Monday, September 22, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 112 (Marsden Hartley 2 & Flowers)

AG: The first poem that we have at the beginning of the American section of the anthology (except for (Walt) Whitman), the first one that we got to put in there is a direct straightforward description of Lewiston, Maine ((Marsden) Hartley’s home-town) and a poem about Lewiston, Maine. He just realized one day as a big painter in New York he could go back and write about Lewiston, Maine, and not have to be ashamed of it, because that was a fit subject-matter.

And that was exactly what Alfred Stieglitz would cream over, because it was something that Stieglitz was looking for,  and (William Carlos) Williams was looking for – indigenous American evidence - what kind of mentality, what kind of culture, what kind of psyche, what kind of god, what kind of dreams, what kind of politics, what kind of tragedy, what kind of strike-breaking, what kind of closet-queen homosexuality in a small town, what the teacher thought, what we lived like (rather than imitating a foreign model). Because they realized, around 1900, that we had to invent our own art, finally, if we were ever to express whatever America was, as distinct from Europe. And there is (there are) some big distinctions.

So there's a whole literature on this subject. Van Wyck Brooks wrote huge volumes of historical research on the flowering of New England, trying to go back to find out what actually happened back there, how many slaves did (President Thomas) Jefferson own, actually? What was behind the patriotic flag-waving of the Declaration of Independence? What was the personal story and how much  is it like our own in the twentieth-century, where we have to strike out on our own - artists, separating out from the commercial America that Whitman had prophesized and denounced. So, actually, in a way, the individual artist was in the position of America breaking off from England - it was the individual artist breaking off from Sinclair Lewis'  Main Street society.

And so, at this time, Hartley is describing Lewiston, Maine - "I admire my native city because/it is part of the secret sacred rite/of love of place" - and that's the first announcement -  "sacred rite/of love of place" - which is not very different from the notion taught here (at Naropa) by the Buddhists and their dharma art shot of sacred world - taking your own ash-tray as  sacred, your cigarette as sacred, the table as sacred, the teaching of the class or the listening as sacred, driving a car as  sacred, your own love affairs as sacred, and treating the world as a sacramental relationship (which, basically, was the nature of the relationship, say, between me and Peter (Orlovsky) and (Jack) Kerouac) and (William) Burroughs, which still, you can see, to some extent, consistently prolongs itself in our relationship) - that is, treating each as sacred monsters, or sacred characters, in a one-and-only-time play that won't be repeated), that notion of sacred America that Whitman proposed and that, after Whitman's disillusionment,  and the disillusionment of World War I (with the Socialist Eugene Debs put in jail for resisting the war) and the growth of monopoly capitalism, it was still the attempt of these artists to make a sacred world for themselves.

So he begins -   "I admire my native city because/it is part of the secret sacred rite/of love of place" - [and, in those days, "secret", because only a few rare individuals had that understanding and glorified their lives that way] - "My childhood which was hard, it is always/hard to be alone at the wrong time/brought seizures of intensity to the years,/ the harsh grinding of the mills rang in/my ears for years.." - ["The harsh grinding of the mills rang in/my ears for years", that's a great line -  "The harsh grinding of the mills .."]  - "…and a sordid sort of music/came out of it,/I return to instances that are  the basic images/of my life as it now is./ I go back to the Franklin pasture which for/us children was the Asia and Africa/of our first impressions" - [and in that line you have all of Kerouac actually, all of Kerouac's hyperbole and sacred treatment of childhood, and the play places of childhood, and the secret games of childhood. It's a great announcement, actually, "the secret sacred rite", because it (was) only (a) few people in America (who) understood that secret of sacredness in those days (although I think it's more understood now)]

Then the second and the next little, forth and fifth, lines, if you read it and you've read a lot of Williams, you'll realize how close his diction and Willliams' are - or his syntax, how close his syntax - "My childhood which was hard, it is always/hard to be alone at the wrong time.." - when you realize this was written way back when in the century. For someone to be talking in a poem just like you would talk if you were an old grandmother (or you find some old man, rocking on a porch in Boulder, that survived the last sixty years - " "My childhood which was hard, it is always/hard to be alone at the wrong time.."

Then - "brought seizures of intensity to the years" - [there, you can see the painter. The painter was really not (a) professional poet, " seizures of intensity to the years", however, it's pretty descriptive, however, it's a little bit abstract ] - But then, immediately, (he) gets back to the thing - ""The harsh grinding of the mills rang in/my ears for years" - [which is an early evidence of the twentieth-century in poetry, when you have the "harsh grinding of the mills" as the most beautiful image (and, actually, a very vivid image, for the sound)]

[Marsden Hartley (1877-1943]

And then, "a sordid sort of music/came out of it" - [So there's a tremendous humor and tolerance there] - "and a sordid sort of music/came out of it" - "But "I return to instances' - [so he's going to go back to the details - "No ideas but in things" - the facts - "Franklin pasture"] - "Spring/and myself walking with my father along the/edges of a cool clear stream, gathering watercresses/ trilliums, dogtooth violets, and in/the fall - at times - mushrooms.." - [(Both he and Williams were not completely amnesiac-blind (as I am) to, actually, the names of local flowers and recognition of them. And recognition of the " of place" is (recognizing) what flowers grow where in your back yard, and your home town, and your front yard, on your driveway. You'll find "trillium" in Williams, also "dogwood" (I don't know about "dogtooth violets"."] - [Allen addresses the class] Does anybody know what a dogtooth (is)? Is that a common word, do you know.?  "dogtooth violets"?

Erythronium Dens-Canis Japonicum (European Dog Tooth Violet)

Student (CC):  Dogtooth. I think it's just a variety of violet 
AG: Is that a Maine variety or is that New England?
Student (CC): I don't.. Yeah, I imagine it is.
AG: Have you heard of it?
Student (CC): No, I had not heard of that. I would think that, like many common names, it's probably not.. no longer commonly used.
AG: Yeah, it's probably a local common name
Student: It's a dogtooth in Colorado
AG: They call it dogtooth?
Student: Yeah, yellow dogtooth violet
AG: Ah, so it's still..
Student: It's a mountain flower
Student (CC): So it's still..
AG: A mountain flower.
Student (CC): So it's still..
AG: A mountain flower.
Student (CC): Um-hmm
AG: What is trillium?.. I never did..
Student (CC): It's a three-leafed plant
AG: Uh-huh
Student (CC): And there's quite a few species.
AG: Green? or it's got (bits) on it
Student (CC): Well, actually, it has a lot of red in it, so you get these things with blood trillium and painted trillium… which have red streaks in them, or red.. similar.. slightly poinsettia-like looking.

Red Trillium

AG: Uh-huh. And you got more coming up.. [Allen continues reading] - ["…and in/the fall - at times - mushrooms,/white violets and blue, growing on little hillocks/with trailing evergreens and boxberry leaves/with pink edges of baby-tender leaves"] - [(which is nice - "baby-tender leaves"  - he's a big suffering faggot - "baby-tender leaves")] - "and here and there, pushing up out of the snow,/the arbutus, or, as we call it, Mayflowers/ Drama number one."] - [(The tone of this is so much like Kerouac, or like sacred Beat writing, or Beat writing that emphasizes that element of self-magnification, glorification of one's own sacred life or sacred world)] 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Leonard Cohen

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[Leonard Cohen and Allen Ginsberg - "An encounter with Leonard Cohen after a poetry reading at the Wiltern Theater  in Los Angeles. c.1988 - " Cohen was in the audience and Allen was in the lobby signing books after the show.  They couldn't stop talking" - Photograph courtesy Frank Beacham]

It's Leonard Cohen's birthday today. He's 80 years old.

Robert Sward: You once said that "the angels of mercy are other people". What does that mean? And what is the relationship between angels and language?

Leonard Cohen: I don't know. One of the things I always liked about the early Beatnik poetry - Ginsberg and Kerouac and Corso - was the use of the word "angel". I never knew what they meant, except it was a designation for a human being and that it affirmed the light in an individual. I don't know how I used the word "angel". I've forgotten exactly, but I don't think I ever got better than the way Ginsberg and Kerouac used the word in the early 'fifties. I always loved reading their poems where they talked about angels. 

 (Leonard Cohen, 1984 - from an interview with Robert Sward)

Here's some early Leonard Cohen, a CBC interview (with Adrienne Clarkson) from the mid '60's

and more early - very early -  Cohen - Donald Brittain's 1965 documentary - Ladies and Gentlemen...Mr. Leonard Cohen,

While we're at it, here's links to some other Cohen documentaries - Leonard Cohen in 1970 at the Isle of Wight and Tony Palmer's 1974 Bird On A Wire  (revealing documentation from the 'Seventies)
and, more recently (but only the trailer, unfortunately) Lian Lunson's 2005 over-view,  I'm Your Man

One documentary that's riveting and should on no account be missed is this -  Spring 1996, Leonard Cohen as a monk - about his time spent in the mid 'Nineties at the Mount Baldy Zen Center, forty miles east of Los Angeles

Here's a 1988 BBC interview, and here (in two parts, here and here ), Cohen, from that same year, on French tv.

Speaking of French tv, here's an over-view made four years later

and here's  Peter Gzowsky's 1994 CBC radio interview. There's a part two, three, and four here, here and here

And there's more…

There's something utterly  delightful in the dynamics between him and his pretty Scandinavian interviewer - from 2006 - (allowing him to flirtatiously open up) - see here, here and here

and from Pierre Tétrault's documentary film of the same year, (about his  (Tétrault's) schizophrenic brother, Philip), "This Beggar's Description"

Philip Tétrault:  Do you know, if you ever quit as a Zen Buddhist, you could be a Professor at McGill in English.
Leonard Cohen:  Yeah, I really look forward to that! 

 -  sitting in the park, shooting the breeze with Leonard!

Allen and Bob Dylan, believe it or not, are a part of the backing-track of this (the title track to the 1977 Phil Spector-produced Death of A Ladies" Man) - and this (how could we forget this!) - Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On


There's a brand new Leonard Cohen record out (out this very day, in fact!)  - Popular Problems - Here's a cut from it - "Almost Like The Blues"

Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems

More poems from Leonard Cohen -  here, here, herehere and here 
- and a reading from his novel, Beautiful Losers ("God is Alive, Magic is Afoot") - here

Here's two contrasting renditions of "Suzanne" (one early, one late)

His astonishing speech  in October 2011 at the Spanish  Prince of Asturias Awards ceremony - "Poetry comes from a place that no one commands, that no one conquers. So I feel somewhat like a charlatan to accept an award for an activity which I do not command. In other words, if I knew where the good songs came from I would go there more often."

More Leonard Cohen resources here - here - and here

Happy 80th Birthday, Leonard!

    [Leonard Cohen meets Allen Ginsberg, Los Angeles, 1988 - Photograph by Frank Beacham

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Joni Mitchell

[Joni Mitchell and Allen Ginsberg on Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour, 1975 (from Sam Shepherd's Rolling Thunder Logbook (1977)]

It was Allen, of course, who introduced Joni Mitchell to his "friend of spirit", Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

She came late to the rolling cavalcade 


but stayed to the end.

As she candidly confesses (in Readers Digest of all places!):

trungpa rinpoche
[Chogyam Trungpa painted by Joni Mitchell]

"... I went on Rolling Thunder and they asked me how I wanted to be paid, and I ran away to join the circus: Clowns used to get paid in wine — pay me in cocaine because everybody was strung out on cocaine. It was Chögyam Trungpa who snapped me out of it just before Easter in 1976. He asked me, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “Yes, here’s my god and here is my prayer,” and I took out the cocaine and took a hit in front of him. So I was very, very rude in the presence of a spiritual master.

Albert tongue out

...His nostrils began to flare like bellows, and a rhythmic breathing. I remember thinking, What’s with his nose? It was almost hypnotic. ... I assume he went into a breathing technique and a meditation. I left his office and for three days I was in awakened state. The technique completely silenced that thing, the loud, little noisy radio station that stands between you and the great mind.

….The thing that brought me out of the state was my first “I” thought. For three days I had no sense of self, no self-consciousness; my mind was back in Eden, the mind before the Fall. It was simple-minded, blessedly simple-minded. And then the “I” came back, and the first thought I had was, Oh, my god. He enlightened me. Boom. Back to normal — or what we call normal but they call insanity.

I wrote a song about [this] visit I made to him called “Refuge of the Roads.” [subsequently released on the record Hejira]. I consider him one of my great teachers, even though I saw him only three times….[Later], at the very end of Trungpa’s life I went to visit him. I wanted to thank him. He was not well. He was green and his eyes had no spirit in them at all, which sort of stunned me, because the previous times I’d seen him he was quite merry and puckish — you know, saying ‘shit’ a lot. I leaned over and looked into his eyes, and I said, ‘How is it in there? What do you see in there?’ And this voice came, like, out of a void, and it said, ‘Nothing.’ So, I went over and whispered in his ear, ‘I just came to tell you that when I left you that time, I had three whole days without self-consciousness, and I wanted to thank you for the experience.’ And he looked up at me, and all the light came back into his face and he goes, ‘Really?’ And then he sank back into this black void again 

[Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche]

[Joni Mitchell - Self Portrait]

Refuge of the Roads
 "I met a friend of spirit/He drank and womanized*/And I sat before his sanity/I was holding back from crying/ He saw my complications/And he mirrored me back simplified/And we laughed how our perfection/ Would always be denied/“Heart and humor and humility”/He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”/I left him for the refuge of the roads/I fell in with some drifters/Cast upon a beachtown/ Winn Dixie cold cuts and highway hand me downs/And I wound up fixing dinner/For them and Boston Jim/I well up with affection/Thinking back down the roads to then/The nets were overflowing/In the Gulf of Mexico/They were overflowing in the refuge of the roads/There was spring along the ditches/There were good times in the cities/Oh radiant happiness/It was all so light and easy/Till I started analyzing/And I brought on my old ways/A thunderhead of judgment was/Gathering in my gaze/And it made most people nervous/They just didn’t want to know/What I was seeing in the refuge of the roads/I pulled off into a forest/Crickets clicking in the ferns/Like a wheel of fortune/I heard my fate turn turn turn/And I went running down a white sand road/I was running like a white-assed deer/Running to lose the blues/To the innocence in here/These are the clouds of Michelangelo/Muscular with gods and sungold/ Shine on your witness in the refuge of the roads/ In a highway service station/Over the month of June/ Was a photograph of the earth/Taken coming back from the moon/And you couldn’t see a city/On that marbled bowling ball/Or a forest or a highway/Or me here least of all/You couldn’t see these cold water restrooms/Or this baggage overload/ Westbound and rolling taking refuge in the roads"

Here's some more recent Joni - Her interview with Jian Ghomeshi for CBC broadcast last year

Here's Joni Mitchell interviewed by Morrissey

Here's the BBC footage from 1970 - live in concert - Joni Mitchell Sings Joni Mitchell

Tomorrow: Leonard Cohen's 80th Birthday
Joni Mitchell hugging Leonard Cohen,,,    This photo of Joni Mitchell hugging Leonard Cohen was taken in 1967

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 190

"We Are Continually Exposed To The Flashbulb of Death" - The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg 1953-1996 continues at the University of Toronto Art Center. Barbara Fischer, the director of the Center discusses the exhibition and the extraordinary trove of photos - here.

The William Blake Trust is trying to save William Blake's cottage and are launching, starting today, an on-line crowdfunding campaign. Read more about this very worthy cause here. and here.       We have until Halloween (the 31st of October)  

Cottage in Blake's Milton

And more poets and fund-raising projects - Lawrence Ferlinghetti in San Francisco’s North Beach has been spearheading the planning for a North Beach “writer’s piazza” - which, despite initial doubts, might actually see fruition.

Naropa’s 40th anniversary celebrated in the local paper – The Boulder Daily Camera 

A couple of weeks ago,  we featured respectful silent footage of Allen's "resting place" - the Gomel Chesed Cemetetry in Newark. Here's another "resting place" (sic) - Anne Waldman visits the memorial spot for the old "Dharma lion" at the Shambhala Mountain Center, near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado and sends us the following shot:

As ever, we cannot recommend too highly the extraordinary resources at PennSound. Here's a recent addition - from the WBFO radio program, "Stonewall Nation" (from 1978, courtesy the tape collection of Robert Creeley) - Allen talks about talking to his family about coming out - The whole program is instructional - (on being closeted, on desire and compassion, on the (anti-gay, mercifully rejected) Briggs Initiative of '78, on the Beats and Nature, on Rocky Flats and plutonium - plus a rousing rendition of "Everybody Sing" - ("Everybody's just a little bit homosexual, whether they like it or not..") - It may be listened to, in its entirety, here.  (Open Culture has a note on it here)

George J Apostolos]

and - breaking news - a newly-discovered trove of Jack Kerouac letters (seventeen complete letters, two postcards and seven substantial fragments) written from New York City to his Lowell childhood friend George J  Apostolos between 1940 and 1941 - see more about this  here, here and here