• On the 50th Anniversary of Howl
  • On the 50th Anniversary of Howl (2007), Mixed Media 6" x 60"

“It occurs to me that I am America.” -Allen Ginsberg

On the fiftieth anniversary of Howl, Tran, takes us on a seemingly whimsical train ride across an American landscape full of trees, but also marred by red apocalyptic skies, graffiti, a prone male body and a highway sign admonishing us to take alternate routes. As a poet and an art-maker, Tran, in his own words, stares at things in hopes that they will talk back to him and to us.

Tran selects an inanimate object such as a toy train, to suggest that the viewer play, in a child-like moment, free of pre-conceived notions and belief systems. At times, messy, hopeless and also infinitely holy, Tran’s landscape is populated with the material stuff that lights up his imagination. I can see Tran on one of his ritual strolls to source materials; he recognizes the discarded and in turn, creates something newly precious. “Holy! Holy! Holy!” “The world is holy!” Ginsburg’s shamanic chant rings in my ears. Tran’s unguarded search for his true voice as an artist is Ginsburg’s search in the guileless and raw beauty of Howl.

Fifty years in the wake of the trial that defended the poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship, freedom of expression is still at stake and Tran encourages us to take a second look. Self-censorship occurs as a matter of necessity, in an unsafe landscape. The homophobic, racist, post-war world of the 1950’s is not the world we find ourselves in today or is it?


Jennifer Banta is a San-Francisco-based cultural worker, curator and writer.