An American Werewolf in London

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

-Allen Ginsberg

The train that galloped up to the platform this morning, normally crammed with humanity, was empty but for the discarded newspapers lining the window ledges. I thought I had missed the memo about the start of the zombie apocalypse. Turns out the kids have gone back to school, and the tourists have gone home. So I spent some time on my morning commute thinking about the similarities between poets and werewolves.

Culture, like poetry, is so often about what gets transmitted between the lines. It is not, I decided, the bankers and CEOs who normally sit across from me on the train who hold the most cultural power. What we learn on our mothers’ laps goes deep, to a visceral level. What gets passed down, mother to child through generations, forms the culture of a people. Mothers, therefore, are also “unacknowledged legislators” creating and replicating the very “operating system” of a society–its culture.

Moving from California to London certainly feels like I have switched operating systems. Apart from the obvious fumbling as I seek to find where they’ve moved the new buttons and menus, this shake-up gives me the opportunity to discover what is universal among computers–er–people. Contrast is one powerful way to heighten perception and uncover commonality in the quest for what is essentially human.

I have also discovered, however, that poets are not entirely human. A good poet, like a good poem, is always a bit unpredictable. And one thing all societies dislike, and strive to minimise, is unpredictability. (Which may be part of why Plato excluded both the undead and poets from his ideal Republic.) Outsiders, however, often make the best anthropologists.

The so-called “Martian poetry” of the 70s and 80s appropriates self-reflexive techniques to obtain an outside-in objectivity on our world. Confessional poetry of the same era takes an inside-out subjective approach. But a third approach, to art and to life, involves a participant-observer model, where one is in, but not entirely of, the surrounding culture, keenly and perpetually aware of one’s otherness. The perceptiveness that results from such mild but incurable alienation is precisely what put the “Howl” in Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem.

And so, my hairy little secret is out: I have learned to live here as a werewolf. That primal thing within me finds its voice on the lunar-white page. This feeds a hunger nothing else in life can satiate, and helps me get through each clean-shaven day in The City, knowing, soon enough, the moon will rise full over London, and in me, once more.