Not long after meeting Carr, Ginsberg wrote to his brother and said, "I plan to go down to Greenwich Village with a friend of mine who claims to be an intellectual, and knows queer and interesting people. I plan to get drunk, if I can" (Hyde, 89).
It was while Ginsberg was attending Columbia University that he realized, for the first time as an adult, his sexual orientation as a homosexual. In a letter to his brother Eugene, Allen stated that he had "accumulated a modest number of close friends, some neurotic, some insane, some political." He placed these friends in categories of social standing -- "the madmen and artists from Greenwich Village and Columbia," such as Kerouac and Carr; the "sensitive youths and young intellectuals," mostly composed of his "normal" classmates at school, and lastly, a group of other classmates whom he had daily contact with, such as his roommates (Schumacher, 189).
Thus, from these three groups, Ginsberg's personal identity came about which influenced his own future and that of society, namely, American culture, style, values and even consciousness, all of which were soon to be exploited in a number of controversial and powerful literary outpourings.
Of course, the group in which Lucien Carr belonged was dedicated to literally destroying the traditional values of ordinary society which they saw as very hypocritical and unbending. As a result of this highly unusual viewpoint, considering that it was still the mid-1940's, Carr and his close-knit circle of friends, including Ginsberg, decided to live their lives free of hypocrisy and guided by the "idea of living in a transient world of phenomena with everyone lost in a dream world of their own creation" which ultimately served as the basis for the "Beat Generation." Not surprisingly, the method of execution which this group choose to express their radical ideas was literature, and one of the writers that most influenced them was Arthur Rimbaud, the radical French poet of the late 19th century who believed that all artists must be seers and live without any kind of social or political restraints.
For Rimbaud, art and literature was the ultimate mode of self-expression, and when the "Beat Generation" picked up on this philosophical tenet, they became the spokesmen for an entire generation of Americans which, by the mid-1950's, had infiltrated every aspect of American culture and was to lead to what has come to be called the "Counterculture" of the 1960's, a time when young people from all walks of life became non-conformists and lived as they saw fit without any concern for how traditional society viewed them.
When Lucien Carr was arrested for the murder of David Kammerer in 1944, Ginsberg found himself in throes of self-examination, due to the fact that Ginsberg was in love with Carr. As a way of easing the pain for his loss of his best friend, Ginsberg attempted to entice Jack Kerouac into a homosexual union, but Kerouac dismissed it and made it clear that he had no intentions of sleeping with Ginsberg. But the two men did remain close and vibrant friends and shared the desire to become great writers and forever alter American culture in order to make it "more open, candid and spontaneous and more receptive to one's personal vision and expression; in short, to create a new American culture where unacceptable behavior was accepted and endorsed" (Merrill, 215).
At this point, Ginsberg experienced the first of many disappointments in his life, for when Bill Lancaster, Allen's roommate, told the Dean of Columbia University what was occurring in his dorm room, Ginsberg was summarily expelled from the university. Ginsberg then commenced to live on the street within the very atmosphere from which his first inklings of wanting to change American culture sprang. He then moved into an apartment owned by Joan Vollmer, located on New York City's upper West Side. The environment within this apartment was nothing short of mind numbing -- Kerouac was living there and William Burroughs could often be found lingering about. Not long after moving into this apartment, Ginsberg began to hang out with Burroughs who enticed him to explore the criminal scene in and around Times Square.
Ginsberg then began to openly explore the cultural miasma of Times Square and his own homosexuality. According to John Tytell in his Naked Angels: Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, the following scenario sums up what Ginsberg's life was like during this rather tumultuous period during the mid to late 1940's:
Burroughs and Ginsberg haunted the bars and sided up with hoodlums, crooks, prostitutes and drug dealers. Burroughs took on the role of a fence via the receiving and selling of stolen merchandise. One time, Burroughs managed to obtain a box full of Syrettes, single-dose morphine syringes, and wanting to get rid of them, he came into contact with Herbert Huncke, a low-life thief, pimp and junky, who quickly bought the morphine. Huncke then showed Burroughs how to inject the morphine and while stoned began to roll and beat up drunks in the subways; Burroughs wrote most of this down which served as the basis for his novel Junky. Ginsberg did not take part in this activity, yet he did come to know Huncke. It was through this shady character that Benzedrine was taken to Vollmer's apartment, where Ginsberg and his cohorts starting shooting up" (215).
The events that transpired between 1945 and 1956, the year that Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems was published, are so thickly overlaid with situations and occurrences that it seems fitting to sum up these years chronologically. In 1946, Ginsberg met his longtime companion Neal Cassady and returned to Columbia University. In January of 1947, William Burroughs and Joan Vollmer moved to Texas with the intent of growing marijuana and was soon joined by Huncke.
In July, Ginsberg paid a visit to Cassady in Denver, Colorado and both soon embarked on a journey to visit Burroughs and Vollmer. Not long after this, Ginsberg joined the merchant marines but returned to New York City only two months later, being greatly disillusioned by life in the military. In 1948, Ginsberg, while under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, experiences an audio-visual dream of English poet William Blake reading his poetry; Blake just happened to be one of Ginsberg's favorite poets.
In 1949, Huncke moved into Ginsberg's apartment and uses it as a storehouse for stolen merchandise. In April, Ginsberg is arrested for allegedly playing a role in the stolen merchandise ring. In court, he pleads insanity and is placed in the Columbia Psychiatric Institute, where he encounters Carl Solomon. In 1950, Ginsberg was released from the hospital and quickly moved in with his father and step-mother in Paterson, New Jersey, where he vainly attempts to hold down a progression of "normal" jobs and curtail his homosexual tendencies by "going straight." On March 30, 1950, Ginsberg attends a lecture given by American poet and short story writer William Carlos Williams and is deeply affected by what he hears.
In 1951, Ginsberg urges his friend and sometime sexual partner Jack Kerouac to seek a publisher for his narrative epic On The Road. In 1952, Ginsberg experiences his first contact with peyote (mescaline). In 1953, Ginsberg urges Burroughs to publish Junkie which comes to pass. After this, Burroughs moved in with Ginsberg and the they soon became lovers, but by December, the relationship sours and Ginsberg ends his sexual relations with Burroughs. The year 1954 was a pivotal time for Ginsberg, for it was when he moved to San Francisco and met and fell in love with Peter Orlovsky. In San Francisco, Ginsberg became "enlightened" and began the first and last parts of his epic poem "Howl."
At a special reading by British poet W.H. Auden, Ginsberg became acquainted with "Beat" poet Michael McClure of San Francisco who asked Ginsberg to read his "Howl" at the Six Gallery. With Jack Kerouac "roaming about the audience with a jug of wine which he freely offered to anyone who would take it" (Portuges, 122), Ginsberg began to recite the poem and by its end, he was in tears and the audience exploded into rapturous applause.
As some in the audience remarked, it seemed as though Ginsberg had presented poetry as it had never been done before, a "visceral expedition into the culture and consciousness of America...which gave Ginsberg worldwide recognition and a career as a poet, prophet, teacher, and catalyst for revolutionary changes in American culture for the rest of his life" (Sanders, 221).
Before commencing on a literary critic of "Howl," one important event must be covered. In October of 1956, the first printing of the poem went through customs and the second printing was confiscated in March of 1957. One month later, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the legality of the confiscation and as…