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Best Obscure 1950s Beat History Site 

Where "Howl" Was Premiered to the World

Having seen the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, bus-station baggage handler and struggling poet Allen Ginsberg wrote a protest poem with a working title of "Howl for Carl Solomon." He first publicly performed a piece of the unfinished poem across the Bay in October 1955 in a San Francisco art gallery/former gas station. Shortly afterward, Ginsberg moved to Milvia Street in Berkeley and continued to work on this and other poems, sometimes upstairs at Caffe Mediterraneum, a Telegraph Avenue coffee shop that served an exotic, high-powered coffee drink called espresso. Finally, on March 18, 1956, Ginsberg was ready to publicly perform the long poem with a shortened title (now just "Howl"). As described by Gary Snyder, who also read that night, the event took place at "a little theater on Shattuck, next to a bowling alley and down the street from a moving company." There the small-but-raucous audience, surrounded by panoramic drawings of an orgy by painter Robert LaVigne, heard the complete "Howl" as well as the premieres of "Sunflower Sutra" and "America." A recording of the event, made on a reel-to-reel machine, has been in print for half a century and is still considered the definitive audio version of the poem. The entire first edition of Howl & Other Poems was confiscated and its publisher arrested for obscenity; the 520 copies of the book weren't released until a judge's acquittal on October 3, 1957.

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