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Remembering the Beats…

GinsbergsTim Schreier A scene from this weekend’s Howl! Festival. Below: The cover of “Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters.”
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Paul Rosenfeld, the critic, once wrote that, “Complex works of art speak not through individuals but ensembles.”  In the early 1940s, on the steps of Columbia University, the original members of what became known as the “Beat Generation” — Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs — would form such a group.

The early Beats would strike off in several directions, on paths that would volley between the coasts and across the world, but they often returned to the Lower East Side where they got their start, and where their contribution to modern culture is celebrated in events like the Howl! Festival, named for Ginsberg’s game-changing 1955 poem. Ginsberg would have turned 85 years old last week — sufficient reason to look again at the passage of the Beats through our neighborhood and the influence they left.

The cheap apartments in the East Village in the 1940’s and 1950’s and the bohemian coffee houses and bars of downtown were a fecund soil for creative energy and experimental art. Ginsberg had the deepest connections among the group: his mother Naomi had been raised on the Lower East Side.

“Although I’m sure they were drawn to downtown New York by the existing art scene, we also have to bear in mind they were drawn to that sector for the rent.  Which is why the art scene existed down there already,” said Kim Davis, associate editor of The Local and avid collector of bohemian literature. “The two things go together, artists and cheap rent, they converge.”
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Another Chance to Howl

Howl! festival: Art Around the Park.eastvillagedenizen A scene from last year’s Howl Festival.

Allen Ginsberg first moved to the East Village in October 1952, renting apartment 16 of 206 East Seventh Street, for which he paid $33.60 a month rent. He lived in the neighborhood for the rest of his life, staying in a number of tenements until his death in 1997.

This evening at 5, the eighth annual Howlfest kicks off in Tompkins Square Park with a reading of his epic poem “Howl” by a host of noted poets including John Giorno, Hettie Jones, and Ed Sanders. The reading will be emceed by Bob Holman of the Bowery Poetry Club. The reading should have added impact, as today would have been Ginsberg’s 85th birthday.

This annual extravaganza of local creative energy continues throughout the weekend with a full calendar of events. In addition to poetry, local musicians, dancers, actors and artists will all be presenting their work. Perhaps the world’s longest canvas will be erected on the park fence and you will have the opportunity of viewing 140 artists work on their creations in their section.

The beautiful weather forecast for the weekend is sure to draw crowds and you should head over to Tompkins Square to join in the celebration.