle he wished to inherit. This studio recording is clear and more meditative in quality. Finally, in its 50th anniversary year, you can listen to Part II of 'Howl'. Here the mood darkens, 'America' has become 'Moloch' the name of the Canaanite god to whom child sacrifice was made. The humour has gone, replaced by a prophet-like anger and anguish. Although the sound quality is quite muffled the recording is unique, made at a public performance only a year after 'Howl' was published and capturing Ginsberg's electrifying effect on an audience.
The recording of 'A Supermarket in California' was made in 1956 at the Pacifica Studios, Berkeley, California. 'America' was also recorded in 1956, whilst the recording of 'Howl: Part 2' is from the private collection of Ginsberg and Harry Redl and was made at Town Hall Theatre, Berkeley, California.