Return of the three-day ‘HOWL!’

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Rolando Vega (Chicken Man), at 2011’s Art Around the Park. Photo by Shell Sheddy

9th Annual Fest builds on legacy of Ginsberg, East Village, LES

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The Great HOWL! Out Loud Kids Carnival has arcade games and enough art-making experiences to satisfy even the most demanding pint-sized Picassos. PPhoto by Nathaniel Siegel

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  Think of the late poet Allen Ginsberg — and yes, his iconic poem “Howl” comes to mind (“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”). So a reading of that masterpiece you’d certainly expect from the annual HOWL! Festival…and you’ll get it, in epic style, as interpreted by over two dozen poets.

But clowns, carnival games, miniature golf and more as part of a Kid’s Carnival? The sunny disposition that sort of event implies seems to fly in the face of a festival whose name invokes a work of passion, pain and rage.

HOWL! Festival organizers remind us, though, that Ginsberg was about much more than pointing fingers (or giving his middle one to the establishment). The angry young Beat poet was later a meditative champion of peace and love, whose “mischievous sense of fun” speaks as clearly to the juice box set as it does to children of the sixties. Like the East Village, Ginsberg covered a tremendous amount of creative and political ground.

Founded to “lionize, preserve and advance the art, history, culture, and counterculture unique to the East Village and Lower East Side,” the HOWL! Festival is “a call to arms across time and across boundaries of culture, taste, and creative expression…a symbol of untamed creativity and a place to engage and build a strong global arts community.”

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Art Around the Park features a 900-foot canvas for more than 100 artists to express their personality and interact with Festival-goers. Photo by Nathaniel Siegel

Bob Holman, host of the festival’s signature event, calls the 26-minute “Howl” reading “one of the most delightfully anarchic cultural celebrations you’ll ever hear. When you read or hear this poem, it really works on you. It’s like Walt Whitman. Allen is talking to you directly…and to hear it through the voice of 25 different poets is to hear the Lower East Side talking to the world.”

Asked about the relevance of “Howl” to the current generation of plugged in artists and activists, Holman cites “the immediacy and physicality of the poem. He writes in a form that’s going to be familiar to The Digitals. You can’t find many ‘ifs’ or ‘buts.’ It’s all direct. Ginsberg has these sweeping, long lines, each one of which would probably be a tweet. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first line was 140 [characters].”

Echoing the way Occupy Wall Street’s words of protest filled Zuccotti Park, Holman says this year’s Saturday and Sunday installments of “HOWL!” will have “a constant sense of poetry in the air. It’s going to make a big difference when you’re wandering around Tompkins Square Park. It’ll be like you’re catching the news as it used to be carried along by the town crier. We’re going to have speaker boxes occupied at all times by poets, with nothing but the power of their voice and language to fill the air with sound and meaning constructs…for enjoyment and illumination.” Among those standing on the box, Holman says, will be “members of The Poetry Brothel. They’ll bring in some of their Poetry Whores, who will be reading while dressed as New Orleans bordello workers. We’ll also have the Bowwow Poets, a wide-ranging crew of poets in their 20s and 30s.” Also on hand will be the Pop-Up Poets and regulars from Bowery Poetry Club, The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, The Poetry Project (at St. Mark’s Church) and A Gathering of the Tribes.

“This year,” Holman assures, “you’ll see an ongoing lineage of NYC cultural life that’s mirrored in the different communities of the Lower East Side.”

Friday, June 1 through Sunday, June 3
All events are FREE
At Tompkins Square Park (500 E. 9th St.)
For info, visit
Fri., 4:30-7pm. The Mainstage Opening Celebration concludes with a group reading of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (get there by 6pm for the reading).
Sat./Sun., 11am-6pm. The Great HOWL! Out Loud Kid’s Carnival features funhouses for all ages, fairway attractions, arts and crafts, miniature golf and continuous entertainment on the Kids Stage.
Sat./Sun., 11am-7pm: Art Around the Park: Showcasing a world of artistic styles and creativity, this year’s “Art Around” pays tribute to painter and tagger Jean Michel Basquiat.
Sat., 5:30-7pm: House of HOWL! presents Men in Skirts: Drag performers, legendary house Voguers and five different dance companies perform everything from ballet to house music.
Sun., 5:30-7pm: Low Life: Celebrating the world-changing explosion of East Village culture from 1966-1972, this show pay homage to movements and art stars (including film and performance pioneer Jack Smith and Bowery-raised Warhol Superstar Jackie Curtis).

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