It was 57 years ago today that the Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl was seized by U.S. Customs agents on charges of obscenity (read Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times piece on the Howl trial). The resulting obscenities trial found its publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights, defeating the charges and scoring a victory for freedom of expression and, for that matter, indie publishing.
Part Cassandra myth, part legal thriller – obscenities trials have long been a personal obsession of mine. The list of bright minds who have endured them (James Joyce, Henry Miller, Allen Ginsburg, Lenny Bruce, Oscar Wilde and hundreds of others) is woefully long, especially for a country that does much of its world-beating in the name of free speech and the freedom of the press.
Mine is a simpatico born of self-important adolescent persecution fantasies – the neurotic cornerstone from I’ve chiseled the bedrock of my career. I began this process in earnest during my freshman year in high school when my English teacher realized that I was faking my “current event” assignments. Instead of paraphrasing newspaper articles as instructed, I made up the news entirely. In my opinion, this was a more creative exercise. In lieu of a gold star, however, I received detention.