Some literary classics achieve canonization without a fight. Others must tie on the boxing gloves. The twentieth century owns an ignominious history of challenging, censoring, and banning some of its paramount literary creations. Ulysses was banned in the United States for over a decade before it found wide readership and literary acclaim. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer met a similar fate. The book was banned for roughly thirty years before being exonerated and declared not to be obscene.
This day in 1957 a poem fell victim. United States Customs officials seized 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl on the basis of the poem’s alleged obscenity. A year and half earlier, Ginsberg’s reading of the poem in San Francisco served as the seminal moment for the Beat Generation. The obscenity trial hit the courtroom in October 1957. The charges were summarily dropped as numerous participating scholars and critics attested to the literary merits of Howl.
Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography