Friday, January 16, 2009

Howl On Trial or The Constitution and 9 11

Howl On Trial: The Battle for Free Expression

Author: Bill Morgan

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, with nearly one million copies in print, City Lights presents the story of editing, publishing, and defending Allen Ginsberg's landmark poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

This collection begins with an introduction by publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who shares his memories of hearing "Howl" first read at the 6 Gallery, of his arrest, and the subsequent legal defense of Howl's publication. Never-beforepublished correspondence of Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, and others provides an in-depth commentary on the poem's ethi-cal intent and its social significance to the author and his contemporaries. A section on the public reaction to the trial includes newspaper reportage, op-ed pieces by Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, and letters to the editor from the public, which provide fascinating background material on the cultural climate of the mid-1950s. A timeline of literary censorship in the United States places this battle for free expression in a historical context.

Also included are photographs, transcripts of relevant trial testimony, Judge Clayton Horn's decision and its ramifications, and a long essay by Albert Bendich, the ACLU attorney who defended Howl on constitutional grounds. Editor Bill Morgan discusses more recent challenges to Howl in the late 1980s and how the fight against censorship continues today in new guises.

Publishers Weekly

For the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, the poet's archivist and biographer Morgan and City Lights publisher Peters, and City Lights was Howl's original publisher) have assembled this intermittently fascinating collection of documents, mostly related to the book's obscenity trial in San Francisco in 1957. These documents provides a coherent narrative of the composition of the poem, as well as the prosecution of publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti and one of his City Lights employees and their eventual exoneration. The poet's letters discussing the publication of his book are often illuminating, particularly the massive letter to John Hollander that dissects every element of Howl, but not all the correspondence is equally interesting. Similarly, the lengthy trial transcript is entertaining at times, but would have benefited from being rendered into prose and excerpted appropriately. The book is certainly useful as a reference tool for those researching Ginsberg or obscenity law, and will interest Ginsberg completists, but this isn't a smooth read for a general audience. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

William Gargan - Library Journal

A fitting tribute to Howlon its 50th anniversary, this casebook reprints Allen Ginsberg's (1926–97) landmark poem and collects important sources related to the obscenity trial that followed the 1957 sale of Howl & Other Poemsat Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. Biographer Morgan (I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg) and City Lights Books publisher Peters include newspaper articles on the case; never-before-published correspondence from Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and others; significant excerpts from the trial transcript; and Judge Clayton M. Horn's decision exonerating the book. David Perlman's "How Captain Hanrahan Made Howla Best-Seller" and ACLU lawyer Albert M. Bendich's "Fifty Years of City Lights" are among the essays featured. Morgan's concluding piece, "The Censorship Battle Continues," criticizes current Federal Communications Commission regulations that keep Howlfrom being read on the air and emphasizes the need for continued vigilance to protect free speech. With chronologies for Howland "Milestones of Literary Censorship"; highly recommended.

Robert SaundersonCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information. - School Library Journal

Adult/High School
This compilation of essays, correspondence, court transcripts, memoirs, newspaper accounts, and photographs concerning the 1956 publication of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems adds up to a fascinating account of one of the most significant cases of censorship in U.S. history. The editors do a superb job of setting the stage leading to the court case and of providing thoughtful testimony to its lasting importance. Among the many helpful features: a chronology of Howl the book and Howl the case; another of censorship in general; reproductions of several San Francisco Chronicle articles, editorials, and letters to the editor; and the complete text of the poem. By far, though, the most compelling parts of the book are the "Howl Letters" and large sections of the official transcript from the 1957 trial. Most of the correspondence is between Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but there are letters to and/or from Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, Louis Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady. These letters provide a window into the meaning and significance of Ginsberg's great poem. Besides Ginsberg and the chief defense lawyer, J. W. Ehrlich, the other person who shines brightly in these pages is Ferlinghetti, a longtime champion of free expression. This book is a gold mine for reports on censorship, especially those in need of primary-source material.

Kirkus Reviews

A fascinating assortment of material-newspaper articles, transcripts, photographs, letters from the principals, commentary-on the 1957 obscenity trial in San Francisco that pitted the "people" against City Lights, the bookshop that published and sold Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems. The poem that occasioned it all (and Ginsberg's related work, "Footnote to Howl") appears early in this engaging and at times astonishing volume. And it's not hard to see why some procrustean mid-'50s folk found the poems offensive: Naughty words and allusions to sexual intimacies and street life abound. As the editors explain, Howl was first grabbed by vigilant Customs officers (it was printed abroad), then by San Francisco cops who, disguised as patrons, bought a copy at City Lights. Some will be surprised to learn that Ginsberg was never arrested or charged; only City Lights owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his unfortunate clerk were booked and fingerprinted. After a brief trial (no jury) that included expert testimony from literary luminaries Mark Schorer, Walter Van Tilburg Clark and Kenneth Rexroth (all for the defense), Judge Clayton W. Horn declared, "I do not believe that Howl is without redeeming social importance." Highlights of the trial transcript (sadly, only excerpted here) include testy exchanges and struggles to explain how Howl differs from the Book of Job. Among the most intriguing pieces are reprints from the San Francisco Chronicle, which immediately recognized the free-speech, free-press issues at stake. Morgan (Ginsberg's longtime archivist and author of an upcoming biography of the writer) and Peters (publisher of City Lights) have provided some useful chronologies and someprobably superfluous warnings about today's family-values crusaders. Ferlinghetti himself, now in his mid-80s, offers a feisty, if hyperbolic, Introduction. The anti-climactic material that follows the judge's opinion might have found a happier home in an appendix. A volume that will appeal to all who cherish their right to read uncensored the outpourings of the human heart.

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The Constitution and 9/11: Recurring Threats to Americaa

Author: Louis Fisher

The announced purpose of U.S. antiterrorist policies after 9/11 was to bring democracy and the rule of law to the Middle East. At home, those values were regularly threatened by illegal, unconstitutional, secret, and unaccountable programs. The Bush administration claimed that terrorists hate America for its freedoms, yet its actions jeopardized those freedoms and brought the reputation of the United States lower in the eyes of the world.

Government surveillance. Suspension of habeas corpus. Secret tribunals. Most Americans would recognize these controversial topics from today's headlines. Unfortunately, as Louis Fisher reminds us, such violations of freedom have been with us throughout our history—and continue to threaten the Constitution and the rights that it protects.

Distilling more than two centuries of history into a panoramic and compelling narrative, Fisher chronicles the longstanding tension between protecting our constitutional rights and safeguarding national security, from the Whiskey Rebellion to the McCarthy hearings to George W. Bush's "War on Terror." Along the way, he raises crucial questions regarding our democracy's ongoing tug-of-war between secrecy and transparency, between expediency and morality, and between legal double-talk and the true rule of law.

Fisher focuses especially on how the Bush administration's responses to 9/11 have damaged our constitutional culture and values, threatened individual liberties, and challenged the essential nature of our government's system of checks and balances. His close analysis of five topics—the resurrection of military tribunals, the GuantŠ±namo detainees, the state secrets privilege, NSA surveillance,and extraordinary rendition—places into sharp relief the gradual but relentless erosion of fundamental rights along with an enormous expansion and concentration of presidential power in the post-9/11 era.

For Fisher, the Constitution's strength as a guarantor of freedom and rights is only as sound and reliable as our own commitment to the values it describes. Each generation of Americans is asked in essence: do you want a republic or a monarchy? Benjamin Franklin, of course, famously responded: "A republic, if you can keep it." Fisher's book reminds us of the political principles we need to rediscover to keep our nation free.

Steven Puro - Library Journal

Fisher (Constitutional Conflicts Between Congress and the President) analyzes the crisis in U.S. civil liberties created by presidential decisions since 9/11 and connects them to a broad legal and historical analysis of presidential authority going back to the Whiskey Rebellion and the Alien and Sedition Acts in the 1790s. His concern: internal damage to U.S. constitutional values and to our system of checks and balances in times of crisis or perceived crisis. Fisher gives special attention to governmental limitations placed on the civil liberties of the vulnerable, that is, "undesirable," groups, e.g., the Japanese during World War II. He makes his goal clear: "By reviewing the periods where America falls short of its...standards, my hope is to rededicate the commitment to values that enrich us and benefit the world community." Fisher finds that Presidents, especially the current President and the executive domestic limitations his administration has imposed, have historically created a greater threat to U.S. citizens' civil liberties than have perceived potential external threats. To maintain democratic values, Fisher believes that individuals and public officials must critically question executive actions. A well-supported history and analysis, especially for public libraries, this wide-ranging and informative book is highly recommended.

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