Monday, April 30, 2012

Mind, Mouth and Page - 8 (Ginsberg & Williams)

[Empty Mirror: Early Poems by Allen Ginsberg]


















AG: I think I'd written my first Williams-esque poem around 1948. See, I have some here. I started imitating Williams around then... '48, '49, I was writing in two styles - I was writing in the style that I learned at Columbia College (which was imitations of (Sir Thomas) Wyatt, (Andrew) Marvell, James Shirley, (John) Donne..) and.. So these are "Stanzas Written at Night in Radio City", probably begun in '48 and finished in '49. In '48, I had a big vision and heard (William) Blake's voice and that totally turned me on to poetry as a way of transmitting, through time, a petit sensation, a little sensation, or flash, of vastness of space.

Student: Were you particularly into Blake at that time, or did that just give you a clue (as to where next you were going)?

AG: "Seated one day at the organ,/ I was weary and ill at ease/ and my fingers wandered idly/ over the noisy keys./ I knew not what I was playing.." [Allen quotes the lyrics to "The Lost Chord"]

Student: Then he dashed his harp against the (wall) and...

AG: In other words, I was just idly eating vegetables and didn't know what was going on, and was reading Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, and had an auditory hallucination of his voice, and, at the same time, a sort of psychedelic experience of the vastness and intelligence of the space above my roof in Harlem, where I was living, which was sort of a pivotal experience that changed my life. But (it) also was a big anchor drag around my neck, or albatross, like in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", because I sort of founded my later development on it, and, though it was inspiring, it was still like trying to live off the memory of a mystic moment and convince people that I'd seen God or something. So I fell into the usual catastrophic bad-mannered habit of going around looking at people as if they hadn't seen God, and I had to tell them about it. Like any acid head (though this had nothing to do with (drugs), I hadn't taken any acid at that time.
So I tried to condense the visionary sense into classic rhymed stanzas. So this is "Stanzas Written at Night in Radio City" - [Allen reads "Stanzas Written at Night in Radio City" in its entirety] - "If money made the mind more sane/ or money mellowed in the bowel... I'd go make money and be golden".."O hollow fame that makes me groan/...Where brightest shades sleep under stone,/ Man runs after his own shadow" - So that was what I was trained to write by previous academies.
I sent a few of these poems of that mode to Williams around 1951, and he wrote back, "In this mode, perfection is basic. And these are not perfect." So my hopes for being a high poet were dashed. And then, a little later, I was in New York State Psychiatric Institute for eight months for insisting, as per my eternal vision, that the telephones had intelligence. And the psychiatrist didn't agree with me! Even though I argued that the telephones talked! - But, actually, it was just my stubbornness in trying to make him accept my language, or my interpretation of language, when I could have explained to him what I meant much more simply, and (also) his stupidity, in not seeking out (as Gregory Bateson (might have done)) by questioning, what I meant by saying (that) the telephones talked or were intelligent, were sentient, that telephones were sentient beings.

Student: You must have been (shocked to be suddenly subjected to Freudian analysis)?

AG: Freudian? No.. Yeah..It was just a straight, young guy, with big ears, actually.

So I said to myself, well, if that's no good, maybe, let's see... I was keeping journals of the kind that I'm recommending that you keep. So I looked back through my journals and I found a few prose paragraphs that seemed to have the mind clamped down on objects, or that seemed to be more realistic, and I arranged them artfully in lines, just like Williams, so they'd look like a modern poem (or what I thought a modern poem looked like, at the time). And then, actually, what I did was, (to) arrange them according to what the sections of the sentences looked like, where you would break it a little bit for a slight hesitation, where you'd take a breath, or arrange it, balancing according to one line of ten syllables, one line of five syllables, one line of ten syllables, one line of five syllables. In other words, I experimented around with taking my own journals, (which were real informal, natural speech, my own talk, my private thought,
because I wasn't considering that they were poetry, so I was just writing them down for myself, rather than writing them down with the idea that they'd be "golden gems of literature" - so I didn't have "anything to live up to", as (Bob) Dylan says. So, not having anything to live up to there, I was being more direct). So I took a couple (of) poems in.. I'm trying to figure out what year that is - it would be 1949, I guess.. well, from journals from around '48-'49 - once I had grasped Williams' idea, and sent him six little samples of it, just little fragments. [Allen begins reading] - "Tonight all is well...what a/ terrible future. I am twenty-three/ year of the iron birthday./ gate of darkness. I am ill,/ I have become physically and/ spiritually impotent in my madness this month./ I suddenly realized that my head/ is severed from my body;/ I realized it a few nights ago/ by myself, lying sleepless on the couch". (And) this is called "After All, What Else Is There to say?" [Allen reads in its entirety "After All, What Else Is There to say?"] - "When I sit before a paper...".."..not/ declaiming or celebrating, yet,/ but telling the truth" - (Next), "The Trembling of the Veil" - (sort of a hi-faultin' title, after Yeats - Yeats talking about the trembling of the veil of culture, and cosmic consciousness) - [Allen reads] - "Today out of the window/the trees look like live/ organisms on the moon...".."all the arms of the trees/ bending and straining downward/ at once when the wind/pushed them" - I did a few poems after dreams - just writing down dreams in common language - [Allen continues reading] - "A Meaningless Institution", I was given my bedding, and a bunk in an enormous ward.. "..."After a while, I wandered down empty corridors/ in search of a toilet." - Another dream - 1947 - "In Society" - I guess I was still in college, hadn't read Williams, hadn't recognized Williams, but was just writing down my own nature, which is why I liked Williams, because I found his nature my nature, anybody's nature, were very similar (except that he had recognized his, and framed it, wrote it out in a poem, whereas I was still writing rhymed verse, except, negligently, when I put down my dreams or little noticings. This is called "In Society" [Allen reads "In Society" in its entirety] - "I walked into the cocktail party/ room and found three or four queers/ talking together in queertalk"...""Why you narcissistic bitch! How/ can you decide when you don't even/ know me", I continued in a violent/ and messianic voice, inspired at/ last, dominating the whole room" - I'm looking for the poems (that) I sent Williams. I was feeling.. not suicidal, but, you know, non-suicidal boredom - [Allen reads "A Ghost May Come"] - "Elements on my table -/ the clock/ all life reduced to this -/ its tick./ Dusty's modern lamp/ all space, shape and curve/ Last attempts at speech./ And the carved/ serpentine knife of Mexico,/ with the childish/ eagle head on the handle." - "Marijuana Notation" - this is about 1950 - [Allen reads "Marijuana Notation" in its entirety] - "How sick I am!/ that thought/ always comes to me/ with horror...".."It is December/ almost, they are singing/ Christmas carols/ in front of the department/ stores down the block/ on Fourteenth Street" - So there's a total shift of attention from my daydreaBoldm to a grounded place where Williams was..

Student: You kind of had that kind of shift in "In Society" too.

AG: Well that was a dream.

Student: Yeah

AG: My recognition of it as poetry was the shift. I had a dream and I wrote it down, and then I looked at that dream when I was preparing a few lines for Williams, and said, "Well, that's pretty funny, and it's real, and it's a weird way of ending such a Kafka-esque nighmare of being in a meaningless institution where old crippled dumb people were bent over sewing and I didn't know what I was doing there, like in a dream - so I went off in search of a toilet.

Student: That wasn't an attempt to tie together similar natures at all?

AG: Well, I wasn't thinking so much of attempting anything. I was just trying to follow my thoughts, rather than attempting to create an effect. Like that thing "Marijuana Notation", which has all this sort of high-class literary self-regardant day-dream - like I was high on grass and all of a sudden shifted and (I) realized it was Christmas and they were singing Christmas carols. Just like on grass. That's why I called it "Marijuana Notation", because it was so typical. I thought it was a perfect example of vast consciousness, of vast shifts of mind, suddenly, that you get when you're high, which seemed to exemplify the way we think anyway, anyhoo - (and so) I sent it to Williams because I realized, "he thinks the way we think" (or, he knows how we think). And so I selected a few things that were just like "real thinks" (rather than attempt to write "poetry"). See, all the attempts to write poetry were [Allen quotes his own "Western Ballad"] - "When I died love, when I died/ my heart was broken in your care/ I never suffered love so fair/ as now I suffer and abide/ when I died, when I died". It was all way out. Pretty, really pretty (and good preparation, because it developed an ear, and now that I'm writing blues (1975), I'm glad that I wrote those early rhymed poems). (But) Empty Mirror is like a good first book, like scratchings, little notations, trying to get some little active line. Not trying to get, but trying to collect out of the things I'd actually written already, sort of skimming off my journals, just a few pieces that were active, a few little realistic notes. The earliest is Denver, 1947 - maybe the best, and the nearest to Williams in a way - called "The Bricklayer's Lunch Hour". This is (from) a 200-page notebook, filled with big long complaints that Neal Cassady wasn't coming home to sleep with me, and that I wasn't making out like I wanted, and did he love me or did I love him?, and what kind of fate did we have together? and theoretical, theosophical, philosophical notions about what was wrong with our relationship, and relationships, and what is relationship, and.. unreadable, totally unreadable!
And one day I looked out the window... [Allen then reads "The Bricklayer's Lunch Hour" in its entirety] - "Two bricklayers are setting the walls/ of a cellar in a new dug out patch of dirt behind an old house of wood/ with brown gables grown over with ivy.."..."Meanwhile it is darkening as if to rain/ and the wind on top of the trees in the/ street comes through almost harshly" - So that was the one moment I got out of myself and looked out, registered what I saw, and the whole homosexual romance that I was going through, anyway, philosophically, comes through underneath. You can feel the slightly erotic sense. And so, by means of the sense of the things I described outside myself, I was able to represent the feelings, as well as clamp the mind down on objects - (precisely) because I wasn't trying that. It was just that I was sick of myself, actually, "allergic to myself" (as was said last night in the giant lecture hall by the bodhisattva [Trungpa]), I was allergic to myself, so I finally just looked outside of the window to see outside of my skull.
Actually, for me, that's sort of a crucial poem, in a sense, that I didn't know then, but, the way I found out was (that) that year I went off in the Merchant Marine, and wrote another big, long, rhapsodic, rhymed poem, "Dakar Doldrums", and then came back to New York and didn't have any place to live and left all my notebooks and clothes at the house of an elegant theological student, (who was also a poet, who had been reading a lot of (Robert) Herrick), and he sneaked a look at my notebooks, the rat, and read all my secrets! - and when I came back, he mentioned to me (the fact) that he (had) read it (my notebook), and I was scared, because I thought now he'll know all about my cowardly private life - but he said there was only one page worth reading! (out of hundreds of pages that I'd been laboring over and weeping, (there was only one page)) that he could read, which was this one page that looked outside). So, actually, I got a teaching from that - simply that, by that response - that he simply told me that everything (I'd written so far) was unreadable except that one thing.
The same thing from Williams. So I sent him these six or seven little fragments, and he wrote back, "These are it!" - or "This is it. How many more of these do you have?. I shall see that you get a book as soon as possible. I'll write an introduction for it". Just total response. Because it apparently hit the nail right on the head. [to be continued...]

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933)

[Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933) Alexandria, circa 1890, via the Cavafy Archive]

To Peter Orlovsky

When we parted in Tangier
We said ten years or perhaps a few months.
Whatever fate and railroads bring, whatever cities or deserts -
Now I'm in the holy land, alone
reading Cavafy - it's half past twelve
My letters haven't reached you, yet you're somewhere here, Petra or Syria
Perhaps have entered the Gate to this land and are looking for me in Jerusalem -
I wrote to all your addresses and to your mother -
Tonight I am reading books and remembering our old nights together naked -
I hope fate brings us together, a letter answered, held in the red hand -
or crossing some modern streetcorner, look joyfully in each others' eyes.
- Allen Ginsberg from "The Journals, Early Fifties, Early Sixties" (November 1961)

Constantine Cavafy, the great Greek poet, the great queer poet, the great Alexandrian, was both born and died on this day, April 29.

We direct you to the Cavafy Archive and, in particular such pages as Cavafy's World (for background), The Canon (a canonical list of the poems), and Cavafy on the Web (a useful updated register of his on-going contemporary relevance).

Here's W.H.Auden's introduction to Rae Dalven's translations.

Here's, perhaps his most famous poem, Ithaka, in both the Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard translation (alongside four other translations).

Here it is read and illustrated in Iannis Smaragdis' 1996 film



The recent (2009) Daniel Mendelsohn translation of the oeuvre - Collected Poems and Unfinished Poems (Cavafy in English) comes highly recommended.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Il Poeta Della Beat Generation


RAI (Italian television)'s hommage to Allen is our focus today. Some of the footage we've already featured (here and here) but it's a tight little piece, and particularly interesting, perhaps, for its focus on several of Allen's iconic photos (plus - added bonus! - you get to hear a little of Allen's recitation of his notorious 1986 poem, "Sphincter"!)

Notes: To the background strains of "Do The Meditation Rock", seen with Fernanda Pivano (naturally), whose comments form the essence of the piece - images of Ginsberg, Huncke, Burroughs, Kerouac, Corso, Orlovsky, etc - audio ("Hum Bom!") - approximately one-minute-and-ten-seconds in, 'Nanda on Allen (first sound-byte) - AG: "Candor ends paranoia" - Allen reads "Sphincter" (in the latter half of the poem, voice-over (of 'Nanda again) & (what was the sound editor thinking?) - more Allen Ginsberg photographs - self-portrait(s), Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Lou Reed, etc - comments on Allen as a photographer - Footage of Allen reading from Saluti Cosmopoliti (the title poem,"Cosmopolitan Greetings") with unmatched audio (brief selections) - "Stand up against governments, against God" - "Change is absolute" - "Catch yourself thinking" - "Remember the future" - "Advise only yourself" - "The universe is subjective" - "Inside skull vast as outside skull" - "Mind is outer space" - ""First thought. best thought" and, "Candor ends paranoia" - 'Nanda Pivano gives third (and final) testimonial re Allen and his importance - segment of Allen reading "After Lalon" (intentional ending? - edit? - concludes "What a mess I am, Allen Ginsberg.")

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday's Weekly Round-Up 71

poster paper dress "Hand" or "poem by Allen Ginsberg"

[Harry Gordon - "Poem By Allen Ginsberg" - (vintage) Poster Paper Dress (1968) - at the Indianapolis Museum of Art]

Today is the anniversary of the death of Hart Crane - see here (and last week we reminded you of James Franco's ambitious Hart Crane movie.

Also last week, we noted the publication of Sharin Elkholy's The Philosophy of the Beats anthology. Marc Olmsted's useful essay in that volume can be read in its entirety here.

Here at the Allen Ginsberg Project, we recognize our (inevitable) predominantly Anglophone slant (and, at times, even USA-New York City bias) which is why we were pleased to discover Houman Harouni's account - practical matters of translation - "Howl in Farsi"

We hope to feature more translation. Here's "Song" in Arabic" (from the very first "Weekly Round-Up)

And here (not translation this time, but a very different, and usefully different, perspective nonetheless), an unidentified young Islamic-American woman recites the classic Ginsberg poem, "America" ("America I've given you all and now I'm nothing/ America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956/ I can't stand my own mind/ America when will we end the human war?..")

Tomorrow is Beat legend Carolyn Cassady's (unbelievable-but-true, 89th) birthday. The faithful custodians over at Kerouac.com/The Beat Museum have opened up a tribute page for her. Read it, please, and add your comments here.

oh - and don't miss ("this just in") the first part of Daniel Maurer's interview with Bob Rosenthal - "Allen Ginsberg Revisited By His Right-Hand Man". We at the Ginsberg Project, as we've said before, can't wait for Bob's memoir, "Straight Around Allen'' (Bob was Allen's long-time secretary, and the stories that he has to tell!). We'll have more to say about this and promised further episodes of the Maurer interview in the days to come.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Elsa Dorfman


[Allen Ginsberg, March 1983. Photo c. Elsa Dorfman]


[Peter Orlovsky, Allen Ginsberg, Steven Taylor, March 1983. Photo c. Elsa Dorfman]

Elsa Dorfman, doyenne of the over-sized Polaroid, one of the most familiar, and most sensitive, photographers of Allen, turns 75 today. Happy Birthday "Ellie"!

We draw your attention to her web-site here (as she explains, "My web site is my obsession") - it's based loosely on the Boston/Massachusetts (MBTA) subway map, with different subway lines and stations representing different areas of interest (Allen has, pretty much, a whole line - the orange line, starting at Housebook ("Elsa's Housebook", her pioneering 1974 book, "A Woman's Photojournal", now reproduced in its entirety on the site), through to Ginsberg (one of several Dorfman-on-Ginsberg pages)). As she writes there:

"It was hard to take a bad picture of Allen. Nobody did. Maybe it was because Allen was a photographer from way back. He loved to take pictures. Unrestrained he could snap, snap, and take rolls of film. His images of Kerouac, Cassady and Burroughs are the ones we have in our memory of those days. For the last decade or so he always had a camera with him.He went from a Rollei to lighter and lighter and smaller and smaller cameras. And he used whatever was his camera du jour all the time, even at my house in the last month of his life (though no darkroom experiences for him, ever). Allen always had a sense of what makes a picture work. As a subject he instinctively helped photographers get what they wanted. He could concentrate and relax at the same time. He could be there, in front of the lens. Loss of consciousness, no self-consciousness, no reticence. Vanity reigned in by a sense of, yes, style. He could pull together tiny details - a Buddha, a flower, a book, a postcard, a microphone, the right tie (and in the old days, the right political button on his overalls and the right beads) that would anchor the photograph in its hour. The gesture Allen came up with was always very specific and it was always the right one. I felt Allen did my job for me..."

Elswhere on the site (actually, every nook and cranny is worth discovering, but particularly of note): "Remembering Allen" (a beautiful photo-rich photo-essay), "Ginsberg On Sale" ("Watching Allen Ginsberg Be Auctioned Off At Sotherby's", a personal account), "Ginsberg in Housebook", "Ginsberg Video 1974", and "Allen and Dylan" (photos of Allen and Bob Dylan). There's even a link to a revealing account of a visit to Allen by Matthew Power, her nephew.

From her notes in "Remembering Allen": - "I met Allen Ginsberg in early June 1958. I had just graduated from Tufts and got a job as a Gal Friday at Grove Press. I answered the phone. "Hello, Editorial." I made coffee for the poets and writers Grove published in its Evergreen Review. Allen was one of the poets. He came by the office every day to use our Apeco machine, a precursor of Xerox, which made crinkly orange copies that faded. It was a miracle machine. We hit it off right away. Allen had a zillion ideas and I was willing/eager to work zillions of hours to make them happen. I adored him and was very compliant. Poetry readings in colleges all over the country - A new idea in 1959. Why not? Publishing small editions? -Why not? - I sat on my bed and typed - no electric typewriter back then - four letters to each college in the country. Readings began to happen. When Allen came to Boston he used our house as his headquarters. He made appointments for interviews, gave interviews, made phone calls, got phone calls, brought home boyfriends. Later he would come with explicit dietary instructions - no sugar, no salt, no meet, macrobiotic this and that, rice milk only. I would go to Bread & Circus and scour the isles for the right stuff. Allen would be happy, And at three in the morning, he would wake up and go quietly into the kitchen to eat the peanut butter, the sourdough bread, the stuffed chicken, the real ice-cream. When I became a photographer, in 1965, Allen became a willing subject. He intuitively understood the camera. Pretty soon, photography was part of our ritual of being together. The next thing I knew, Allen and I had been friends for thirty-eight years! How'd it happen? - Well, we each had a knack for friendship, and we each assumed the other would simply always be there..."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mind, Mouth and Page - 7 (Williams & San Francisco Renaissance)


[Portrait of William Carlos Williams in front of his office, 1950 via Beinecke Collection, Yale]

I think probably the breakthrough was, specifically, when people began recognizing what he [Williams] was doing, and began the contagion spread, and began actually acting on the instruction of his practice. (This was) probably 1948. And I say that, because, in 1948, he went out on a reading tour. He read at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (and I saw him read there, and first understood what he was doing, because before that, I hadn't been able to read his poems, because I didn't realize that he was just talking). The same year, he went to Reed College, and, while he was in Reed College, he met Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen and he gave a reading there (talked to them, but also gave a reading - and they heard his page aloud, for the first time). And that affected their practice. Same years, there was a thing called "The Berkeley Renaissance" (or "San Francisco Renaissance") - 1948. That was like a very beautiful breakthrough of Gnostic mystical and local provincial Sierra-California self-awareness around Berkeley. Robert Duncan, the poet, and Jack Spicer, the poet, and Philip Lamantia, the poet, all members of an anarchist study circle, which included Brother Antoninus and..who else was around then?


AG: No..(I don't think so). Gleason and Moore were of another, slightly other, group that had more.. were more.. from Stanford, I think. They were friends because they were all (of them) around in San Francisco and Berkeley. I think Madeline Gleason may have been part of that.

Student: How about James Broughton?

AG: Broughton was there. Friends with that. Kenneth Rexroth was the name I was looking for. (He) was sort of the center of that. It was during and after the war. During the war they got together. (Brother) Antoninus was a conscientious objector - (and) Philip Lamantia was a thirteen-year-old kid who was reading Rimbaud, and who, in 1944, had hitch-hiked to New York to meet all the Surrealists, like Andre Breton and others, who were in New York at that time, (having) fled from Europe during the war, and had founded a magazine called View. Lamantia, at thirteen, published a little Surrealist poem which had the refrain, "At the bottom of the lake, at the bottom of the lake" - writing in simple American Surrealism diction.
There was a fellow hanging around then also in Berkeley named Harry Smith, who, if any of you are familiar with film-making, was one of the originators of collage cut-up animated Pop Art cartoon, using Tantric and Gnostic symbolism, Aleister Crowley and Tibetan iconography. Smith was a kind of genius, who experimented with oils on plates projected through light-projectors onto screens, and was probably the originator of what later became the mixed-media light-shows that were in the Fillmore Ballroom and then spread out as a national style, with the understanding of cut-up and juxtaposition and simultaneity of apprehension. Smith left his equipment around when he went to New York in the 1950's, and it was picked up by people there and developed (first) by.. Jordan Belson, and developed later, by the '60's, '67, into the light-show. So Smith was hanging around there. Jack Spicer, another poet, was friends with a psychology student, named Timothy Leary, who was also there at the same time, hanging around in white shoes and white pants. So there was actually quite a scene going on, and it was called the "Berkeley Renaissance" at the time (Duncan, I think, probably the central figure as a poet, and Rexroth, the central father-figure. Rexroth was constantly in touch with Williams, and was the great Williams exponent at that time, (and) Duncan was having correspondence with Williams). Black Mountain College, an experimental community, somewhat like this was going on in..near Asheville, North Carolina, near Thomas Wolfe's home town. And that was a collection of very interesting people..that the sort of..patrons (of) were William Carlos Williams, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Bauhaus architects.[Allen is presumably referring here to Josef Albers] And there was a great deal of intercourse between Black Mountain and San Francisco - and Duncan and Creeley went to teach at Black Mountain - and then Creeley came to San Francisco a few years later, by the mid '(19)50's.
So in the center, in Black Mountain, in Berkeley, in Reed College, Portland, in the North-west, and in New York, (19)48, (19)49, )19)50, Gregory (Corso) had read that little poem (of Williams) about "sweep under the bed/the baby is dead", probably in jail, maybe.. late (19)40's, early (19)50's. By 1950 what is called "the New York School" of poets (Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch..) had read and been influenced by Williams practice also, as well as Creeley and Duncan and Spicer on the West Coast. So I would say about 1948 there was a turn-around. And "when the mode of music changes, the walls of the city shake". And so I put the crucial year of transition in consciousness in poetry about 1948, which means the beginning of a new consciousness of language, meaning a new consciousness of nation, of the ground, of the earth we were on, a new consciousness of what is straight talk and what is bullshit - noble changed to no bull (sic).

What? - (So) that was all in relation to something you asked..

Student: Bodhisattva!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mind, Mouth and Page - 6 (Williams)


["William Carlos Williams and unidentified man in front of a Rutherford cobbler's" via Beinecke Collection, Yale]

Allen's July 25 1975 "Mind, Mouth and Page" lecture on William Carlos Williams continues - the recording picks up in media res, Allen is speaking of Ezra Pound

AG: "...love that I love with beauty and delight and wit, or something.." "I am homesick after mine own kind" [Allen quotes from Pound's 1907 poem, "In Durance" here] - If you have a chance, look that up, it's in Personae by Pound (that's his early poems) - ("...I know the glory/ of th' unbounded ones, but ye that hide/ As I hide most the while/ And burst forth to the windows only whiles or whiles/For love, or hope, or beauty, or for power.."

That was in relation to "Sub Terra", page 117 of William Carlos Williams' Collected Earlier Poems. We finished "A Poem for Norman Macleod", which said that the revolution is accomplished - "noble has been changed to No Bulk" - And then, in the next book, "To Him Who Wants It" or "For Whoever Wants It" "Al Que Quiere" - dedicated "Al Que Quiere" (to Who Wants It). I guess Pound was doing something similar at the same time, looking for companions who aren't bullshitting, or looking for companions who are grounded in their own territory. "Under the Earth" (Sub Terra) - [Allen reads Williams' "Sub Terra" in its entirety - "Where shall I find you,/ you my grotesque fellows/ that I seek everywhere..."..."You!? to go with me a tip-toe,/ head down under heaven,/ nostrils lipping the wind!" - It's the same call as Whitman laid out - "Poets and Orators to come..." Same call as Pound was laying out in a more archaic fashion - "I am homesick after mine own kind.."... It's a constant call throughout American literature, actually, up through Kerouac, out through my own poetry, a call for companions. The first that I know of it is in Whitman - that prophetic cry for a response from future generations, which actually accumulated and built up, and did actually take place - certainly (to) Williams, because the "grotesque fellows" that Williams (was) looking for, sprang up, from the streets of Paterson, actually. By the 1950's, there were half a dozen poets coming from Paterson, and there are, in the class, (Summer of 1975), maybe five or six "grotesque fellows' from Northern New Jersey who are (directly, from their own backgrounds) able to appreciate his appreciation of the Passaic River. But then, back to a sort of self-recognition of his own nature, and, with that self-recognition, containing in the Whitmanic-person feeling one's own personal feeling, and then looking out with the same sympathy. [Allen reads Williams' "A Pastoral"] - "When I was younger/It was plain to me/ that I must make something of myself..".."No one/ will believe this/ of vast import to the nation" - That's a little corny, actually - "No one/ will believe this/ of vast import to the nation" - And, actually, there's a little paraphrase of Pound there. There's a little poem of Pound's, very similar, making some subtle observations on the difference of colors, or differences (in) manners - "No one will believe that this acute grounded perception is the necessary base upon which a culture would rise, which would be strong enough to withstand the hallucination of mechanical repetition of imagery, television, industrialization.." - but there's a certain aggressive corniness in that - "No one/ will believe this/ of vast import to the nation" - So he's still a sort of provincial crank, or "grotesque fellow", railing, or dreaming, bodhisattva-like, about the possibility of refining the sensibility of his fellow citizens in Rutherford by means of clarifying the speech of Rutherford and himself speaking so clearly in the middle of Rutherford that anybody could understand him there, and anybody who heard him, anybody hearing him, would have pointed out to their attention the "smeared a bluish green/ that properly weathered/pleases...best/ of all colors" [quoting again from "A Pastoral" here] - He was interested in painting, actually. That business of a little subtle comparison of colors comes in a poem very late, also, one of his last poems before he died, talking about comparing shades of blue, just a little personal noticing on his part, a private think.
So he's got this modified Messianic view of his role as poet, and so addresses poems even to his townspeople (in fact, it becomes a little gimmick, characteristic). [Allen reads Williams' poem, "Gulls" in its entirety] - "My townspeople, beyond in the great world,/ are many with whom it were far more/profitable for me to live than here with you..".."You see, it is not necessary for us to leap at each other,/ and, as I told you, in the end/ the gulls moved seaward very quietly" - So he's coming to some kind of bodhisattvic compromise with his irritation. "The Gulls" (on page 126). There's another poem, "My townspeople, I will teach you how to perform a funeral"
[ "I will teach you my townspeople/ how to perform a funeral" - "Tract"]. So he had a genre of poems directly addressed to "my townspeople" (which actually sounds archaic, old-fashioned, of another century, when there were "towns", but he was actually living in a little town Rutherford, and there was, actually, a community). There was a guy in Rutherford who was the literary editor of the New York Herald Tribune, and he was a minor poet, and they used to have tea together, or go over (to) each other's house every once in a while, and there were a few old ladies, and an insurance man, who were just local friends who dug his poetry and wrote little poems of their own (though in the Rutherford Public Library, they didn't have a very good collection of Williams around the early (19)50's - it was a library about ten blocks from his house and they didn't have his books! - maybe one novel or something like that.

Student: Lowell (library) [this is 1975] doesn't have any of Kerouac's books..

AG: No books..?

Student: Six

AG: Six? - Yeah, there's a new biography of Kerouac written in Lowell by Charles Jarvis, who's a local school professor (which you can get down here) which has a lot of interesting gossip from Lowell.

Student: What's the name of it?

AG: Written by Charles Jarvis - "Kerouac", I guess [actually, "Visions of Kerouac"] - blue cover (and they've got it down in Town and Country (bookstore). [Allen continues - reads William Carlos Williams' poem, "Apology"] - Apology - "Why do I write today?/ The beauty of/ the terrible faces/ of our nonentities/ stirs me to it:/ colored women/ day workers -/ old and experienced -/ returning home at dusk/ in cast off clothing/ faces like/ old Florentine oak/ Also/ the set pieces/ of your faces stir me -/ leading citizens -/ but not/ in the same way" - A little bit like Rembrandt, doing his portraits.

Student: "Bodhisattva"? What do you mean when you say "bodhisattva"?

AG: "Bodhisattva"? - It's a term used a great deal in Snyder and Kerouac, so it's fair to use it here in class. I mean, it's a commonly-used word in American Literature of the '50's, '60's, and '70's. "Sattva" - Sanskrit, "essence", (and) "bodhi" means, "wakened mind" - (so) - "essence of wakened mind". But bodhisattva is (more particularly), a class of person in Mahayana Buddhism, greater vehicle Buddhism, who has taken vows, basically, that he won't go to heaven until all the sentient beings in the universe are equally wakened up, which means he can't go to heaven until he himself is completely wakened up, because once he is wakened, everything is wakened, and to be a bodhisattva... there are a number of bodhisattvas walking around here who have taken the bodhisattva vows (because once you've taken the bodhisattva vows, you're sort of set in a path). The Bodhisattva's vows, traditionally, are: "Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to illuminate all. Attatchments are unaccountable, I vow to release them all. The Gates of Natural Law (dharma) are endless, I vow to go through every one (or I vow to master all the Gates, or openings - which means "I vow to be you, I vow to be a worm, I vow to experience every condition and situation and be a buddha of that situation" - "The Gates of dharma are limited, I vow to go through every one" - and - "The Buddha Path (or "wakened mind" path) is endless, I vow to follow it through." - There are a number of people around, in the town (Boulder), who have taken those vows. So it's a term commonly used in Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, Zen (all people studying Zen take the Bodhisattva's vows), and people studying upstairs take the Bodhisattva's vows, and downtown.. Well, Williams is kind of a bodhisattva, in that sentient beings in Rutherford are too many to count. "I vow to illumate them all" - "Empathy into their condition is widespread, I vow to dig those situations"..Yeah?

Student: He does seem to have a problem empathizing fully with women, though, at times, doesn't he?

AG: Sure.

Student: Yeah

G: And he resolves it somewhat towards the end of his life when he says "the female principle of the world/ is my appeal/ in the extremity/ to which I have come" [in the poem, "For Eleanor and Bill Monahan"]. He slowly begins to recognize the woman in himself, actually. And so earlier he had a lot of trouble. Although, actually, he's got a lot of sympathetic and empathetic portraits of girls, old ladies, patients, his wife, actually (very often).. I don't think he really had much more trouble empathizing with women than with men, actually. He was always, actually, a sort of lonely self writing, looking out on the outside.
So about this point, sitting around Rutherford like a bodhisattva, looking for something to do [Allen reads next, "Promenade", in its entirety] - "Well, mind, here we have/ our little son beside us:/ a little diversion before breakfast..."..."Home now, my mind! -/ Sonny's arms are icy I tell you, -/ and have breakfast!" - Actually there's quite a bit of actual simple family relation (here), like taking the son out for a walk, thinking to bring a little bouquet back to "mamma" (Flossie, his wife) - ["..a bunch of little flowers/ for Flossie - the little ones/ only.."] - But he also had a funny kind of bodhisattva-intelligent politics, thinking about the immigrants around Northern New Jersey of that time, Italian immigrants, particularly, because, in the (19)20's in Paterson, there were silk strikes, there was a tremendous recollection of Italian immigrant anarchist tradition, which he picked up on - [Allen reads Williams' "Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!" in its entirety] - "You sullen pig of a man/ you force me into the mud/ with your stinking ash-cart!..".."and-/ dreams are not a bad thing" - So now there's a plateau he gets to , where there's little daily flashes.

Student: Is he left with his dreams at the (end there), I mean it's like, no particular way you can think of going to it..just sort of, like..keep (hold of your dreams).. ?

AG: At that moment.. At that moment, in that poem, a sort of a consolation prize - "dreams aren't (are not) a bad thing" ( though he'd said, earlier in the poem, "it is dreams that have destroyed us" (daydreams, so to speak, or dreams of romance...)
There's a funny kind of sympathy for some people, so battered, so bleak, so poor, so drunk - "Give 'em another beer!" - "The peaceful beer of impotence be yours, old man'. That's another poem that we'll get to. That ends that way - "The peaceful beer of impotence be yours".["The Old Men"].
Here, he's at a kind of plateau, but grounded in the sense of, at home with himself (or just about coming to be at home with himself) and beginning to recognize his own humor. "The Young Housewife" - this is a little bit like the dream he had of the girl that leaned on the door of his car, and then he had this wet dream about her and (then he) wondered how he was going to deal with her every day. [Allen reads in its entirety, "The Young Housewife"] - "At ten A.M., the young housewife/ moves about in negligee behind/ the wooden walls of her husband's house.."..."The noiseless wheels of my car/ rush with a crackling sound over/ dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling" - I've always liked that because here he's written a Chinese poem ("..and I compare her to a fallen leaf") but very exact (it's a fallen maple leaf, it's not a mulberry leaf). He's got a car (with a really good description - "The noiseless wheels of my car/ rush with a crackling sound over/ dried leaves" - over those dried leaves - "as I bow and pass smiling".
Ice-man, the fish-man. Nobody had thought of putting the ice-man, fish-man, in a poem before, as the romantic details of poesy. And (his description) "..stands/ shy, uncorseted, tucking in/ stray ends of hair" - that's as good as Hemingway in terms of fast, perfect, complete, condensed, photo-description. With all that humor, he still sees himself as a solitary crank. Yeah?

Student: When you mentioned last time hat his interest in, or study of, language was almost scientific, did it go..

AG: I should (actually) have said "medical", in the sense that you study symptoms, or you have experiences with corpses (living and dead). You begin to know the signs of (life), to recognize..

Student: Was he more than just a really shrewd listener? Did he do any reading on the subject of...

AG: Well, he didn't read linguistics. He may have read something, but I doubt if he read..I doubt if he read Chomsky, or anything like that. He may have read Deep Down in the Jungle, or listened to the blues. His reading was pretty extensive actually, but scattered. I doubt if he did anything that he would call scientific linguistics. But "scientific" in the sense of collecting data, and making replicable experiences (replicable in the sense of listening to speech-rhythms and diction, and then reproducing them, and proposing a method that other poets could use for their own speech that would sound different from his because their own speech was different). The question about W.S.Merwin, in a sense [Merwin and Anne Waldman were both present at Naropa in 1975], is is his Shakespearean-actor style of poetic delivery his actual natural speech? ( - and it may be so). Anne Waldman's vibrant, tremulous, delivery? - that is actually her body-speech. Williams laid out a method that influenced almost every poet that I've had converse with over the last twenty years, whose work I've dug. And it was because he had a very simple method of examination of language. As I said, it should be "medical-scientific", in the sense that you examine diseases, and, through dealing with mumps long enough, you get to recognize the symptoms. But his practice - it's a practice too, you might say - was so simple, (so) elemental that other people could pick up on it and apply it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mind, Mouth and Page - 5 (Williams)


["William Carlos Williams seated at a typewriter in the upstairs bedroom, 1940s" via Beinecke Collection, Yale]

"The Raper from Passenack" - [Allen reads William Carlos Williams' poem, "The Raper from Passenack" in its entirety] ("..I wish I could shoot him. How would/ you like to know a murderer?/I may do it..") - It's a character again. Like somebody talking for real. Somebody very intelligent, actually. Sounds to me like somebody very intelligent in total shock, coming out of a total shock, but the doctor is listening, Doctor Williams is listening. He's got to treat the lady. "Invocation and Conclusion" [Allen reads the short poem "Invocation and Conclusion", likewise in its entirety] - "January!/ The beginnings of all things!/ Sprung from the old burning nest/upward in the flame/ I was married at thirteen/ My parents had nine kids/ and we were on the street/ That's why the old bugger -/ He was twenty-six/ and I hadn't even had/ my changes yet. Now look at me!" - At this point he got interested in abstracting it a little - just making a collage of the conversation, or the signs or whatever he was hearing - but he gets more and more precise as a study of what he hears (page 109 - "Sunday"), actually a study in shabda (sound - Sanskrit (for) "sound"). So Williams (is) practicing shabda yoga in Rutherford, New Jersey, maybe 1922, that is, just listening to sounds. Interesting to compare (this) to a passage in Kerouac describing the sounds in the middle of the night in Ozone Park, New York in Visions of Cody. I have a book called The Visions of the Great Rememberer which talks about that, or points that passage out, if you want to check it out. It's in the library. "Sunday" [ Allen then begins reading William Carlos Williams' poem, "Sunday"] - "Small barking sounds/ Clatter of metal in a pan.." It's Sunday, of course. So (these are) the Sunday sounds. He's quiet enough to be able to hear what is going on on Sunday because he isn't preoccupied in having to fill out his office hours. So it's actually really Sunday,
shabda Sunday conjured [Allen continues, reading the poem in its entirety] - "Small barking sounds/ Clatter of metal in a pan/ A high fretting voice...".."A distant door slammed. Amen" - Another Sunday poem, another detail. I guess he started listening and then all of a sudden heard (this) or that on another Sunday. I would bet these were both written in the same day, or same month. There's no evidence..
One problem with this book [The Collected Earlier Poems], I think it was done after Williams had his stroke, and he probably did it together with his wife or had some help, but there is no finura in it, as far as dating (you can't even find in the Acknowledgements page the dates of the publications of the different books that are mentioned, so it's a little difficult to know exactly what year he's writing). So what is really needed, in addition to Williams' (Collected Poems) would be the exact dates, as much as possible.

Student: Is it just an over-sight then that they're not presented chronologically.. ?

AG: I'm not sure that they weren't published chronologically. How much out-of-chronology is this? did you notice?

Student: Yeah, it's fairly... I mean, there are whole sections...

AG: It's basically chronological. But there are a couple of things that are...

Student: .. say, three or four or five...

AG: Yeah

Student: ..are fairly out-of-place.

AG: Yeah. And I actually should have prepared this better by getting it on order. But I don't know, that sounds like a scholar's work, and would take quite a bit of time. You'd have to write to New Directions.

Student: Yeah, I wrote to New Directions, they didn't answer me.

AG: On this subject?

Student: Yeah

AG: No kidding. When did you do this? What were you doing it for?

Student: Um..for a..honors, I guess for an honors course..

AG: Uh-huh. You tried to get a chronological ordering of these (poems)?

Student: Not a chronological ordering, but I tried....

AG: Or the dates of the books?

Student: ..to find out, I tried to find out from (James) Laughlin. I wrote to Laughlin's office. (So) why wasn't it presented in chronological order in this volume?

AG: My guess is that probably it was done..when was this done?, when was this first printed?..let's see..well, the last copyright is (19)66, Florence Williams, but (19)51, around that time, I think, he had a stroke. '51, '52, I'm not quite sure exactly when. He wasn't that much interested in that kind of scholarship. He had those books and he put them together.

Student: Right.

AG: He didn't have ten apprentices like I do!

Student: Well, I thought.. I thought that perhaps they had more of an aesthetic meaning to Williams presented in this way,

AG: I'm sure he presented (them) as he wanted, in the order that he wanted, aesthetically. Though he was a little bit... he was a householder.. a little arbitrary about that. It was, just like housekeeping, "Well, I'll put that book there and that book there. I'll put that bookshelf over there, or maybe I'll move my desk. Maybe I'll put this book in the middle, over here", or "I didn't get this book. I didn't have a copy of it. Maybe it just came in just as I was going to send the manuscript off.." So that old book, published by Four Seasons Press or Black Sun Press or something... (those books were getting pretty rare by then, he didn't have some of them probably). I think there's a certain amount (of a) rough attention to the way he set it up, but I don't think he got hung-up on it, he just didn't get hung up on that. By the time he got around to putting all of these together, it took all his strength just to type, and he could only type one finger at a time (and made mistakes at the time).

Student: How did it come about that he finally got published? Was it his doing, or was it..?

AG: Oh, he was published very early, by Black Sun Press and others. There was this big international mucous-membrane network with Pound - and Harry Crosby and Caresse Crosby, sort of rich, literary, Fitzgerald-ean, European, international avant-garde types, had a press in the South of France and published tremendous things. I think Gertrude Stein's "(The) Making of Americans"...

Student: This is Black Sparrow?

AG: No, no, Black Sun..Black Sparrow is a modern version of that..in Los Angeles

Student: Did they charge high prices too?

AG: Pardon me?

Student: Did Black Sun charge high prices?

AG: Yeah, they were relatively expensive, because they were small editions of one or two or three or four hundred copies.

Student: They were printed in France?

AG: Yes.

Student: And then sent to England?

AG: Yeah. Well, if you listen - [Allen reads from the inside Copyrights page] - "Copyright 1917, 1921 by the Four Seas Company, Copyright 1934 by The Objectivist Press, Copyright 1935 by the Alcestis Press, Copyright 1936 by Ronald Lane Latimer, Copyright 1938 by New Directions.." But there were others - by the Cummington Press - The Wedge, which is a section here, a later book, was published by the Cummington Press in Cummington, Massachusetts. Yes?

Student: Allen, If I remember correctly, in his Autobiography, Williams said that (with) several books of his that were published, he went out to the bookstores and bought up all of the copies. Why was that?

AG: He probably knew how valuable they'd be! I don't remember. Was he ashamed of his early books? the earlier Keats-ian books, I think.

Student: (I think) he even tried to get them from the Rutherford Library, but..

AG: It's probably his early Keats..

Student: Do those not appear in that book [Collected Earlier Poems]?

AG: No, they're not in here. There are some. If you want to hear what he first wrote. It starts with "The Wanderer". Well there's one, "First Praise" (page 17) - [Allen reads Williams' "First Praise"] - "Lady of dusk-wood fastnesses...Praising my Lady" - The echo here is (Ezra) Pound - a lot (Pound's translations of Provencal, probably). There are a few poems that have that.. well there's a funny kind of crisp splintering-leaf tread, which is direct observation, refreshing the form.

Student: The voice is really different,

AG: It's a different voice.. (Yeah). He was really ashamed of those Keats poems, the way he talked to me about them. Ashamed, in the sense that he thought he was just an idiot, compared to what he came to, compared to the reality that he came to.

Student: How old was he when he started writing his first poems?

AG: Well, let's see.. When was he born? .. I don't know... I would guess, probably.. the Keats poems?..oh, seventeen?

Student: No, when he got over that and found (his own voice)?

AG: That's the trouble with this book. You can't tell. Probably around..let's see.. I would guess probably around age) twenty-four (or) twenty-five, when he got onto his own, Well, probably that poem about "your thighs are appletrees which touch the sky". It was probably when he was about twenty-four years old (I would guess, twenty-five). Already a doctor, maybe (or already in medical school), out of college. When he was in college with Pound, he was writing Poundian Romantic verse, but his model was Keats, he said (he actually modeled himself on Keats, he liked Keats). I think Keats' sanity and basic mellowness (is) what he dug.

Student: It wasn't so much the Romanticism, but it sounds like..I can't believe that he talked like that back then. I believe that he talked like that later on..

AG: Talked like that in the later poems or the earlier poems?

Student: Yeah, it seems like he found...

AG: No, he did talk...

Student: ...or was able to accept his own voice later on...

AG: Yeah.

Student: .. and it's as if he were trying to... that was probably what he didn't like, that it seemed like he was straining, just to reach that voice in that...

AG: No, no..he already talked like that as a talker. No question of that.

Student: He talked...

AG: The realization that (that) was the material of his poetry came late, but he had a pre-conceived idea of poetry until he abandoned it.

Student: That was what I meant.

AG: Oh, ok..

Student: It seems like he found his voice in his poetry. It seems like he was able to merge his voice with his poetry..

AG: Well, that's the whole point.

Student: ..whereas before...

AG: Whereas before he was hung-up on an idea (of) what the poetic voice should be like (and was taking from models that Pound was giving him, actually).
Sunday - "The Catholic Bells" - Catholic Bells. So there's a church and there's an excellent subject. So how does he deal with it? [Allen reads "The Catholic Bells'] - "Tho I'm no Catholic/ I listen hard when the bells/in the yellow-brick tower..".."..O bells/ ring for the ringing!/ the beginning and the end/ of the ringing! Ring ring/ring ring ring ring!/ Catholic bells!" - I'll finish with a poem which I read last time, which was a source of suggestion for Gregory Corso (a little poem, in Gasoline, about "Mrs Lombardi's son is dead" - "Italian Extravaganza" is the title) - "Mrs Lombardi's month-old son is dead/ They've just finished saying high mass for it/ They're coming out now/ Wow!, what a small coffin/ And ten black Cadillacs to carry it in" - No [Allen tries again] - "They've just finished saying high mass for it/ Mrs Lombardi's month-old son is dead/A small purplish wrinkled head..." - "a small purplish wrinkled head", and a description of the coffin - (And) Wow!, what a small coffin/ And ten black Cadillacs to carry it in" - When I first met Gregory, he'd already met Williams, 1950 or (19)51, and the one poem he dug the most, "The Dead Baby" - [Allen reads Williams' "The Dead Baby"] - "Sweep the house/ under the feet of the curious/ holiday seekers..".."a curiosity -/ surrounded by fresh flowers" - I have one more poem (because it's the emd of a book of poems, and it finishes, and sums up, his aesthetics of that day, the book, An Early Martyr. [Allen reads "A Poem for Norman Macleod"] - "The revolution/ is accomplished/ noble has been/ changed to no bull/ After that/has sickered down/ slumming will/ be done on Park Ave. / Or as chief/ One Horn said to/ the constipated/ prospector:/ You big fool!/ and with his knife/ gashed a balsam/ standing nearby/ Gathering the/ gum that oozed out/ in a tin spoon/ it did the trick./ You can do lots/ if you know/ what's around you/ No bull" - In case you didn't get it, it was a constipated prospector and the cure was balsam, which the Indian knew as a local cure, knowing the land, knowing America, knowing the place where he was and its creatures. I'll continue with Williams until we're done with Collected Earlier Poems. [class and tape ends here]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Allen on Earth Day



The esteemed and recommended Dangerous Minds site posted this one, a week or so back, Circuit Earth, a 1970 documentary, "with Ralph Lapp, Paul Ehrlich, (the) Broadway cast of Hair, Allen Ginsberg, Redbone, George Wald, Edmund Muskie, Jerry Rubin, Alan Watts, The Black Butterfly, Ed Sanders, and Community Groups and Citizens of Philadelphia".

As they note, "filmed in Philadelphia during the first Earth Day in April of 1970, Circuit Earth is a fascinating glimpse at the roots of the ecology movement and a sad reminder of how little things have changed when it comes to man's relationship to our planet in the 42 years since the film was made [45 now - sic]".

We re-post it today (Earth Day) for your meditation/rumination/consideration.

Ed Sanders' reading (at approximately 33 minutes in - to 37 minutes in) is one highlight - Allen too, of course (his message, the message, hasn't dated) another - but the whole thing is of a piece (and certainly should be viewed as a piece), with its rambling (actually, not rambling) multi-perspectives.


Allen's contribution is three-fold. Firstly, approximately ten-and-a-half minutes in, a bulletin from Cherry Valley - "The history of our consumption is, where I live, (up) in New York State, (there) was a giant hemlock forest in the 19th Century. New York City sucked up all those trees to make charcoal for heating New York, and the bark was used for tanning. As a result, there's nothing but fifth-growth shrub trees now, and some pines, and a few old maples and oaks, but the giant hemlocks have disappeared - all that to feed the city, the creature comfort of the city, that is charcoal from burning wood, charcoal for heating. And, simultaneously, as the trees were cut down, so were all the animals killed and trapped for their skins (and the barks of the trees were used to tan the skins, so that the sentient living beings, like the trees and the animals, are both sucked up, shipped to Europe, or worn in coonskin caps!
His second sound-byte (about twenty-two minutes in) - "So, just as a junkie, when he's addicted, has a physiological change throughout his body so that each cell in the body is dependent upon the addition of junk to keep him in any kind of state of painlessness, so the entire American consumer population is hooked on what you might call an oil-burner habit to sustain his daily life cycle. We're injecting, in the United States.. we're injecting..into the political..the body politic is a metabolism of the body politic... billions of gallons of oil, millions of volts of electricity, that run automobiles, that run the households, that keep us up all night, that maintain the communication networks, the television and radio. Every family is completely dependent on the services provided by electronics and by consumption of raw materials. We consume sixty per cent of the world's raw materials with something like three or six per cent of the population, which means that we've got an enormous.. an enormous monkey on our back, like an electronic monkey, a raw materials monkey, and we've been so conditioned, over the last thirty years at least, to be dependent on that raw material monkey, that if it were removed now, it would be like removing junk from a junkie (and you can't remove junk from a junkie, without him going kicking and screaming, like a psychotic state of need, and sometimes heart-attack, sometimes suicide.."
The third appearance (thirty-seven minutes in, following Ed Sanders) has him reading his recently-composed "Friday the Thirteenth"
"What prayer restores freshness to eastern meadow, soil to cindered acres, hemlock to rusty hillside,
transparancy to Passaic streambed. Blue whale multitudes to coral gulfs....?
Earth pollution identical with Mind pollution, consciousness Pollution identical with filthy sky."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Janet Forman & Regina Weinreich - Beat Generation:An American Dream (ASV #33)



Janet Foreman and Regina Weinreich's 1987 documentary, The Beat Generation: An American Dream, is one of the earliest "Beat" documentaries, featuring the always-illuminating, always-transcendent, first-person, "talking-heads" footage (in this one, Ginsberg-Burroughs-Corso-Kerouac-Ferlinghetti, but also Carl Solomon, Herbert Huncke, Ray Bremser, Amiri Baraka, Robert Creeley, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Diane di Prima, Carolyn Cassady, Hettie Jones, Jan Kerouac...music by David Amram - all held together by informed commentary/ sympathetic commentary from the legendary Steve Allen).

Here is the movie in its entirety - (artificially divided) in 8 parts - (you'll forgive, we hope, the Japanese sub-titles!) [ 2014 update - ok, ok, so the movie, in this, confessedly samizdat form, has been taken off You Tube. In the hope that it'll sometime return, we retain these notes)

Part one, beginning with sound-bytes from the likes of Burroughs, Solomon, Ferlinghetti
Ginsberg, Bremser,Baraka, Di Prima, Corso, Huncke (Allen's sound-byte is a pithy description of the Beats - "Classic and traditional, at the same time, frank, fresh, raw, odd" - The film first moves on to an initial use of vintage footage, stock footage (utilized throughout in the film) - David Amram - more vintage footage - Kerouac, (famously, on (the) Steve Allen tv show - Steve Allen, several decades later, watches himself on tv) - Carl Solomon remarks on Kerouac - Steve Allen (as he will, several times, throughout the film), introduces a segment and gives a little background, (this one on Huncke and Burroughs) - Allen: "There was this idea, in the '50's, that you had to fit in to something that was basically not comfortable to fit in, not human to fit in. You weren't supposed to be gay (even if you were), you weren't supposed to have some sort of space delicacy visions and look at the clouds and think that that's important. The emotions that I felt, of grief and affection for my mother were, in a sense, forbidden social emotions, even though she was..because she was.. in a bug-house, and therefore outside the pale - and in those days they used to cut pieces of their brains out, remember - the pre-frontal lobotomy or tenectomy for the eyeball - so people were being treated as objects and experimented with, and that was something that I was supposed to not talk about, and not relate to other people about, and that it was a deep dark family skeleton secret, but actually, I loved my mother, and the social manners didn't seem to fit in with the family tragedy. The family tragedy was much deeper than social manners, so in that sense I felt that I had a reservoir of private experience that was for real that made the usual social ways of conversing, and talking, and ignoring deep feeling, seem shallow to me" - Gregory Corso first appears (he's an important contributer to the film) and reads "Sea Chanty" - Steve Allen introduces the next segment - Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Allen: "In those years, they also had the social notion that certain people were "fiends", certain human beings, certain citizens, were in a category of "fiends", namely the "dope fiend". Now a "fiend" is an extreme word, it's very extreme, it's like Frankenstein, it's like Dracula, it's like the Thing-from-Mars, or something." This first part concludes with a brief contribution from Robert Creeley, set against further stock contemporary footage.

Part two - begins with war propaganda footage and Allen's voice-over (then image) - Allen:
"The atom-bomb had just blown up and the war had just been over where thousands.. millions of people were in concentration camps on the other side of the world, so there was.. so that meant we were entering a period where we could see the non-human and the non-human began threatening everybody's psyche, you know, that they had us..that everybody had to..complete with the non-human" - more newsreel footage - Steve Allen's narration continues - Amiri Baraka and Hettie Jones are featured - more newsreel footage (suburban fashion). Allen:
"Thurston Schenfield, Battan Barton Osborne Schenfield, Clifford Doherty and Schenfeild, Empire State Corporation, something, [actually, Doherty, Clifford, Steers & Shenfield] which was marketing research, and what I was doing was making graphs of the statistics we got in on a survey of what is selling over the front counters of supermarkets in eighteen states, and so we were doing statistics on whether the sales correlated with the amount of money they spent on advertising on television and in the newspapers. And so I was measuring market research, brainwashing of American public, I was measuring how that goes about and putting it on charts, commercial brainwashing. I had an apartment in Nob Hill, and I had a suit (like I do now), and I was clean-shaven, and I had a girlfriend, and..er..I had taken some peyote, and looked out over the window onto the red glaring sky gulf of downtown San Francisco, looking down from Nob Hill. It reminded me that the center of our civilization was a kind of inhuman ambition, so the word "Moloch" sprung to mind, from the Bible, the God that children..it's the God that children are sacrificed to..children are sacrificed to the war-god, Moloch, by their family, and I think there's a line in the Bible, "Thou shalt not pass thy seed through the fire to Moloch" [Leviticus 18:21 - "Thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch.."] (There follows an audio recording of Allen reading from the Moloch section of "Howl" against archival footage) - "I think people in the '50's suffered an enormous sense of personal rejection and were all working their whole lives around trying to hide that, or make up for it."

Part Three - Steve Allen introduction again (the focus on institutionalization and madness) - Amiri Baraka on Carl Solomon - Carl Solomon - Gregory Corso - Diane di Prima - stock footage. Allen: "I had this weird dream in 1950 that my face had turned blue and, like, I was suffocating, you know, a skeleton, because I didn't fit in, somehow I couldn't make it, so I was forced, in a sense, to find my own world, to define my own world, make my own world, out of my own heart, relating to the hearts of other people I found open-hearted to me, and that was namely Kerouac and Burroughs, and later Peter (Orlovsky) and Gregory Corso, and what I was always looking for was somebody with a star on their forehead, some kind of sense of soul genius, or, somebody who waved goodbye to the stairway when they went down the stairway for the last time" - Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke ( again, against vintage (Times Square) footage) - comment from William Burroughs.

Part Four (note that it, as with previous section(s), is not quite in synch) - Steve Allen - Carolyn Cassady -Robert Creeley - Ray Bremser (We've already featured the Ray Bremser footage here) - Amiri Baraka - Diane Di Prima - extraordinary Thelonious Monk footage - Anne Waldman's voice-over closes this section (the Beats and the American road).

Part Five - Robert Creeley reads his famous poem, "I Know A Man" - Ray Bremser - "on the road" footage - Timothy Leary - Robert Creeley, Diane di Prima and Anne Waldman (on Beat sexism) - Gregory Corso - Amiri Baraka - Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Allen (on the 1956 "Howl" reading): "We'd sent out a postcard saying "Dancing Girls, Poetry, One-and-Only-Time Apocalypse in this Eternity, Never-Will-Happen-Again...", so everybody was coming out for a little wine and joy and poetry and exuberance is the.. was, I think, the tone. Exuberance and good humor, plus a feeling of power and a clarity and a straightness" - recording of Allen reading from "Howl" (over image of original typescript) - Allen (continues): "So, it wasn't exactly apocalyptic or explosive, it was more great party joy, but total joy of a good party, and everybody applauding, applauding and approving things that were well-said, so it was more like an old 1890's wedding, I'd say" - Lawrence Ferlinghetti reads his poem "21" (recalling the occasion).

Part Six - Steve Allen introduces a "new generation", Clark Coolidge, Larry Fagin, Anne Waldman, Abbie Hoffman - At approximately four-and-a-quarter minutes in, footage of Allen performing live, with a jazz band, at Naropa - "Glenn Miller and I were heros when it was discovered that I was the most beautiful boy of my generation.." - Gregory Corso recalls ("Ginsberg and I, especially, hit it off well..") - Ray Bremser and Robert Creeley (discuss Allen and nakedness) - Abbie Hoffman - more vintage footage -

Part Seven - Gregory Corso , Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka and William Burroughs (on the response by the media to the Beats). Allen: "The most subtle and interesting incident was in Chicago, 1959, where I gave a reading and read "Howl" and "Kaddish", and a relatively square lady in the audience, during the question period, got up and said, "Mr Ginsberg, Why is there so much homosexual reference in your poetry?" - and I was a bit surprised, because I thought it was obvious,because I'm queer, so I said "Because I'm queer", and she said, "Oh" - and sat down. So, apparently, she had some idea of poetry, that you're supposed to do things to shock, you know, and you don't even.. you take on roles, like being queer or something like that, in order to shock people, as some sort of aesthetic mumbo-jumbo, rather than being just straight-talking - So she understood it. But when I read that story in Life magazine, it was, not "Because I'm queer" (a very straight-forward answer, almost in surprise, inadvertently), but "Because, I'm queer, madam" - quote, unquote - "Because I'm queer, madam" (and they put in the "madam'). Now where did they get that "madam"? - out of their own imaginations and projections of.. as a put-down remark, rather than a very straight, frank, clear answer, a surprise answer, a surprised answer. They made it sound like some crazed bed-bug-ridden, scruffy, hairy, dirty, bare-foot, insulting beatnik! Well to me, when I read it, I thought, ugh, I wouldn't like that person answering like that to me, in a situation like that.." - Larry Fagin (recalling the '60's - Allen Ginsberg's face plastered on every wall) - Allen (again): "In fact, I went down, I remember, as a result of the media projection of the beatniks. I went down to Mexico once, in 1964, in a Volkswagen which I owned, with several thousand dollars in my pocket, and arrived at the border at Laredo, and was refused admittance by the Mexicans, who had already come to some agreement with the Americans, and they said, "You have to go back and shave your beard and take a bath!" - That was, literally, the official word of a government!".
Amiri Baraka -"everything is political - Abbie Hoffman - William Burroughs - Timothy Leary - Chicago riots footage - Diane diPrima - Jan Kerouac (on her father) - classic Jack Kerouac footage, reading from On The Road, - Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Gregory Corso - footage of Allen Ginsberg & Neal Cassady at City Lights - Gregory Corso on Neal Cassady.

Part Eight (concluding part - features footage of Allen reading from "Kaddish") -
starts with Hettie Jones - William Burroughs - Amiri Baraka - new generation of students' aspirations - William Burroughs (reading) - Amiri Baraka - Gregory Corso reading (on the "third shot" - Larry Fagin - Amiri Baraka (reading) - Larry Fagin - and, starting at approximately five-and-three-quarter minutes in - Allen, reading from Kaddish (concluding approximately eight-and-three-quarter minutes in) - Allen: "The only thing you can do is keep talking, and keep talking straight, and sooner or later some kind of human sincerity will penetrate through. It may take a whole generation of newsmen to grow up smoking pot, or making love with their eyes open, or going into different decades and different eras of permissiveness and intelligence and enlightenment and rock n roll and meditation, but, sooner or later, unless the world is overwhelmed with heavy metal, sound, sense of basic sincerity will emerge - " - At nine-and-a-half minutes in, Allen reads his poem "Guru" ("It is the moon that disappears/It is the stars that hide not I/It is the city that vanishes, I stay/with my forgotten shoes,/ my invisible stocking/ It is the call of a bell.") - Film closes with David Amram improvisations.

"American Dream", by the way. Well, the Beats had a few ideas about that phrase - see here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday's Weekly Round-Up 70

From Best Literary Tattoo’s - Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.

Another Ginsberg tat? Why not? - Leyna has "ecstatic and insatiate" tattooed on her arm (from "Howl" - "who copulated ecstatic and insatiate.." - but you all knew that.) For more Ginsberg "tats" (and there's always more Ginsberg tats), click here.

And would it be too obvious a segue to mention the upcoming (print) edition of Sensitive Skin - featuring a rare, previously-unpublished 1992 interview by Allen with (William) Burroughs, conducted in Lawrence, Kansas, after a trip to the sweat-lodge! The publisher, B. Kold explains: "I got the manuscript from Christian X Hunter, many years ago, 1995? 1996?, when he was Friday-night co-ordinator at The Poetry Project.He was also an editor at Sensitive Skin. He went to Allen's office one day and was given the ms, either by Allen or his assistant (he can't remember) for inclusion in Sensitive Skin. We'd published a number of Beat writers by that time ((Herbert) Huncke, (Jack) Micheline, (John) Giorno) and he thought we were a good fit for the article. Unfortunately, I took a brief break from publication (15 years), and haven't gotten around to publishing it till now. What prompted me to publish it now? Last Fall, I visited another Sensitive Skin contributor, photographer Ruby Ray, at her apartment in San Francisco, and realized that it was she who took the iconic Burroughs photos for REsearch magazine. The penny dropped.. Ruby gave me three previously-unpublished photographs of Burroughs from the original REsearch shoot of 1981. David West, the painter, also created several original illustrations for the story that I'm also going to include. It looks great!"
- Sensitive Skin "hits the stands" April 27th.

Burroughs' invaluable 1953 Latin American journals (facsimilies and transcriptions), incidentally, are available here

"The person I was playing was an eighteen-year-old guy who hadn't come out yet, wasn't the voice of a generation, was confused, shy, intellectually brilliant, but sort of socially inarticulate - which is totally against what the world's thought of him would be". (Tom Sturridge, playing Carlo Marx aka Allen Ginsberg, in the upcoming "On The Road" movie has been doing his homework, as we have reported before - here.) So now he declares: "I read everything...every piece of poetry he wrote up until that age, all his diaries. I read biographies. I read so much stuff - but remembered on the first day of filming that I wasn't trying to become a Ginsberg expert. I was trying to play a character. I remember shooting a first scene, and them saying "action!", and thinking, "fuck! I've totally forgotten to sort of...read the scripts!. I can tell you all sorts of things about Ginsberg's dietary feelings in this period in time, but have no idea how to say these lines!".
On The Road. Cannes, next month.

Speaking of films,
Not sure why we've never featured it before, but here's the trailer for James Franco's Hart Crane film, The Broken Tower.
We did feature a note on Hart Crane (the anniversary of his tragic suicide is coming up again) here, and a link to Francisco Ricardo's intelligent "defence" of the movie here...

Beat culture. More publications. Happy to announce that Sharin Elkholy's The Philosophy of the Beats anthology has just come out. The book "explores the enduring literary, cultural, and philosophic contributions of the Beats in a variety of contexts" (drugs with Kerouac and Allen, feminism with Diane di Prima, the "issue of (the) self" in Bob Kaufman's poetry, etc, etc). Among the contributers, Ann Charters, and our good friend, Marc Olmsted.

Diane di Prima's medical difficulties (first reported on here) continue to plague her (or rather, this being America, all the attendant medical expenses continue to plague her). You can do something about it. Please click the link here.

"Said the Buddha Skeleton/ Compassion is wealth/ Said the Corporate Skeleton/ It's bad for your health!" - Open Culture's another site we're happy to support. Their Ballad of the Skeletons posting matches our own (equally comprehensive) one here.