Why did many writers—mainstream as well as countercultural—take a shine to “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem, which famously begins, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked”? This new collection of appreciations strives to uphold the importance of the poem that romanticized “angelheaded hipsters,” battled Moloch, “whose blood is running money!,” and otherwise deprecated the Establishment. For the undergraduate Rick Moody, at least, “Howl” offered an alternative to his main bugaboo:

Fuck Robert Frost. Fuck stopping in woods on a snowy evening. I hated Robert Frost. I hated bucolic imagery. I hated the reverence for nature, because what was nature anyhow but subdivisions in the suburbs and malls and nuclear power plants and petrochemical everything.

Moody’s colossal misreading of...

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