The Book That Changed My Life: Part Three

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Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” didn’t just arrive — it burst onto the American poetry scene almost 50 years ago. The poem was included in a pocket sized book that cost just 75 cents. It immediately caught the attention of poets with its dazzling energy, and it’s repetitious, chant-like phrases.

“Howl” became something of an anthem for the Beat generation. Its sexually explicit language challenged the literary and social mores of the day, and critics tried to censor it. But in the end, the literary critic Helen Vendler said the writer Alan Ginsberg was, “responsible for loosening the breath of American poetry.”

For Mark Doty and Jason Shinder, the two poets who join me this hour “Howl” also loosened the breath of politics, homosexuality, drugs and America itself.


Mark Doty, author of numerous books of poetry including “Source” and “My Alexandria” as well as the memoir, “Heaven’s Gate.” He teaches Literature at the University of Houston.

Jason Shinder, editor of the forthcoming book, “Howl: Fifty Years Later,” founder of the YMCA National Writer’s Voice, and author of numerous books including “Among Women.”