I’m With You Carl Solomon… ‘Howl’ and Other Poems by Ben Lee, initiates a conversation surrounding Howl stating that Howl is a poem that predicts forthcoming events by tracking the past. Lee opens this conversation with a quote from Walter Benjamin, that compares a flower following the sun “rising in the sky of history” to Ginsberg’s writing. This quote prepares readers for the opinions that will be presented later in the essay. A focus in Lee’s essay is to elaborate on the idea of forward versus backward thinking with Ginsberg’s use of repetition. This essay will address the issue of redundancy in Ginsberg’s poem, as well as address Lee’s reaction to it. One of Lee’s focuses throughout his essay, is the effect that Ginsberg’s upbringing had on his writing. His mother was an outspoken dedicated communist and Ginsberg met Carl Solomon, another communist, in 1949 and there was an instant connection because of this background. Lee says, “Solomon shared Ginsberg’s Jewish and New York-New Jersey childhood, and his memories of pre-Cold War idealism and collectivity.” (Lee 372). Because of this connection, Carl Solomon and his mother had an influence on Ginsberg’s writing and his life. Ginsberg was notorious for his “deep attachment to the ideals and organizations of the prewar left,” just as his mother and Carl Solomon were (Lee 371). Solomon and Ginsberg’s mother appear at a repetitive and sobering moment in the poem. The repetition of, “I’m with you in Rockland…” indicates that Ginsberg feels the pain and suffering that the men and women who are institutionalized are going through (Ginsberg 24). The repetition, when heard aloud, adds a solemn and heartbreaking tone to the poem, that captures readers and makes it clear what is really going on in the hospitals.
Lee substantiates his argument by using multiple examples ranging from Ginsberg’s past experiences to examining the poem itself. His case for repetition is that the “relative pronoun ‘who’ becomes interrogative, and the form of Ginsberg’s poem subtly undermines the notion that generations break away cleanly, defining themselves through their clear difference from the past.” (Lee 383). The idea that this quote from Lee’s essay presents is that, while the repetition of the word “who” may be building a steady forward momentum, it is not, in actuality, doing anything to move the poem forward. Instead of giving the poem an accelerating thrust into the future, the poem is relatively stagnant stranding readers in the past. Because readers already understand that repetition is keeping them in the past, Lee’s arguments, while well-developed and clear, become tedious by focusing on points that are redundant to those who have read Howl. His elaboration on these points is explicit, in that readers already understand that the poem has a backtracking motion to it. If one focuses on what was written, it is apparent that Ginsberg is looking back to events he has seen and dealt with throughout his life. This idea does not seem to present any new information to readers who have fully grasped the understanding of the poem. This causes a redundancy in Lee’s essay itself, leaving readers to question what point he is trying to make. Another issue that occurs in Lee’s essay is that his writing has a tendency of going off on tangents. This occurs at several points in the essay, but one specifically relates to his discussion of Carl Solomon’s impact on Ginsberg’s writing and life. Solomon is first introduced in Lee’s essay on page 372, and Lee continues to discuss nothing but Solomon for the following two pages. He ends a section of the poem on a two-page discussion of Solomon, leaving readers questioning who and what the essay is actually discussing. Lee makes small correlations between Solomon and Ginsberg in this section, at one point mentioning Ginsberg to discuss his, “faith in
the eventual return of left collectivity.” (Lee 373). And in the last sentence of the section Lee significantly mentions Ginsberg, in an attempt to bring it full circle. When relating Solomon’s and Ginsberg’s work, Lee says, “In Ginsberg’s poems of the 1950s, such melancholic attachments to the Old Left generate even greater rhetorical energy.” (Lee 374). However, I found myself confused at the beginning of page 375, questioning whether Lee’s essay is about Ginsberg and his poems, or Solomon and how he influenced Ginsberg. Because of this, Lee’s essay seems to send readers on a goose chase, through a maze we have seen before, but the course has been slightly altered. He presents readers with ideas that were already understood, and elaborates in confusing ways that seem to go off on tangents that never end. While I do agree that the redundancy throughout Howl keeps the poem standing still, as though Ginsberg is standing still on a street corner in a busy city watching all of this go by, Lee has the same problem with his writing. His essay, while focusing on an issue that was explicit all along, focuses heavily on past influences in Ginsberg’s life that restricts his essay from moving substantially forward. His essay, just as Ginsberg’s poem, is stuck in a hole of an analysis of the past. Reading Lee’s essay only further emphasized the ideas that were already established.
Works Cited Lee, Ben. “’Howl’ and Other Poems: Is There Old Left in These New Beats?” American Literature. 76.2 (2004): 367-389. Print.
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1959. Print.