Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
October 7 is the 280th day of the year (281st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 85 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1955, Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg reads his poem “Howl” at a poetry reading at Six Gallery in San Francisco.
Irwin Allen Ginsberg (June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997) was an American poet who vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression. In the 1950s, Ginsberg was a leading figure of the Beat Generation, an anarchic group of young men and women who joined poetry, song, sex, wine and illicit drugs with passionate political ideas that championed personal freedoms. Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl, in which he celebrates his fellow “angel-headed hipsters” and excoriates what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States, is one of the classic poems of the Beat Generation The poem, dedicated to writer Carl Solomon, has a memorable opening:
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…
In October 1955, Ginsberg and five other unknown poets gave a free reading at an experimental art gallery in San Francisco. Ginsberg’s Howl electrified the audience. According to fellow poet Michael McClure, it was clear “that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America and its supporting armies and navies and academies and institutions and ownership systems and power support bases.” In 1957, Howl attracted widespread publicity when it became the subject of an obscenity trial in which a San Francisco prosecutor argued it contained “filthy, vulgar, obscene, and disgusting language.” The poem seemed especially outrageous in 1950s America because it depicted both heterosexual and homosexual sex at a time when sodomy laws made homosexual acts a crime in every U.S. state. Howl reflected Ginsberg’s own bisexuality and his homosexual relationships with a number of men, including Peter Orlovsky, his lifelong partner. Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that Howl was not obscene, adding, “Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemisms?”
In Howl and in his other poetry, Ginsberg drew inspiration from the epic, free verse style of the 19th century American poet Walt Whitman. Both wrote passionately about the promise (and betrayal) of American democracy; the central importance of erotic experience; and the spiritual quest for the truth of everyday existence. J. D. McClatchy, editor of the Yale Review called Ginsberg “the best-known American poet of his generation, as much a social force as a literary phenomenon.” McClatchy added that Ginsberg, like Whitman, “was a bard in the old manner – outsized, darkly prophetic, part exuberance, part prayer, part rant. His work is finally a history of our era’s psyche, with all its contradictory urges.”
Ginsberg was a practicing Buddhist who studied Eastern religious disciplines extensively. One of his most influential teachers was the Tibetan Buddhist, the Venerable Chögyam Trungpa, founder of the Naropa Institute, now Naropa University at Boulder, Colorado. At Trungpa’s urging, Ginsberg and poet Anne Waldman started a poetry school there in 1974 which they called the “Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics”. In spite of his attraction to Eastern religions, the journalist Jane Kramer argues that Ginsberg, like Whitman, adhered to an “American brand of mysticism” that was, in her words, “rooted in humanism and in a romantic and visionary ideal of harmony among men.” Ginsberg’s political activism was consistent with his religious beliefs. He took part in decades of non-violent political protest against everything from the Vietnam War to the War on Drugs. The literary critic, Helen Vendler, described Ginsberg as “tirelessly persistent in protesting censorship, imperial politics, and persecution of the powerless.” His achievements as a writer as well as his notoriety as an activist gained him honors from established institutions. Ginsberg’s book of poems, The Fall of America, won the National Book Award for poetry in 1974. Other honors included the National Arts Club gold medal and his induction into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, both in 1979. In 1995, Ginsberg won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986-1992.
3761 BC – The epoch (origin) of the modern Hebrew calendar (Proleptic Julian calendar).
336 – Pope Mark dies, leaving the papacy vacant.
1513 – Battle of La Motta: Spanish troops under Ramon de Cardona defeat the Venetians.
1542 – Explorer Cabrillo discovers Santa Catalina Island off the California coast.
1571 – The Battle of Lepanto is fought, and the Holy League (Spain and Italy) destroys the Turkish fleet.
1582 – Because of the implementation of the Gregorian calendar, this day is skipped in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain.
1763 – George III of Great Britain issues British Royal Proclamation of 1763, closing aboriginal lands in North America north and west of Alleghenies to white settlements.
1776 – Crown Prince Paul of Russia marries Sophie Marie Dorothea of Württemberg.
1777 – American Revolutionary War: The Americans defeat the British in the Second Battle of Saratoga, also known as the Battle of Bemis Heights.
1780 – American Revolutionary War: Battle of Kings Mountain American Patriot militia defeat Loyalist irregulars led by British colonel Patrick Ferguson in South Carolina.
1800 – French corsair Robert Surcouf, commander of the 18-gun ship La Confiance, captures the British 38-gun Kent inspiring the traditional French song Le Trente-et-un du mois d’aout.
1826 – The Granite Railway begins operations as the first chartered railway in the U.S.
1828 – The city of Patras, Greece, is liberated by the French expeditionary force in Peloponnese under General Maison.
1840 – Willem II becomes King of the Netherlands.
1864 – American Civil War: Battle of Darbytown Road: the Confederate forces’ attempt to regain ground that had been lost around Richmond is thwarted.
1864 – American Civil War: U.S.S. Wachusett captures the CSS Florida Confederate raider ship while in port in Bahia, Brazil.
1868 – Cornell University holds opening day ceremonies; initial student enrollment is 412, the highest at any American university to that date.
1870 – Franco-Prussian War – Siege of Paris: Leon Gambetta flees Paris in a balloon.
1879 – Germany and Austria-Hungary sign the “Twofold Covenant” and create the Dual Alliance.
1912 – The Helsinki Stock Exchange sees its first transaction.
1916 – Georgia Tech defeats Cumberland University 222-0 in the most lopsided college football game in American history.
1919 – KLM, the flag carrier of the Netherlands, is founded. It is the oldest airline still operating under its original name.
1933 – Air France is inaugurated, after being formed from a merger of 5 French airlines.
1934 – Aeromexico is inaugurated 75 years after it becomes the # 1 airline in Mexico
1940 – World War II: the McCollum memo proposes bringing the United States into the war in Europe by provoking the Japanese to attack the United States.
1942 – World War II: The October Matanikau action on Guadalcanal begins as United States Marine Corps forces attack Imperial Japanese Army units along the Matanikau River.
1944 – World War II: Uprising at Birkenau concentration camp, Jews burn down the crematoria.
1949 – German Democratic Republic (East Germany) formed.
1955 – Beat poet Allen Ginsberg reads his poem “Howl” for the first time at a poetry reading in San Francisco.
1958 – President of Pakistan Iskander Mirza, with the support of General Ayub Khan and the army, suspends the 1956 constitution, imposes martial law, and cancels the elections scheduled for January 1959.
1958 – The U.S. manned space-flight project is renamed Project Mercury.
1959 – U.S.S.R. probe Luna 3 transmits first ever photographs of the far side of the moon.
1960 – Nigeria joins the United Nations.
1962 – U.S.S.R. performs nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya, U.S.S.R.
1963 – John F. Kennedy signs ratification for Partial Test Ban Treaty.
1977 – The adoption of the Fourth Soviet Constitution.
1971 – Oman joins the United Nations.
1982 – Cats opens on Broadway and runs for nearly 18 years before closing on September 10, 2000.
1985 – The Achille Lauro is hijacked by Palestine Liberation Organization.
1993 – The Great Flood of 1993 ends at St. Louis, Missouri, 103 days after it began, as the Mississippi River falls below flood stage.
1998 – Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, is found tied to a fence after being savagely beaten by two young adults in Laramie, Wyoming.
2001 – The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan starts with an air assault and covert operations on the ground.
2004 – King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia abdicates.