Reed College Howls With Landmark Recording by Beat Poet

February 12, 2008

Reed College’s archives have turned up a true gem of 20th-century poetry history, a high-quality recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his epochal long poem, “Howl,” that was taped a few months before it was published and became the subject of a landmark obscenity trial.

The recording was made on reel-to-reel tape in front of a group of students in a Reed dormitory lounge in February 1956, during Ginsberg’s visit to the college on a hitchhiking trip with a fellow poet, Gary Snyder, a 1951 Reed graduate.

Mark Kuestner, a special-collections librarian at Reed, and John Suiter, a Boston-based literary scholar, discovered the tape last summer in Reed’s archives while Mr. Suiter was preparing a biography of Mr. Snyder, who is an emeritus professor of English at the University of California at Davis. Ginsberg died in 1997.

Mr. Suiter reports in an article to appear in Reed’s alumni magazine that it is the earliest known recording of Ginsberg reading parts of the seminal Beat Generation work. Details of what he says in introducing his work were reported today in The Oregonian.

Samples of the recording are scheduled to be played on Wednesday, the 51st anniversary of Ginsberg’s visit to Reed, at an event on the campus. The whole 35-minute recording, which includes large parts of “Howl” along with seven other poems, will be posted Friday on the college’s Web site. —Peter Monaghan