Introduction to Howl, the Sudbury Sutra Edition/Lincoln-Sudbury Students Re-write the poem, 2001


Few people remember, and fewer ever knew, that Allen Ginsberg once lived in Sudbury, Massachusetts. In 1938, Louis Ginsberg, a high school English teacher, and the father of the future Beat poet, moved his family from Passaic, New Jersey, to bucolic Sudbury. They lived in the town for almost exactly one year, a sabbatical year for Louis, and then returned to New Jersey. Why Louis chose Sudbury is a story in itself, but not important here. What is important is that young Allen spent a year at the old Ephraim Curtis Junior High School. It was there that Allen wrote the first drafts of the poem that would later become Howl, the poem that re-defined American poetry. Allen Ginsberg died in 1997, but it was only last year that these drafts surfaced in his voluminous literary archive. It was Columbia University curator John Mecklenberg who made the discovery. Describing one of the great moments in his career, Dr. Mecklenberg recalls, "I was cataloguing a few boxes of memorabilia from his childhood years, when all of a sudden..."

Okay, you're right, this never happened. But even if Allen Ginsberg never lived in Sudbury, he does, in a peculiar way, live on here.

For the past two years, a half-dozen students at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School have chosen to take on an extra-credit assignment: re-writing parts of Howl to reflect their L-S years, as experienced by them. The results are extraordinary. This compilation makes no claim to represent the best, most thoughtful, or even most creative work at the school. The poems are noteworthy, however, as an expression of student consciousness and sensibility. Herein, not so much the substance of their high school years is related, but rather the shape and texture. What did it feel like to be an L-S student at the turn of the millenium? Part of the answer can be found here.

What is amazing is how the example and form of Ginsberg's poem encouraged a varied group of students to give full-throated expression to their feelings about their school--and their lives. Among these poems are the words of more than one student known for his or her mild and laconic manner.

The pieces are offered anonymously, because the authors rightly feared that some of what they heard about or observed might be attributed to them. All references to teachers--pro, con, and otherwise--have also been expurgated.

One could do no better in introducing these versions of Howl than to repeat William Carlos Williams' own words of introduction to Ginsberg's original: "Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell." "I would only add: "and Heaven as well."

Bill Schechter
Lincoln-Subdury Regional High School
Sudbury, Ma.

February 1, 2001

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