Howl 2.0 at Roundhouse: Why we chose to re-imagine the poem for 2014


The founder of spoken word collective Poejazzi tells us why he’s bringing back Allen Ginsberg’s poem to the famous Chalk Farm Road venue



Ready for some Ginsberg with a thoroughly modern, urban twist?
Ready for some Ginsberg with a thoroughly modern, urban twist?
It may be 2014, but us humans still come home to a lot of the same issues as we did in 1955: how to live in cities populated by millions yet not feel alone? Who to love and how? Is there still a God and does he/she care? Who are we, really? How do we face death and the death of our dreams? What does it mean to be an individual within a conformist society?

Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem, Howl, still has the capacity to shock and stir more than fifty years after its debut. And while it was written by a young man – and is filled with youthful vibrancy as well as disappointment – it transcends age.

There were numerous reasons why we chose to re-imagine Howl as HOWL 2.0. Chief among them was that it’s a bloody good poem, which contains enough heart to roar beyond its dense word associations, esoteric passages or its prohibitive length.

Our experience of working with Howl and watching others experience it is that people are often swept up in its turmoil, passion and unique rhythm. People become very attached to parts of this epic “obscene ode”, awaiting their favourite section to break through the hypnotic chant-like nature of the poem (mine is Part II containing the Moloch section, if you’re asking).

Howl speaks to the outcast in all of us, about the corners of our humanity we’re afraid of or ashamed to admit to. Topics such as sexuality are still divisive in modern day Britain. Another theme of Ginsberg’s seminal poem is mental illness, and with suicide still being the biggest killer of young men in England and Wales, it remains a discussion people seem reluctant to have.

Themes like social anxiety also make up the fabric of Howl and, with UKIP’s fearful brand of politics making headway in the European Elections last weekend, or Stephen Lawrence and the 2011 riots still fresh in a lot of minds, Howl has not lost its power to communicate social tensions.

Of course, Howl 2.0 would not be complete without a soundtrack: we were privileged to commission some of its upcoming stars to contribute original scores for the show, including leftfield wunderkind Bagel Project, who will tour with Katy Perry later in the year, Dazed Digital’s 2013 One To Watch Alumni Pale, and Marc Pell of Micachu And The Shapes.

Altogether, there are 12 individual artists (including visual directors) all coming together to craft a modern retelling of a poem that has managed to become a classic and yet still has a cult, niche following.

In creating Howl 2.0 we have used imagery, music and observations audiences can recognise to enhance a poem that was intended to be experienced live as well as on the page, hopefully creating an unforgettable experience of one of poetry’s most controversial and atmospheric contributions.

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Howl 2.0 is at the Roundhouse tonight, May 29 & 30. Full info & last minute tickets here

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  • Show Comments

  • Carol S

    Dear Kentishtowner people
    Love getting this every day (almost) but had a visceral shock just now to spot a hideously familiar face on your facebook segment. I do not want to see the Yorkshire Rippers photo as I enjoy your pages. Can anything be done?

  • Roseann C (@Rosy_in_the_sky)

    A brilliant poem about the disillusionment of our generation over the how shallow and fickle the American Dream (commercialism, capitalism ect) really is.

    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving
    hysterical naked,
    dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry
    fix,
    angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the
    starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

    Right on Allen! and nice work Roundhouse for bringing it back into the Limelight