Ginsberg’s Howl on Trial – Sixty Four Year Ago
It was on March 25th 1957 that US Customs confiscated five-hundred-and-twenty copies of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, a collection of poetry Ginsberg recently had published.
That was sixty-four years ago. US Customs had claimed that Ginsburg’s collection of poetry was obscene. Their intent was to ultimately destroy the volumes. To do so, however, required that they prove in court that such was justifiable. Luckily, the publisher, City Limits, had already solicited the services of the ACLU. Foreseeing a long court battle, Customs dropped the charges, and allowed the books to be exported.
That said, this did not prevent San Francisco police, shortly after the customs incident, to arrest employees of the publisher, again charging them with violating State and local laws involving obscenity. This time it did go to court and the Judge in the case ruled in favor of the publisher and their employees. The judge declared in fact that the poem, Howl, which was both a poem and the title of the collection, was of “redeeming social importance”.
The details above originate in an Allen Ginsberg Project post dating back to 2017, but was referenced this past Thursday on Facebook, exactly 64 years since the original incident. And all of this is detailed likewise in Bill Morgan & Nancy J. Peters book, Howl on Trial, the Battle for Free Expression, which was appropriately published by City Lights.