Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

Going Overboard

I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, though I should probably give it another shot one of these days, since my tastes have changed a good bit since the last time I gave him a try. But even if I don’t end up liking him, there’s no denying that he’s one of the major poetic forces of the latter half of the 20th century. But he’s not this big.

It is no exaggeration to say that the dynamic rhythmic momentum of “Howl” led to rap and hip-hop.

Let me preface what I’m about to say by noting that this is a throwaway line at the end of a paragraph discussing the way Ginsberg performed his poetry, and that the author of this piece, John Tytell, doesn’t follow this up and try to make an affirmative argument in favor of this idea.

Which is just as well, because it’s patently ludicrous. In fact, I’d suggest it’s far more likely that Ginsberg was influenced by the jazz rhythms he was aping than it was that hip-hop pioneers were influenced by “Howl.” And I would hope that Ginsberg would be similarly horrified at such a suggestion.

It’s not just a ludicrous suggestion, though. It’s a bit offensive since the statement, whether Tytell intends it this way or not, traces the lineage of the most vibrant and influential musical and artistic movement to come out of the African-American community since jazz to…a white male poet. Not a good move. It’s an act of gross appropriation.

And the really dumb thing here is that there’s just no point in it. Ginsberg’s reputation would not be diminished one iota by leaving that sentence out, and neither would Tytell’s. (On a side note, I wonder where the editor was on this one, too.) Like I said, it’s a throwaway line. And boy oh boy, should Tytell or his editor have thrown it away.

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January 31, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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