This April, Omnivore Recordings will release a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading his epic poem "Howl" at Portland's Reed College—the earliest known to exist.
For five decades, it was believed that the first recording of the seminal beat poem was from a reading Ginsberg gave in Berkeley, Calif., in March 1956. That changed in 2008, when historian John Suiter went digging in Reed's library.
Suiter was researching a biography on Portland poet Gary Snyder when he found a reel-to-reel tape from a reading Snyder and Ginsberg gave at the college in February 1956.
Apparently, Ginsberg and Snyder were hitchhiking through the Pacific Northwest when they decided to stop at Reed, Snyder's alma mater. On Feb. 14, the pair gave a reading in the common room of a dorm, where Ginsberg read several short poems and the first section of "Howl"—and someone recorded it.
Though Suiter uncovered the recording in 2008, it took another coincidence for the tape to get a public release.
In 2019, Reed named Audrey Bilger as its new president. Bilger's wife, Cheryl Pawelski, is the founder of Omnivore Recordings, a Grammy-winning audio restoration producer and a Ginsberg fan. She reached out to Ginsberg's estate and received permission to make the recording commercially available.
Titled At Reed College: The First Recorded Reading of Howl & Other Poems, the recording is due for release on April 2. It's up for preorder now. A special limited-edition vinyl version in "Reed Red" will only be sold through Omnivore's web store and the Reed College bookstore.