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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Allen Ginsberg, Lynd Ward: The Moloch connection

The news that acclaimed scratchboard artist Eric Drooker has just published a graphic novel edition of Howl, his second illustrated book of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, brings to mind the inspiration Ginsberg drew from the stark and emblematic power of woodcut images. The haunting engravings in the Moloch section of Lynd Ward’s wordless novel Wild Pilgrimage influenced the “Moloch” section of Ginsberg’s famous 1956 poem, which includes the lines:
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!
Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long
streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose fac-
tories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose
smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!
In his introduction to Illuminated Poems, the collection of thirty-four Ginsberg poems that Drooker illustrated in 1996—just a year before the poet died—Ginsberg acknowledges, “Lynd Ward’s images of the solitary artist dwarfed by the canyons of a Wall Street Megalopolis lay shadowed behind my own vision of Moloch.”

In 1978 Michael McCurdy, an accomplished wood engraver himself, commissioned Lynd Ward to create a new wood engraving to illustrate a broadside of the “Moloch” section of Howl for McCurdy’s Penmaen Press. McCurdy hand-set the broadside and hand-printed three hundred sheets, with one hundred and fifty numbered and signed by both Ward and Ginsberg. It ended up being one of Ward’s last published works. You can view an image of the 18" x 25" broadside here and a photograph of Ginsberg, McCurdy, and Ward here.

In his Library of America interview about Lynd Ward, Art Spiegelman recalls the Ginsberg connection to Ward’s Wild Pilgrimage and mentions Eric Drooker in particular as one of several artists who continue to demonstrate that “the power of Ward’s vocabulary is alive and well.” In a 2003 Comics Journal interview Drooker confirms that “I was deeply moved by [Ward’s] art, and inspired by the social realism in his work.” This month’s release of Drooker’s new book coincides with the release on September 24 of the new motion picture Howl; Drooker created the animated art in the film, which features James Franco as Ginsberg and Treat Williams as the critic Mark Schorer.

Readers curious about Lynd Ward’s other work can view his wood engravings for Frankenstein and the opening sequence of his wordless novel, Gods' Man.

Related LOA works: Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts (boxed set); Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (includes Ginsberg’s “Mugging” and “Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Letters”)


  1. Any idea where I can purchase one of these and what they may run for my library.

  2. There are four books discussed in this post, so I'm not sure which you mean. But the links for each book take you to places where you can purchase them. All are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and local bookstores.


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