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You just don't get it, man


The article <a href="" source="Reason" author="Eugene Volokh">"That's Why It's Poetry"</a> commemorates the recent death of Lawrence Ferlinghetti with a wonderful story, not directly about Ferlinghetti, but about one expert witness's testimony at his trial for obscenity for having published <i>Howl</i>. It wasn't so long ago in America that people were being prosecuted for obscenity. That trial was in 1957. Just over 60 years later and it seems kind of far-fetched to think we may see the like again. The goal is to sanction unsanctioned<fn> ideas, to keep them from polluting people's minds, distracting them from the self-evident and officially accepted truth. Why bother with a trial and its messy rules of evidence---why risk a public and official and potentially ideologically damaging loss---when you can try and pillory heretics on social or the mainstream media or both? <bq>Among other things, Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg's <i>Howl</i>, and was prosecuted for obscenity because of that. One particular passage from that trial sticks in my head, as reported in Edward de Grazia, <i>Girls Lean Back Everywhere</i> 335-36 (1992); the colloquy was with an expert witness, literary critic Mark Schorer, who was testifying to the poem having "<a href="">redeeming social importance</a>":<bq><b>Prosecutor:</b> I presume you understand the whole thing, is that right?: <b>Schorer:</b> I hope so. It's not always easy to know that one understands exactly what a contemporary poet is saying…. <b>Prosecutor:</b> Do you understand what "angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night" means? <b>Schorer:</b> <i>Sir, you can't translate poetry into prose. That's why it's poetry.</i> (Emphasis added.)</bq></bq> Wonderful. <hr> <ft>I thought it would be fun to use the diametrically opposed definitions right next to each other. It was.</ft>