Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday's Weekly Round-Up 166




Chogyam Trungpa would have been 75 years old today

Previous Trungpa birthday postings on the Allen Ginsberg Project may be viewed here and here 

For a rich wealth of Trungpa materials - see here (Shambhala), here (the Chronicles Project) and here (the Chogyam Trungpa Legacy Project)

not forgetting his pivotal role in establishing "the first fully-accredited Buddhist-inspired university in America" - Naropa

A selection from Johanna Demetrakas' 2011 documentary - Crazy Wisdom - The Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche may be viewed here

Here's, on the occasion of his birthday, footage of Trungpa, from 1975 - Surrendering Your Aggression



more video (and audio) lectures are available here on the Chronicles site.

Shambhala released  The Collected Works of Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche (edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian) in eight individual volumes. 

Carolyn Rose Gimian also collaborated with Diana J Mukpo (Trungpa's wife - they married when she was a mere sixteen) on her revealing, candid and intimate memoir, Dragon Thunder.  








By the way, this weekend (Sunday March 2nd) sees the start of the Tibetan New Year, Shambhala Day or Losar, auspicious, we hope - goodbye to the Year of the Water Snake!, hello to the Year of the Wood Horse! 

In other news
Barry Miles' Call Me Burroughs  biography continues to get an enthusiastic reception.  Ann Douglas declares it "authoritative" in last Sunday's New York Times - "Appropriately, this biography, as Miles is at pains to tell us, (she writes) "is..collaboration, resting on the monumental research (James) Grauerholz did for a biography he abandoned in 2010, and the extensive taped interviews Ted Morgan conducted for Literary Outlaw, his pioneering 1988 biography. Miles himself knew Burroughs for many years, it was he who discovered the lost manuscripts of Queer (1985) and Interzone (1989), and he has written a number of books on the Beat Generation, including a fine biography of Ginsberg and an early study of Burroughs. Although he occasionally simplifies Burroughs' story with superficial moralizing..his access and wealth of detail will make this the go-to biography for many years to come."

Davis Schneiderman interviews Miles here for the Huffington Post 

James Attlee's review appeared recently  in the (London) Independent

Duncan White's review appeared, a few weeks earlier, in The Daily Telegraph

Welcome to Interzone: On William S. Burroughs' Centennial
[William S Burroughs - Self Portrait (1959)]

Iain Sinclair's lecture on Burroughs, "Ghosts of a Ghost - William Burroughs, Time surgery and the death of the image"  (delivered in conjunction with the show of photography currently up in London at the Photographer's Gallery, and following an introduction by John Sears, the show's co-curator), may be viewed, in its entirety, here. 

Sears and curator Patricia Allmer are interviewed here





Did you all hear of these recently-discovered, previously-unknown, Sappho poems

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Expansive Poetics 32 (Walt Whitman - Crossing Brooklyn Ferry)


Fulton Ferry Boat (Brooklyn, New York), July 1890 via The Library of Congress, Washington DC]


AG: So the next one chronologically that I want to take up is Hart Crane, whom we have in our book

Hart Crane
[Hart Crane (1899-1932)]

(Incidentally, SS [sic] gave me a good idea. (She) gave me, as a gift, one of these things where she made little stick-out labels and divided the sections into European, American, Greek, German, Russian, Eastern European. That seems to be a good way. I'll try it out for dividing up the book. I hadn't thought of that but it sounds like a good idea)

We're going to get to Hart Crane (who's under the American section) - see what year he is?
Student: 1899
AG: 1899, ok..
Student: (Born July 21, 1899).
AG:  After (William Carlos) Williams [William Carlos Williams was born in 1883]
Student: Oh, before Thomas Wolfe! [Thomas Wolfe was born in 1900]
AG: Before Wolfe
Student: Yes, it's right before Thomas Wolfe..and  (right) after..(Williams)..

AG: Okay, now there are two things in Crane. The section of Crane from "The River" - well, let's see. The reference in Whitman for Crane would actually be "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry".. How many know that? How many here have read (Walt) Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"?  [Allen observes a disappointing show of hands] - Ah, well, I think, maybe we should do that then, because that relates to Crane. We've got enough time. 
"Crossing Brooklyn Ferry' is (on) page 127

Student: It's in here? [pointing to the book]

AG: Yeah, page 127 in there. I actually did my homework and looked it all up last night. I actually prepared all this as a scheme.

Student [to Allen]: We're about a couple of minutes away from the end of this tape.

AG: Okay. Is there anybody here who's good at reading? Is there anybody who would like to read? - (to Student [D.P.]) Could you? Could you read it. Straight ?

Student [D.P.]: Read what?

AG: (Whitman's) "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

Student [D.P.]: Um..

AG: Would you like to try?

Student [D.P.]: Yeah, sure, I could do it.. (but).. I don't know [Student, it transpires, has a serious problem with stuttering (altho' in his reading of Whitman's poem, manages to triumphantly transcend this disability and gives an increasingly assured rendition]






















[Walt Whitman 1819-1892]

AG: Try it straight, you know. Please, I just want to get it. You've read it before?

Student [D.P.]:  No, not that I know of.

AG: Oh well, let me see.

Student [D.P.]: Don't worry about it, I'll just read it.

AG: Okay. It's about five pages. Do the first part and then we'll turn it on around.

Student: [D.P.] Yeah. [Student [D.P.] begins reading] - "Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!/ Clouds of the west - sun there half an hour high - I see you also face to face./  Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!/On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,/And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and  more in my meditations, than you might suppose.."


[Whitman's first published version of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in the 1856 second edition of Leaves of Grass under the title "Sun-Down Poem" (opening page)] 

AG: Yeah, go on. It sounds right.

Student [D.P.] [continuing reading] - "..The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,/The simple, compact, well-join'd scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme.." - Shall I continue?

AG: Yeah. For a while.

Student [D.P.]: I'm going to start to stutter.

AG: Yeah, well, until you stutter. The first stutter you take, I'll take it away.

Student [D.P.]: Alright - [Student  [D.P.] continues reading] - "The simple, compact, well-join'd scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme/The similitudes of the past and those of the future,/The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river.."..[Student continues reading until the end of the tape].."Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shor to shore,/Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,/Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,/ Others will see the islands large and small;/Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,/A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them/Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide./     It avails not, time nor place - distance avails not,/ I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,/Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,/Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a living crowd,/Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, so I was refresh'd/Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,/Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm'd pipes of steamboats, I look'd/ I too many and many a time cross'd the river of old,/Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,/Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow..."

tape ends here - then  continues 

"..Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south/Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water/Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,/Look'd at the fine centrifugal..."

Walt Whitman Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
[from "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry- An Online Critical Edition]


AG: Can I have the book?...? May I have a book?  A book. Whitman. Whitman.


Student [D.P.]: "..Look'd at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the shape of my head in the sunlit water/Look'd on the haze on the hills southward and south-westward/Look'd on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,/Look'd toward the lower bay to notice the vessels arriving,/Saw their approach, saw abroad those that were near me./Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw the ships at anchor/ The sailors at work in the rigging or out astride the spars,/The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the slender serpentine pennants.."

Peter Orlovsky (sitting in on the class): A serpentine what?

Student: Pennants

AG: Pennants

Student [D.P.]: "..The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilot-houses/The white wake left by the passage.."

AG: Passage

Student [D.P.]: ...passage/ The quick tremounterous [sic]...

AG: Tremulous

Student [D.P.]:  ...tremulous whirl of the wheels...

AG: "Quick tremulous" - "The quick tremulous whirl.."

Student [D.P.]: "..the quick tremulous whirl of the wheels,/The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sunset/The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the laddeled [sic] cup..."

AG: "Ladeled cup"

Student [D.P.]: Lathened [sic] cup

AG: "Ladeled cups"

Student: [D.P.] Do I have to continue?

AG: Just to the end. [end of section three] Another five lines.

Student(s): Go go go!

AG: Only five lines.

Student(s): Go!

AG: Five more lines, six more lines

Scene at the Ferry Landing, Brooklyn, by William J. Peirce, 1857. Modern tinting. Courtesy of www.whitmans-brooklyn.org Russell Granger
[Scene At The Ferry Landing, Brooklyn by William J.Pierce 1857 (with modern tinting) via Russell Granger - Whitman's Brooklyn

Student [D.P.]: "..the scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups,/ the frolicsome crests and glistening,/The  stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the grey walls of the granite storehouses by the docks,/On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely flank'd on each side by the barges, the hay-boat, the belated lighter,/On the neighboring shore the fires from the foundry chimneys burning high and glaringly into the night,/ Casting their flicker of black contrasted with wild red and yellow light over the tops of houses, and down  into the clefts of streets...."

AG: Right. Okay. (So) the key that will come to.. that will bring us to Hart Crane is - "Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shor to shore,/Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,/Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,/ Others will see the islands large and small;/Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,/A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them" - Well, Hart Crane is "fifty years hence" from this poem, I think. That was the key part I wanted to point out in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry".

[Audio for the above is available here, starting at approximately fifty-five minutes in sixty-seven-and-a-half minutes in]

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 31 (WCW & Others)



tape resumes in media res.. class discussion of traditional and modernist metrics

AG:.... how many (syllables in the) French alexandrine?

Student: Twelve

AG: Twelve. And if you write in eight, eleven, or twelve syllables, pretty soon you develop an automatic body ear for being able to do it. Among moderns, Kenneth Rexroth's longer works are done by syllables - you'll see a long column of poetic lines and they're all six or seven or eight syllables. A number of poets worked with that. So that was Marianne Moore's way.

H.D. - Hilda Doolittle was a lesbian and was very much influenced by Sappho and Greek poetry, and, as far as I understand, she attempted to reconstitute classical quantity and measure in her line by the vowel length. I don't know her work so well, so I'd have to look that up to find samples.

William Carlos Williams abandoned all attempts to go back to the ancient world and to imitate earlier forms. And so what he did was listen to people talk around (him), hear the raw data going into his ear, hear the rhythms of speech as people spoke - dah duh dah dah duh dah, duh dah-dah duh - and began recognizing and appreciating the ordinary mind, so to speak, or ordinary mouth, rhythms of everyday speech - and that's the nearest to some sort of Zen, or Buddhist, approach, which is to say, to take the elements of speech as he found (them) around him and recompose the intensest moments of it into a little machine, a little poem-machine. He would listen for samples of archetypal emotive idiomatic rhythm (archetypal, that is, repeatable - emotive, containing some kind of affect, affection, or anger, or feeling - idiomatic, what he heard his wife say, what he heard his patients say). And in his Collected Poems, you'll find little poems called "Specimens". He goes into a woman's house, and the woman says (he's a doctor, a pediatrician) and the poem ends, "Doctor I-I-I-I-I don't think she's breeeeethin'.." - B-R-E-E-E-T-H-E-N - " He was trying to get that "breeth-en" -"I don't think she's breethen" - So he was listening for that kind of rhythmic piecework, and putting those pieces together, composing them into poems, or listening to himself. Like the famous, "I have eaten/the plums/that were in/the icebox/ and which/you were probably/saving/for breakfast/ Forgive me/they were delicious/so sweet/and so cold" - Just a note he left his wife, which he read in the morning and maybe decided that was perfect speech, perfect American speech, perfect poem. 

So all four (H.D., Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams - and Ezra Pound) did a different turn in developing an American measure. William Carlos Williams, at the end, arrived at a triadic line, a line that went down the page in three steps, which he would divie and balance by ear, with a number of  different criterea for how you make it balance. You'd have a middle - by "triadic", I mean three [Allen moves to the blackboard], like that on the line. [Allen to class] - Do we have any Williams here? Does anybody have any William Carlos Williams (poems)? 

Student: Yes, I have..

AG: Do you have a late Williams, that would have.. Pictures from Brueghel ?

Student: Yes, that's what I brought.

AG: Great, okay, that's perfect. If you can pass it along..



[cover to New Directions paperback edition of "Pictures from Brueghel"]


Student: Ah, forget it, I'm sorry, I.. (don't actually have that book).

AG: Well, okay. Do you remember any Williams? Okay. I think it's - I may be wrong - "The descent/beckons/as the ascent beckoned" [from Williams' poem, "The Descent"] - Is that right?

Student: Yes

AG [writing the line/three lines on the blackboard]: "The descent..."  - you're getting old...  I may wrong in dividing the line up. 

Student:  (Actually, it's two lines - "The descent beckons/as the ascent beckoned")

AG: Well one is enough. "The descent" -  introduction of the idea - "beckons"  - so he's stating the idea of the descent - "beckons/as the ascent beckoned" - So it's three seperate idea pieces, three separate pieces of the idea, maybe spoken haltingly that way - "The descent/beckons/as the ascent beckoned" - So he would balance his line, perhaps, by idea, by balancing the idea of it out. That is, this you might count as one idea, two ideas. Idea one, two, three - think, number one, think, number two, think, number three - or three parts of one thought

Student: Is the word "even" in there? - "The descent/beckons/even as the ascent beckoned"

AG:  Maybe. Maybe -  "The descent/beckons/even as the ascent beckoned" - Maybe - I don't knoe. But for... yes?

Student: Perhaps, just in respect to breath, is it - or thought - is it..is there a relationship between the triadic foot and the haiku. I mean, just by accident.

AG: I don't think he worked it out.

Student: No, but by...

AG: No, I don't think it's that well worked out...

Student: Simultaneous...

AG: ..because Williams' practice.. was very varied. Williams' practice was totally varied. There's no single rule for why you break it up. Sometimes it's breaking up the idea.. which would then  have a relation to haiku, sometimes breaking up the mouthing breath, sometimes it's arbitrary, just to emphasize one word. Sometimes he'll have a single wor likr "a" or "which" in the middle, and balancing two large wings of thought. So it's by the seat of the pants. There isn't any necessarily scientific shot. Williams is much criticized for bullshitting and saying he invented an American measure, and Reed Whittemore, former Library of Congress poet-in-residence and friend of the CIA ((who) wrote the testimony of James Angleton, the intellectual, CIA chief), wrote a book on Williams denouncing him, saying (that) he was a fool, (that) he didn't know what he was doing, he was just coming on, trying to justify all his lousy prosody all his life, by saying  (that) he'd invented an American measure.  But most poets that follow Williams feel that it's an enormous contribution



























[undated typescript of William Carlos Williams "Pictures From Brueghel" - "Breughel 1" - via Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Connecticut] 


The key, however, is a relative measure - post-Einstein-ian - relative. It's not a fixed arithmetical foot, like you'd count five syllables, or three long vowels, or three or four iambic feet - it's relative. That is to say, according to your perception, according to the weight in your own ear, according to the seat of the pants - like flying by the  seat of the pants. But what it means, the real key, is something that Buddhists would appreciate - somewhat as in flower-arranging - it's mindfulness and awareness in arranging the line. Not necessarily that the line be symmetrical or even, it's just that when you arrange it you see what you're doing when you're doing it and you don't just leave it slop on the page. So that every line, every one of those triads, is arranged as you might arrange a flower arrangemen, that is to say, with the same attitude of care, weight, weighing the sound one way or another, whether you're weighing the idea, or weighing the sound, or counting the syllable, or combining all of those. I have a little essay on that called "Some Considerations of Mindful Arrangement of Lines on the Page in Free Verse", at the end of a book called Composed on The Tongue, and that was passed out during the various (classes here). It was composed for one of the classes here. You might look that up. It's all the different considerations that might go into this.    Let's see.. Yeah?

Student: I wanted to ask you if you could shed any light on the influence of the Armory Show on (Ezra) Pound or (William Carlos) Williams.. What was...that about?

AG: Well, maybe.. but let's get on..that's a little later. That's 1914 [editorial note - actually, opening-night was February 17, 1913] and I'm still...I still want to stay on this line of not so much Surrealism or Armory Show, but I want to stay on "children of Whitman", further Whitmanics.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately forty-six-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-five minutes in] 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 30 (The Spirit of Romance)



AG:  To make a long story short, (Ezra) Pound went to Venice, (and) studied some classical languages and Renaissance, and Provencal poetries, specializing in two areas - one, where the language moved, from Latin to a provincial language, that is to say, where writers made the transition from writing in classical Latin to writing in French Provencal, or troubadour language, or.. what other languages?..in Italy, that was...

Student: It's Provencal in the south of France, and koine for northern Spain and Italy.

AG: What was it called?

Student: koine

AG: [phonetically] ko-ee-nay

Student: K-O-I-N-E  It's a common language..

AG Northern Spain?

Student: But the lower... and, uh.. the whole south of France.. and then the Italian poets learned it and wrote in that language rather than Italian.

AG: Who was the first to.. what did Petrarch write in ?

Student: He wrote in Italian.

AG: Was he the first to shift?

Student; No, he was the last of the troubadours.

AG: Uh-huh.. So who was the first of the...

Student: William of Aquitaine. He died in 1127.


William IX of Aquitaine - BN MS fr 12473.jpg
[William IX Duke of Aquitaine (1071-1126) - from a 13th Century miniature in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris]

AG: Um-hmm.  And then Dante sort of climaxed all of that by making formal Tuscan language?

Student: Well the.. first Italian poetry was composed at the court of the Emperor Frederick II who died in 1250. So those first decades there..

AG: Yeah

Student:   ....saw the origin of Italian poetry...

AG: Yeah

Student: ...but most of the terminology was adapted from Provencal to Italian.

AG: Um-hmm - So (Ezra) Pound's special study was Provencal, and he translated many of the troubadours, minstrels, and German minnesingers, His interest was that cultural change where people wrote in idiomatic languages rather than in the official language, in Latin. He was also interested in going back and researching the measures of ancient Greece and Rome, (because we got our nomenclature and our structure of prosody from the old Greek. As I said, the Greek prosody specialized in quantity or the length of the vowel rather than stress).  



[ 14th Century Troubadours - Anon via Archiv fur Kunst und Geschichte, Berlin]

He also went to study Chinese a little bit, because Chinese had a picture-language, which was visually clear, like Imagism, so you couldn't get away with bullshit - writing big poems about truth and beauty without defining them. Whereas in Chinese those words had a pictorial, functional definition - a process rather than an abstraction.  

Marianne Moore decided that what she would do would be to count the number of syllables in each line, arbitrarily - make a stanza-form that would have five syllables, and then the next line ten syllables, and the next line two, and the next line twelve, say. It was a little bit like a butterfly's wing, sort of arbitrary-looking. Then she would repeat the same syllable count and stanza form from stanza to stanza. With her, it was taking the mechanical count of the syllables and then having the rhythm of the speech run counter to that, so you get a little syncopation that way. And I worked a little bit with that in an early book, Empty Mirror, and that syllable-count is one thing that everybody should practice, because to get an ear for syllables is very good. And also many of the classical lines are syllable, hendecasyllable...

(tape stops here)

(to be continued..)


[Audio for the above may be heard here starting at approximately forty-two-and-three-quarter minutes, and concluding at approximately forty-six and a half minutes]

Monday, February 24, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 29 (Longfellow's Metrics)


Autographs:Authors, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Autograph Manuscript Poem Signed."Thou, too, Sail on, O Ship of State!" One page, 7"...
["Thou too, Sail on, O ship of State.." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) autographed manuscript]



["The degredation of life in America" - William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) annotated typescript -
 c.Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale, Connecticut ]


Student: Did they [the early American modernists] manage to do it? (find a way of measuring American verse)?

AG: Yes, I think (William Carlos) Williams did. There were a number of people working on this problem at the time who were friends - William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, and Marianne Moore, altogether went to the same school [editorial note - not exactly, Williams and Pound went to the University of Pennsylvania, Doolittle and Moore to near-by Bryn Mawr] and were friends and lovers, slept with each other, got drunk together, went out to dances, read poetry together. Willams [born 1883] was a little bit older than Pound, [born 1885],  Marianne Moore, I think, about the same age as Pound [1887, two years younger] and Hilda Doolittle [born 1886] maybe slightly younger. Hilda Doolittle is famous as an Imagist poet.


[H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) (1886-1961)]

They all attempted to solve the problem of measure by different strategies. And among this group of poets - the avant-garde Imagist school, that was modernist, Imagist, Objectivist, you could call it, who received the influence of the international poets that we'll been dealing with, like the Futurists and Surrealists and Dadaists, who understood the sense of relativity of speech and morals and philosophy, and who had God swept out from under them, and all absolutes swept out from under them, and even patriotism, as you can see, after Whitman and Pound.  After World War I and the destruction of all civilized values, there was no reference point in civilization that one could count on as a permanent value. The older measures - the stress - duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah - had fallen into disrepute because (they) had finally come to pervert speech. So, by 1860, or (18)80, there was a poem, (by) Oliver Wendell Holmes, I think [editorial note - it was in fact by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow], "The Ship of State" [from "The Building of The Ship", the final section - "The Republic"] (which was quoted, in 1945 by (England's Prime Minister) Winston Churchill, as sort of official poetic rhetoric, the kind of poetry a man could listen to).  And it was "Thou too sail on, O ship of state.." You know that poem? 

Student: Hmm

AG: Does anybody know or ever hear of that?

Image: President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Winston Churchill, January 20, 1941

["Sail on Oh Ship of State.." -Franklin D Roosevelt to Winston Churchill, January 20, 1941]


Student: Yes

AG: Well, maybe I'll bring it in. It's in all the high school anthologies of the (19)20's - (And) it has the line - "Thou too sail on, O ship of state" - And it's considered to be (a perfect example of) iambic pentameter.
[Allen moves to the blackboard] - There doesn't seem to be an eraser here. Can we make sure that there are (in the future)...in case we need...

Well, it's the climactic line which Winston Churchill quoted - "Thou too sail on, O ship of state" - That's how it was measured - "Thou too sail on, O ship of state" - Right?  You can all hear that?. However, if you notice, the exclamatory "O' - Oh! - which is, if anything, an exclamation with stress, here receives no stress. So, finally, the poetic measure of America and England had become so reversed that it made absolutely no sense at all - that an exclamatory "O" was given an unstressed mark. So that can't be any kind of measure at all because it runs counter to speech. They'd finally come to the point where the formal measure had actually begun contradicting speech cadences. So there was no way of using this anymore except by putting your emotions into some kind of box that it didn't fit. Because, actually, I would say, " THOU too SAIL ON O ship of STATE", (and) if you're going to say "O", you're going to say "OH!" - "OH ship of state" - but the "OH! - " would be bigger than anything else (or "SAIL" - probably "SAIL" and "OH!" would be equal) - "Thou too SAIL ON O ship of state" (So " sail", "O", "ship" - or maybe the "state" too). But that's just exactly weirded out. I mean, that's weirding out, the way it's set up there [Allen is referring to the iambic measure that he has inscribed upon the blackboard]

Peter Orlovsky: How did (Winston) Churchill say it?

AG: "Thou TOO sail ON o SHIP of STATE"  - It's automatic... like robot cadences.
Yeah, I think in Fulton, Missouri, the "Iron Curtain" speech, I think, he did that. When he declared Cold War on Russia, he did it with that kind of cadence - in other words, a completely faked public language. [editorial note - 'the "Iron Curtain" speech" referred to here was delivered in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946. - in it, Churchill declared, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."] 


They all had to deal with this problem, that is to say - Pound, Moore, Williams, H.D. 
They all solved it different ways.

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in, and concluding approximately forty-two-and-three-quarter minutes] 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

William Burroughs - (Commissioner of Sewers)

















Burroughs Centennial celebration continues. Here is Klaus Maeck's 1991 documentary - William S Burroughs - Commissioner of Sewers, featuring, in a suitably cut-up form, Jurgen Ploog's interview with Burroughs, and footage from a 1986 Burroughs reading (recorded in Berlin, Germany, in May of 1986). 
We've featured a snippet of this before (on Burroughs' birthday) but here is the whole thing.

JP: I want to ask you William, what made you become a writer? I'm referring  to your remark, in the preface to Queer, where you said that your wife, your wife Joan's death had played an important part in your decision to say "I have to go into writing now? What.."

WSB:  What.. yes..but, excuse me, it's never.. I don't think it's a conscious decision at all, until you really committed yourself. Someone once asked (Jean) Genet when he started to write and he said at birth. Now that doesn't mean there's something particular in the chromosomes of a writer, but it does mean that all his experience is focused in that direction long before he puts pen to paper or sits down at a typewriter. You'll remember something that happened years ago and that will fit right in to what I'm writing now. So my past experience becomes meaningful in terms of material for writing in the future, but I was comparatively late, you see, I wrote Junky at the age of thirty-five, and it was published in..1963 (publication is, I think, very important for a writer. If I hadn't suceeded in publishing Junky, I might just have given up writing.

JP: What do you think the fact, or the state, of death represents? Is it just an end of something, or is it a transition, or..?.. like, like when we mentioned books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead  and all that, do they indicate that there is more than we normally realize?

WSB: "We"? -  please, don't do the "we"  - it depends,  there are all kinds, there are all kinds,  of attitudes..

JP: No, I mean in our culture..

WSB: ...towards death..  Well, as I said, "Kim had never doubted the existence of God, so the possibility of an after-life", and Kim is my alter-ego and spokesman (like Larry Speakes is the White House spokesman). Well, now... however, the Egyptian.. and the Tibetan, Book of the Dead are quite different, because the Tibetan Book.. was based on the premise(s) of re-incarnation, whereas the Egyptians had no concept of  reincarnation.

JP: But they believed in death after..  or.. resurrection, because they kept their mummies.

WSB: Ah yes, but only those people who had mummies could resurrect themselves.

JP: They needed a body.

WSB: They neeeded a body. That's why the Egyptians took to Christianity like a vulture takes to carrion. It's the resurrection of the body - this whole mummy concept..which I find..well..very..very unsatisfactory, to put it mildly.

JP: Well, and your personal feeling about that. Do you believe in reincarnation?

WSB:  Oh yes, I more or less take that for granted, the possibility of reincarnation, and of course I agree with the Buddhist system, that it is something to be avoided if possible, it's the worst thing that can happen. It may  -  " el delito mayor/Del hombre es haber nacido" [Pedro Calderon de la Barca]

JP: What's that in English?

WSB: That  means the first, delito, mistake, you can say, is to have been born in the first place...

The Western Lands, by William S. Burroughs
["The Western Lands" - William S Burroughs (1987)]

JP: Lets get back to the subject of the writer. What is the original field of the writer? what mechanisms should he consider, work on..?

WSB: The word "should" should never arise. There is no such concept as "should" with regard to art or anything, unless you specify. In other words, if you're trying to build a bridge, then you can say we should do this and we should do that, with respect to getting the bridge built, but it doesn't float in a vaccuum, My feeling about art is that, one very important aspect of art is that it makes people aware of what they know and don't know that they know. Now this applies not only to.. to all creative thinking, For example, people on the sea-coast, in the Middle Ages, they knew the earth was round, they believed the earth was flat because the church said so. Galileo says.. tells them the earth is round, and nearly was burned at the stake for saying so. (Paul) Cezanne shows people what objects look at, seen from a certain  angle, in a certain light. and literally, people just thought he'd thrown paint on canvas, and they attacked his..his canvases with umbrellas when they were first exhibited. Well now, no child would have any difficulty in seeing a Cezanne, There's.. Once the breakthrough is made, there is a permanent expansion of awareness, but there's always reaction of rage, of outrage, at the first breakthrough, and, for example (James) Joyce then made people aware of their..their stream-of-consciousness, at least on one level, on a verbal level, and he was, at first, accused of being unintelligible. I don't think many people now would have any difficulty with Ulysses.

JP: No

WSBSo, the artist, then, expands awareness, and once the..once the breakthrough is made this becomes part of the general awareness.

JP: So it's a matter of seeing things in a new way, differently

WSB: Well, yes, but seeing things that are there

JP: And well.. of seeing.. I'm interested in.. That takes me to the subject of (the) picture. Like, we have an alphabetic writing, like the..  but the Chinese, for example, they have an ideogramic way of writing, and they..some people say they have a different way of thinking because of that. Does the...the visual aspect, is that important? Does it come... 

WSB: Oh, well I think it's quite important to have so-called pictorial writing like Egyptian hieroglyphs. (Well, it is not as completely pictorial as people might think - the grammar is extremely complicated and you must have a number of concepts, that are arbitrary - so the word for "dawn" will be the word for "sun", but there are also what is known as determinatives..

JP: Yes

WSB: ...that must accompany that).  So, there are many arbitrary factors in any pictorial system.

JP: A set of  symbols that could be arranged in different ways?

WSB: Yes, but, for example, how do you say your propositions in pictures? The answer is you don't, you have pictures that represent them, but they're arbitrary.  

JP; Maybe you could say, we could say that "should" could not be expressed in pictures.

WSB: I don't think it could. Sometimes I will ask someone, you know -  they're asking me something, I'll say, "well, draw me a picture of it" (and) if they can't do that, I say, "Well then, Where is it? What does it mean?"

JP: I think that's an important...

WSB: Very, very, yes

JP: Of visualizing things

WSB: Particularly for a writer and artist.

JP: Well that takes us right into the subject of language, the way it is used in our culture and Western alphabetical culture, and techniques that are..that have been found, like cut-ups, to counter the effect of a language becoming more and more abstract and meaningless.

WSB: Well, yes, you see the.. I'd.. I'd spoken about the artist being the people making people aware of what they know and don't know that they know. That is, the cut-up is really  much closer to the actual facts of perception. As soon as you look out the window, look around the room, walk down the street, your consciousness is being cut by random factors - life is a cut-up - so the cut-ups are actually closer to the  perceptions, human perception than straight narrative, straight linear narrative.
See, the cut-ups was not my idea, it was Brion Gysin's idea, it's essentially a painter's idea of applying the techniques of painting to writing. This was the montage technique, which was pretty old hat, actually, in painting.

JP:  Well, there's a theory of saying that all things are happening at the same time, and only because we live in a certain way of time, of looking at time that we feel that it's all lined up in one line, going from one line, coming from one point and going to another point....

WSB: Well, yes, but this is..

JP: Chronological,

WSB: Yes but this is just part of the.. I mean, it's integral in the.. part of the word medium. We know things are happening simultaneously, but there's just no way of doing that on a page. You can't do it. If you tried, it just wouldn't work. You could say, "here is one column" (and) this is going on at the same time, that is going on, and that is going on, and that is going on". But it's just not going to, it's not going to work. You can do it much better, of course, in painting, you can do it, come closer, in cinema

JP: Film?

WSB: In the film, yes.  (a page a printed page)


["Tornado Dead 223" - William S Burroughs & Brion Gysin collage (c.1965)]

JP: Do you have any advice for young writers?

WSB: Well, no, because advice that may be quite valid for one writer may be quite useless to another. Well, you've got to see it. If you can't see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, your reader isn't going to be able to see it. And, well, as Sinclair Lewis says, learn to type (and he also said something which I have found to be very true. He says if you've just written something that you think is great, you just can't wait to show it to somebody or publish it, he said "throw it away, it's terrible!", and this is... I've found to be true, quite true. I'll write something that I think is great and I'll look at it a couple of days later and I say, "tear it into very small pieces and put it into someone else's ashcan, it's terrible. I guess I've destroyed I don't know how many thousands of pages of writing. So ..and then something that I wrote that didn't seem anything special at the time, I'd almost..  I think some things..sometimes I'm looking through a notebook, I  have forgotten that I wrote them, and I say "oh, well, this is, this is something really something good here". Writers are very poor judges of their own work, I find.

JP: So keep a notebook is one thing, What about dreams?

WSB: Oh well, I always write my dreams down and I get a great deal of material from dreams. 

JP: So they are a source of material?

WSB: Oh, good heavens, yes. Well, for me, at least, Now some people they don't remember their dreams at all. I've talked to people who say they do not remember ever..they don't remember a single dream

JP: Why's that?

WSB: Well, I always ask if they're heavy sleepers and they usually are. They forget their dreans in the time it takes them to wake up. We know that everybody dreams and we know that dreams (this is a very important discovery) that dreams are as necessary as sleep itself. Deprived of dream-sleep someone would die, in about a month or two, just as they would die from lack of sleep, no matter how much dreamless sleep they get. They've experimented with people and they've experimented with animals. They can tell by the REM (the rapid eye movements) when people or animals are dreaming, and this, apparently, is.. serves some very essential biological function. It's a biologic necessity. Dreaming is a biologic necessity.

JP: Yes, they say even animals dream

WSB: Oh, certainly they dream. All warm-blooded creatures dream. Presumably cold-blooded creatures, cold-blooded creatures like snakes and fish do not dream.  

JP: So maybe they have a different mind? 

WSB: Well, obviously, they have a completely different consciousness, almost inconceivable to us. Have you noticed that we can identify very well with animals, particularly with predatory animals. It's much harder to empathize what a deer feels than to empathize what a cat feels, much harder. I mean the idea of something that eats grass is extremely alien, I think, and I find it very difficult to identify with birds.

MyEducationNovel.jpg
["My Education - A Book of Dreams" - William S Burroughs (1995)]

JP: One German writer, Gottfried Benn, he phrased a saying that - "the word, is the prick of the mind" - that's how he put it. I'd like to get into the..  what is the nature of word. Have you.. You once talked about a field theory of word. What were your findings there.

WSB: I really didn't come to any valid conclusions at all, except thatthe word seems to be an organism, and also my guess that the written word came before the spoken word.

JP: Is it a dangerous organism, or just an organism?

WSB:  Well, it depends. It can become dangerous. It acts like a virus, that is, in that it replicates itself. Of course.. you would.. a virus would not be recognized as a virus, can only be recognized as a virus by its symptoms, and a virus that produces no, what shall we say, psychopathological symptoms would not be recognized as a virus.

JP: The symptoms of the virus, where could you detect them in words or language?

WSB: Well, one thing that you can detect them in is that it is compulsive and involuntary, It's very difficult for anyone to stop their flow of words. Most people don't try but if you try you find that it's extremely difficult. So here's something that's happening against your will actually.

JP: Yes, that's something that indicates an influence from the outside. What about the language of the mass-media or the political language, the demagogic language, is that influenced by it too, or is it just a by-product?

WSB: Well, of course the political language is always concerned with generalities. They don't want to be precise. It's deliberately being used to confuse rather than elucidate. The difference between a... a writer is trying to evoke clear images through language, rather an awkward instrument, but a politician is trying to do just the opposite, he's trying to cloud issues rather than clear them.

JP: The writers are mainly concerned with.. working with the word but we have a multi-media effect right now going on, I mean, we (I keep saying "we"!)  you can notice it everywhere, like music is very important, pictures are very important.

WSB: Oh yes, yes, certainly, you have the film medium in which you have words and music and images, oh certainly.

JP: Could it be helpful for a writer to go out into other medias, like film, like you have been on records (with Laurie Anderson) and you have been in films. Is that a..?

WSB: Well, since you go into films, you're in another medium and you do what you can. You do well, or you don't do well. Simply, it's a different... different medium.
The lines between disciplines are breaking down. Everywhere the lines between music and word, between painting and words, and so on, photography. There's a general tendency for the media, the disciplines, to be breaking down, the lines are breaking down.

File:BlackRiderPlay.jpg
["The Black Rider" -William S Burroughs, Tom Waits and Robert Wilson (Canadian tour program) (1998)]

JP: William, you did a lot of travelling, You lived in Mexico City, South America, Tangier, or London, for a long time. Do you think travellng is important for a writer, that it adds to his perspective?

WSB: Well, generally speaking, yes, but there are writers who don't seem to have any neceessity to travel at all. Emily Dickinson. (Samuel) Beckett you don't feel has any need to travel, it's all taking place inside, but, certainly as a general proposition, yes, it gives you new perspectives, new material and so forth.

JP: And it also brings you in contact with other cultures.

WSB: Precisely. Precisely, yes. all the people that have had a completely different conditioning

JP: Can you travel in space..I mean, can you travel in time?

WSB: Well, we do travel in time, of course, all the time, we move back and forth in time. I have found that..there was a man named (J.W.) Dunne and he wrote a book called Experiment in Time [An Experiment With Time]  and found that his dreams consisted not only of the past but the future events as well. And I have found this to be true, since I write my dreams down and very often I will dream somethingthat then later happens. So, in that sense, yeah, I think that it is more.. it would be easier to travel into the future, in a real sense, than into the past.There is a law of evolution that any change in an organism that involves biologic mutation is irreversible.. that is, once a creature gives up his gills and gets air-breathing lungs, they'll never get their gills back, that evolution, in that sense, is a one-way street. 

JP: And that effects.. that has something to do with time?

WSB: Well yes

JP: Meaning you can't go back

WSB: You can't go back.

JP: You can only go forward?

WSB: Well, it means that you can't go back beyond any change that involves a biologic mutation.

JP: I think many of your writings are good teachings in how to survive under hostile situations, whatever they may be. Does that have anytingto do with your appeal for weapons?

WSB: Why yes, weapons are certainly one way of surviving in a chaotic situation, generally speaking, of course, the whole matter of flexibility, being able to change and alter your thinking to accomodate an unfamiliar new situation, so that I would say, at the present time, when we have an escalating rate of change, that flexibility is very necessary for survival. And therefore the old dogmatic ways of thinking are counter.. counter-productive for our survival. If you can't change when the circumstances change, then where are you?

JP: Right. You end up being extinct

WSB: Yeah, you're at a terrible disadvantage.

JP: Of course, there is a concept..saying.. which is very popular at the moment, that. .when there are no weapons, then you have peace, automatically, so to speak, but I think that threatens your ability to survive.

WSB: Oh, I think so too. What do they mean, when there are no..  I mean, there are always weapons.

JP: Right. Even your body, your fists are weapons.

WSB; Yes. Anything you can pick up, a glass, or a chair, or any bottle.


[William S Burroughs wields a sword]

JP: Bill, I'd like to take a look at the future, if there is any at all, well, there is always some. Do you see mankind moving into space?

WSB: Well, it's the only way he.. the only possible solution. I don't say that they will, but it's the only place for them to go. There's no place to go except up and out.

JP: To move into space, is there any mutation necessary for man, or do you think we're equipped to go

WSB: I don't think we're equipped at all. That's the point. It would require a biologic mutation quite as drastic as was involved in the shift from water to land, but the possibility, the air-breathing potential, must be there before the transition can be made, otherwise it's simply suicidal.

JP: And psychologically?

WSB: Well, any.. any physiological mutation is...

JP: ...psychological..

WSB: ...going to involve profound  psychological changes, necessarily.

JP: Do you see that taking place here already? - or is it very far away?

WSB:  Well no, I don't think it's very far away at all. We know that people..if the astronauts should stay in space, say, for five years they'd lose almost all their bone. If you don't use it, you lose it. And skeletal structure has no use in a weightless environment, so the end-result would be something like a jelly-fish.

An edited and longer version of this interview is included in Burroughs Live - The Collected Interviews of William S Burroughs as "Writing in the Future" (the interview was conducted in Berlin, May 9 1986) 

and a bonus - Maeck talks about his film-work and his first encounter with Burroughs (he made a brief cameo in Maeck's 1984 movie, Decoder).  In Megan Legault's film, Encoding /Decoding, he recalls the circumstances of the filming (the Burroughs recollections starting approximately nine minutes in).  The film itself, in its entirety, may be viewed here.