Professors howl on quad


Professors Eric Ruckh and Jeffery Skoblow on the quadOn October 7th 12:30pm 2011 two SIUE professors took to the quad armed only with a small bongo drum and two copies of a poem that had been charged with obscenity 56 years earlier–the bongo: irrelevant to this story; the poem: “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. Taking their stance on grassy knoll Eric Ruckh, associate professor of historical studies, and Jeffery Skoblow, professor of English language and literature, faced the crowd and began to read.

This year marked the fifth annual reading of Ginsberg’s poem at SIUE. The reading is a celebration of the first public reading of “Howl” back on October 7th 1955. Ruckh and Skoblow also made a point to comment that this reading also commemorated the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan.

“It’s a crucial poem of the twentieth century,” Ruckh explained.

The poem is considered to be an early salvo of the rebellion of the 1960’s. “Howl” is a critical commentary on what Ginsberg believed to be many of the fallacies in American capitalistic society. Upon it’s release, the book was labeled as obscene literature with Lawerence Ferlinghetti (the original publisher) and Shigyoshi Murao (the manager at the bookstore where it was first released) being arrested for distribution.

“Howl” consists of four major sections–three that were part of the original performance piece, and a footnote that was added afterward. The first part depicts the struggle of artistic communities at the time of Allen’s writing. The second part characterizes industrial society as a terrifying deity known as Moloch. The third part brings the first two parts to a close, bridging the two themes. Finally, the footnote declares all things are holy, commenting further on the nature of industrial society as well as the decaying artistic culture within that society.

The decision to mark the anniversary of the poem’s first reading came about when Skoblow experienced Ruckh reading it to one of his classes. The two felt that “Howl” was a very powerful piece and one that was relevant in today’s political climate. The reading first began in classrooms but ultimately moved to more public settings so that more students could be exposed to the reading.

Skoblow and Ruckh belive that the shift to more public settings helps to emphasize Ginsbergh’s point that if you see something wrong in the world you can’t remain quiet. Rather you need to go out and howl about it.

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