Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Poet On the Lower East Side: A Docu-Diary (ASV #27)

Istvan Eorsi has already been profiled on The Allen Ginsberg Project - here. In 1995 he brought a Hungarian film crew (lead by director Gyula Gazdag) over to New York to film Allen in his downtown environment. "A Poet On The Lower East Side: A Docu-diary" was the result, "a free-wheeling cinéma vérité documentary", in the words of one reviewer. To continue (and providing for us a useful synopsis): "Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, host(s) radical maverick Hungarian writer, poet and translator, Istvan Eorsi, on his one-week visit in May 1995 to the Lower East Side. The(se) soul-mates talk about various subjects, that range from Buddhism to the meaning of "first thought", ['first thought, best thought'], and stroll together around Allen's neighborhood, where they are followed by a camera crew, as they encounter Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky and Jonas Mekas, visit a Korean grocery, reminisce about a poets' hang-out coffee house long gone on MacDougal Street [the San Remo], visit several bookshops, St Mark's Church (Poetry Project), and chat with sincere protesting squatters about to be evicted in Alphabet City. There's also time for a visit to Ginsberg's hometown of Paterson, N(ew)J(ersey), a chance to hear Allen record "Howl" at the Looking Glass Studios, and hear (him) sing "Father Death Blues" in his humble old-fashioned kitchen [it’s the bedroom, actually]. If you've ever wanted to catch the legendary some spontaneous moments on camera, here's your chance in this heartwarming no-frills doc..”
Yes, "Father Death Blues", there's filmed recordings of it here and here, but this late version (against a backdrop of books, Tibetan statue and thangka painting - Allen in crisp white shirt, Allen at home) is surely one of the most beautiful.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Patti Smith

[Berenice Abbott, Automat, 977 Eighth Avenue, Manhattan, 1936.]

Happy Birthday, Patti! (Patti turns 65 years old today)

Quite a year for Patti Smith - notably that National Book Award. We're wondering who'll play Allen in the (inevitable) film version of "Just Kids" (wondering who'll play her and Robert Mapplethorpe, for that matter).
Here's the iconic account of the meeting-in-the-Automat.

“...I went through our belongings and found exactly fifty-five cents, slipped on my grey trench-coat and Mayakovsky cap, and headed to the Automat. I got my tray and slipped in my coins but the window wouldn’t open. I tried again without luck and then I noticed that the price had gone up to sixty-five cents. I was disappointed, to say the least, when I heard a voice say, “Can I help?”. I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg. We had never met but there was no mistaking the face of one of our great poets and activists. I looked into those intense dark eyes punctuated by his dark curly beard and just nodded. Allen added the extra dime and also stood me to a cup of coffee. I wordlessly followed him to his table, and then plowed into the sandwich. Allen introduced himself. He was talking about Walt Whitman and I mentioned that I was raised near Camden, where Whitman was buried, when he leaned forward and looked at me intently. “Are you a girl?” he asked
“Yeah, I said, Is that a problem?”.
He just laughed. “I’m sorry. I took you for a very pretty boy.”
I got the picture immediately.
"Well, does this mean I return the sandwich?"
"No, enjoy it. It was my mistake".
He told me he was writing a long elegy for Jack Kerouac, who had recently passed away. “Three days after Rimbaud’s birthday”, I said. I shook his hand and we parted company.
Sometime later Allen became my good friend and teacher. We often reminisced about our first encounter and he once asked how I would describe how we met. “I would say you fed me when I was hungry”, I told him. And he did.”

[Patti Smith, poet, 70’s cult pop singer artist, early house-mate of Robt. Mapplethorpe, Rimbaud & Wm. Burroughs devotée, retired 14 years from stage fame to raise two children, till her musician husband passed away. We did Buddhist Jewel Heart Center benefit performance in 4,000 seat Hill Auditorium together, she came from Detroit retirement to Ann Arbor’s Univ. of Michigan. Next day, signed new volume poems Early Work 1970-1979 in bookstore, that night we supped at Gelek Rinpoche’s home, February 17, 1995. (Ginsberg Caption) photo. c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Xmas Gift (from December 1972)


I met Einstein in a dream
Springtime on Princeton lawn grass
I kneeled down and kissed his young thumb
like a ruddy pope
his fresh face broad cheeked rosy
"I invented a universe separate,
something like a Virgin" -
"Yes, the creature gives birth to itself,"
I quoted from Mescaline
We sat down open air universal summer
to eat lunch, professor's wives
at the Tennis Court Club,
our meeting eternal, as expected,
my gesture to kiss his fist
unexpectedly saintly
considering the Atom Bomb I didn't mention,

New York, December 14, 1972

Allen Ginsberg - from "Mind Breaths - Poems 1972-1977"

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tom Waits - Closing Time/America

The ubiquitous Tom Waits-Allen Ginsberg mash-up "Closing Time/America" has got to be one of the most accessed Allen Ginsberg items on the web - 86,000 (and counting) hits on this particular up-load (since it was first uploaded in April of 2006), and that's not counting the hits for other, more recent, versions, here and here and here. Of course, the two never recorded anything together. The reading of "America" is from Chicago, in 1959 (when Tom Waits was all of ten years old!)  and the Waits instrumental is the last track (and the title track) from his first (1973) album, Closing Time, recorded some decade-and-a-half later. "America I've given you all and now I am nothing/ America two dollars and twenty-seven cents, January 17, 1956./ I can't stand my own mind./ America when will we end the human war?". The bitter-sweet last-dance-in-the-dancehall strains of the instrumental may or may not resonate with some of the lines of the poem (one of the poem's strengths, the range of tones, not simply poignant resignation and melancholy). And is the music? might it not be (on a number of occasions) too loud? (drowning the delivery and import of the words?). That said, there's something sweet, and curiously fitting, about this "artificial collaboration".

[Tom Waits, Allen Ginsberg and David Blue ca 1975  by
Richard E Aaron via
Rolling Stone]

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday's Weekly Round-Up 55

[Anne Waldman, Václav Havel, Nanao Sakaki, Prague, April 199o. Photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]

Kral Majales, 1965 - Allen's intimate relationship with Prague Spring has been detailed by us previously here and here. This past week saw the passing of Vaclav Havel, post-Communist Czechoslovakia's first president, and, after the country split, in January 1993, president of the Czech Republic. Artist-Politician, Politician-Artist - the links between the two men run deep. Here is Havel's introduction to Allen's 2001 (posthumously-published) volume, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996 (his willingness to write it, an indication of the depth and the importance of their friendship - a mutual respect)

VH: "There has been a sensitive awareness of the Beat Movement in our country since the nineteen-fifties.The general revolt against the official establishment and the literary nonconformism of the Beat poetry and prose have most likely been perceived in our unfree conditions as even more rebellious than in the land of their origin. The literary works of the Beat authors were understood not only as a denouncement of the social establishment and as a quest for new attitudes and a new lifestyle, as a protest against the superficiality of our civilization openly manifesting all its tensions and strains as well as the tragic and reckless quality of life, but also as a potential instrument for resistance to the totalitarian system that had been imposed on our existence. And if those who knew the literature and, by fostering it, created through this common knowledge a brotherhood, a community of nonconformists, when they expressed their views, it was, understandably, more hazardous in our situation than it could have been in the United States of America.

I had the good luck to have enjoyed from my young days a close friendship with Jan Zábrana, the chief translator of Ginsberg and other Beat writers, so that I had access to the literature even if it was not and could not be published. I have to admit that in those years—through the fifties and sixties—I found the Beat authors’ way of writing and their way of thinking very close to my heart as I was just a little younger than the original Beat Generation. I believe I understood their views and their protest as I could share much of it.

I first met Allen Ginsberg at the renowned student May Day festival at which he was elected king (Král Majáles). After that I participated in one of the private gatherings with him in a Prague apartment. Then I had the luck to see him in Viola, a poet’s café, and I believe it must have been at the moment when the notorious theft of his notebook took place. Not far from me Ginsberg was sharing a table with some young friends, and he seemed to be constantly occupied in looking for something all around the table space. I gather it must have been the notebook that he was missing; that was very likely as right next to his table there was seated a group of men, with the undeniable appearance of plainclothes men, who must have stolen it then or a while earlier.

Later,after 1989, when I had become president, I had the opportunity to see Ginsberg a few times. A couple of times we went to a pub together, and I also went to see his performance at the Chmelnice theater hall.

I have always held the poet in great esteem. I truly appreciated his “Howl” when I was a young man, and I was, of course, deeply moved by what I felt to be his untimely death. I have also greatly cherished his sophistication, his intellectual power, and his scope of vision." We greatly cherish (and will miss) Havel's sophistication, intellectual power and scope of vision.

On to other matters.. We were about to post this as a Chanukah greeting - but, wait, there's something wrong here. The iconic Ken Regan snap of Allen and Bob Dylan at Jack Kerouac's grave?, that'd be 1975, yes? - The Rolling Thunder Revue? - So, a portmanteau piece here (the photo, "2- 1/2'' x 3- 1/2" has been affixed to the card", as the seller (Ann Arbor's Third Mind Books) points out, next to the (seemingly authentic) blue-ink inscription) - "23(rd) (of) Dec(ember) (19)74 Happy Chanukah Allen Ginsberg"
- So that would be 37 years ago exactly, on this very day!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Death Is.. An Improvisation (1975 Naropa out-take)

[Image: Mischievous Dead, Jose Posada / Public Domain]
One final transcript from Allen's 1975 NAROPA History of Poetry classes - this curious and lively in-class improvisation. Gregory Corso and W.S.Merwin were on hand on this occasion to add their contributions.

AG: The subject of today’s improvisation will be death. So, in answering the roll call, “Death is…”, fill it in. No reading from old books. No stumbling on your own old quotations. Death is your tongue speaking right now.
Student: Death is your obsessive angel.
AG: Death is pure obsessive anger? Is that what you said?
Student: Your obsessive angel.
Student: She thought she was holding but she’s six feet under now.
AG: Death is she thought she was holding but she’s six feet under now. Repeat the first line, then keep it going.
Student; Death is everywhere…hmm.
AG: Death is everywhere, Hum?
Student: Death is momentary madness.
Student: Death is all there, breathing.
AG: Death is all there breathing? That’s nice.
Student: Time is…
AG: Death is…
Student: Timeless void.
AG: No good, rejected, do it again. Two abstractions don’t make a concretion. You have to at least have one concrete and one abstract.
Student: How about “voidless time” instead of “timeless void”?
AG: Come on. Try again [long pause]  David [long pause]. Look at anything in front of you and say what it is [longer pause]. Look out of your eyeball and say what you see. Don’t look in your head. Just look out at anything in the room.
Student [after another long pause] Confusion.
AG: No, that’s another abstraction. You can’t substitute one abstraction for two abstractions.
[Another] Student: He’s getting closer, though.
Student: Is there a right answer?
AG: Yes, there’s a right answer. Just something concrete. Clamp your mind down on objects, an object in the room. Look out of your eyes. Don’t look in your head, look out of your eyes.
Student: Unborn flower.
AG: You don’t see that in the room. Give me a specific text. Just name one object in this room, with an adjective.
Student: Concrete wall.
AG: Okay. Death is a concrete wall. That’s better than “timeless void”. [AG calls out another name, another student’s name sounding something like “Shambodhichti”]
Student: Iron dog jumping through a hole in the earth.
AG: Death is an iron dog jumping through a hole in the earth. Where did you get that name?
Student: In death.
AG: Oooh.
[Another] Student : Death is recording this lecture on my tape-recorder.
Student: Death is my shadow on a cloudy day.
Student: Death is my favorite character in literature.
Student: Death is a silent piano.
AG: Silent piano, right, right in the room.
Student: Skin of your teeth, skin of your eyes.
AG: Come on, say it! – Death is skin of your teeth, skin of your eyes.
Student: No, I just like the line.
AG: No, no, you gotta play by the rules! – “Skin of Your Teeth” was the title of a play, anyway, you know.
Student: Yeah.
AG: “Skin of your eyes” is nice. “By the skin of your eyes” is a good phrase.
Student: Death is this day, all day, crazy painting white wall gig in Denver, rush to poetry class with three cylinder Volkswagen.
Student: Death is an erased blackboard.
AG: Death is an erased blackboard? Pretty witty.

[Flying skeleton via Mexicansugarskull]

Student: Death is a pole vault in Benares.
AG: A pole vault in Benares? Pretty esoteric.
Student: Death hurts.
AG: Death is..death fruits? – I can’t hear.
Student: Death hurts.
AG: Death hurts. Oh, death hurts, okay. That would fit in, though Gregory (Corso) wouldn’t agree. Once you’re dead, he’d say, there’s no death, so.. Well, cancer hurts.
Student: Death is breath is all.
Student: Death is what we practice when we sleep.
Student: Death is your flower.
Student: Death is our friend and lover.
Student: Death is randomizing your particles on magnetic tape.
AG: That’s the second time you’ve got that magnetic tape in there. Vandalizing the particles?
Student: No, randomizing.
Student: Death is the smell of a dying flower in a bunker of roses.
AG: Speaking of which, where were you the last couple of chain-poem (assignments)?
Student: Late.
AG: Late? Oh. Well then you owe three lines of death.
Student: Death is choking smokers in bunker rooms.
AG: And the third death?
Student: Death is choking smokers.
AG: Ahh, we need a fresh corpse!
Student: Death is fresh quotations upon request.
AG: Yeah, Cadavre Exquis, the Exquisite Corpse, was a form of drawing or painting that Surrealists used or Dadaists used in which they’d fold a paper, and one would start a figure, and then, without seeing the other, but where the lines ended on the fold of the paper, (Hans) Arp would continue, and then fold the paper, and then Tristan Tzara would continue, or whoever, (Francis) Picabia would continue, and so they made what they called (an) “Exquisite Corpse”, which is a combine painting, or a collaboration painting or drawing, part chain-poem.
Student: Death is a cold hard knife, slashing at my flesh (indecipherable) death peace.
AG: Now make one up again.
Student: I made that one up.
AG: Yeah, I know, but you wrote it down, you cheated. You cheated!
Student: Fuck you!
AG: Death is fuck you.
Student: Death is flesh and flowers for gone Kerouac.
Student: Death is a busted universal joint in Grayville, Indiana.
AG: Gregory Corso
Gregory Corso: Death does not exist.
AG: Death does not exist.
Gregory Corso: Let me make one more. Death is a gimmick.
Student: Death is a window with screws.
Student: Death is a warm trampoline.
AG: Death is a warm trampoline?
Student: Well, I’m not registered.
AG: It’s alright. You’re on the list for auditing. We’re doing everybody.
Student: Death is nobody ever did anything that bad.
Student: Death is an old woman walking backwards.
Student: Death is being called on, but he’s not here.
AG: Ah, Death is being called on but he’s not here.
Student: Doesn’t exist, he can’t be here.
Student: Death is a blackboard.
AG: A black wart?
Student: A black board.
AG: Okay. The black wart.
Student: Death is a myth to die by.
AG: Death is a myth to die by . What do you think of that one,Gregory?
Gregory Corso: It’s top shot.
Student: Death becomes old hat after a while.
Student: Death is boredom in the garbage grid.
AG: Death is boredom in the garbage grid? If you insist.
Student: death is the last time you get off.
Student: Death is the ballad’s end.
AG: Death is the ballad’s.. ah, that’s too corny, come on!
Student: Death is wrestling with self.
AG: Ah, that’s too corny.
Student: Death is no smoking.
AG: Oh well, Death is wrestling with yourself, no smoking.
Student: Death’s illusion counterpoints life’s orgasm.
Gregory Corso: Oh dear!
Student: Death is the ultimate.
AG: The ultimate? The ultimate what?
Student: Zapper.
AG: The ultimate hand gesture zapper.
Student: Um-hum.
Student: Death is a warped phonograph record.
Student: Death is a beautiful woman I encountered in my dream.
AG:  Umm. What color hair?
Student: Black.
Gregory Corso: Edgar Allan Poe again.
Student: Death is so boring.
AG: Huh?
Student: Death and whatever.
AG: Death and whatever? One abstraction, you need at least one concrete and one abstraction.
Student: Absolutely.
AG: Death and absolutely whatever?
Student: And so on.
AG: That’s three abstractions in a row. Just throw in one microphone. Come on, just one concrete object.
Student: Death and a booger.
AG: Huh?
[Several] Students: Booger!
AG: What’s a “foe-gurt”?
Student: Booger!
AG: Booger, Okay.
Student: You look like a booger, Allen.
AG: Okay, Death looks like a booger. I keep saying, don’t let yourself be embarrassed by your false unconscious – William Merwin [alongside Corso, the poet W.S.Merwin is also in the room]
W.S.Merwin: Death is the dust of the piano.
AG: Death is the dust of the piano, microphone  - David Rome?
David Rome: Oh shit, Death is… next door.
AG: Next door? Well what next door?
David Rome: In the music store, next door, before I came here.
AG: Death is…not think. All you have to do is not think.
Student: Death is life laughing.
AG: Life laughing? That’s too abstract. Well, I guess laughing is, I suppose, concrete, you might say. Death is laughing, twiddling our beards.
Student: Death is an unpeeled tomato.
AG: Melissa Sprowl?
Student: I’ll take it. Death is your feeling of  being alive.
AG: Why is it an unpeeled tomato?
[Another] Student: I liked that line.
 [& Another] Student: I liked that too
AG:  What made you think of that?
Student: That was the line I said before, on Monday.
AG: Death is eating the same unpeeled tomato twice!
Student: Death is the donut we spend our whole life eating.
Student: Death is like graduating.
AG: Death is like graduating? Graduating where? what?
Student: From..
AG: Death is like graduating from..?
Student(s):  Naropa!
AG: The University of Oklahoma.
Student: Death is knocking.
AG: Anybody I didn’t get? What are you doing standing in the doorway, death?
Student: Listening.
AG: What is death?
Student: Listening.
AG: Death is listening. Anybody listening besides death? Yeah?
Student: Death smells, especially when it decomposes.
Gregory Corso: And that means a smell that is not very, you know, nice.
Student: Death is taking your pants off for nothing.
AG: Death is taking your pants off for nothing?
Gregory Corso: There’s nothing there.
AG: Anybody got any other lines they tought up?
Student: Death is welcomed with white eyes.
Student: Death is a pool cue in the hands of W.C.Fields.
Student: Death is a factory foreman.
Student: Allen, I came in late. Death is a mocking boy sucking on my windshield, laugh off, fucker.
AG: Any other Deaths here?
Student: Death is a donkey trying to be Ulysses S Grant.
Student: Death is my name.
Student: Grey plastic bag.
AG: Death is a green plastic bag.
Student: Grey
AG: Grape?
Student(s): Grey!
AG: A grey plastic bag.

Gregory Corso: Alright, Ginzy. What is death?
AG: Death is the end of the poem.
Gregory Corso: No, you laid it out the other night. It was beautiful.. Do you know what you said?
AG: “Ah poor death!”
Gregory Corso” No, you said, “Gregory, why pick on poor death?”
AG: (I wasn’t intending) such a poem.
Gregory Corso: That’s top shot.
AG: Now, going back to life, coming back to life.
Gregory Corso: Oh great.
AG: Can I have a cigarette, please.
Gregory Corso: See, you’re playing with death.
AG: death smokes in a death fire
Gregory Corso: Does anyone have another kind of cigarette?
AG [to straggler] – Did you get here in time to answer? No. What is death again? Death is..?
Student: (indecipherable)
Gregory Corso: That’s good enough.
AG: Not in a poetry class.

The original audio for this transcript (a roll call with improvisation) is available at:,  (for the first approx. 25 minutes)
– Grateful thanks (once again) to Randy Roark for the transcription. Transcriber’s note: “I have deleted extraneous material and transcribed only that which I believe to be to the point. Names, repetitions, etc have not been included”.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kerouac Mexico City Blues & Corso (1975 Naropa Class)

File:Kerouac - Mexico City Blues coverart.jpg
AG: We still have Kerouac and Corso to deal with. What time is it?

Student: Why don’t you keep on going.

AG: [Allen begins reading from Jack Kerouac’s “Mexico City Blues”] – 5th Chorus, Mexico City Blues – “I am not Gregory Corso/ the Italian Minnesinger - / Of the song of Corsica”..”KIND KING MIND/ Allen Ginsberg called me”..” [reads next 10th Chorus] – “The great hanging weak teat of India… The Korea Ti-Pousse Thumb..” – “Ti-Pousse”, Canuck for “little thumb" (which is what his mother called Kerouac)  - “The Korea Ti-Pousse Thumb..”..”Spots of Foam on the Ocean” – [reads next 11th Chorus] – because the little epigraph (to the book) says; “I want to be considered a jazz poet blowing long blues in an afternoon jam session on Sunday. I take 242 choruses, my ideas vary and sometimes roll from chorus to chorus or from half-way through a chorus to halfway into the next”. – “Brown wrote a little book called/ The White and the Black…”..”A n g e r  F a l l s – “ For emphasis, bottom of the page – “(musician stops,/ brooding on bandstand)” – [reads 13th Chorus] – “I caught a cold/ From the sun..”..”Asking for more/ I popped out Popacatapel’s/ Hungry mouth” – He did this on a rooftop in Orizaba.. 210 Orizaba Street, Mexico City. Each morning with a little notebook, pocket-sized, getting up, shaking out his sleeping-bag, hanging it over the roof-edge in the sunlight to air, taking a cup of black coffee, smoking a giant bomber joint, and then writing the first thing that came to his mind in the first half hour. And so in three months (he) accomplished this Shakespearean sonnet sequence. [reads 17th Chorus] – “Starspangled Kingdoms bedecked/ in dewy joint..”…”Revisiting Russet towns/ of long ago/ On carpets of bloody sawdust” – [reads 24th Chorus] – “All great statements ever made/ abide in death”..”A bubble pop, a foam snit/ in the immensity of the sea/ at midnight in the dark”.

Student: What’s that number, Allen?

AG: Twenty-four – [Allen reads next 28th Chorus] – “The discriminating mind..”..”You suffer & you fall,/ You discriminate  a ball

Student: Ball? as in what?

AG: Well, “discriminate a ball” – meat. [Allen reads the 32nd Chorus] – “Newton’s theory of relativity/ and grave gravity…”..”Monotonous monotony/ of endless grape dirigible stars” [next, 36th Chorus] – “No direction/ No direction to go..” “(ripping of paper indicates/ helplessness anyway)”  [then, 43rd  Chorus] - “ Mexico City Bop…” --.”Bespeak thyself not, soft spot..” – imitating Shakespeare! – “Aurorum’s showed his Mountain/ Top/ Of Eastern be Western morning..” …“the lay of the pack/ in the sky”. [then, 230th Chorus] – “Love’s multitudinous boneyard/ of decay…”..”Like kissing my kitten in the belly/ The softness of our reward”.

Gregory Corso: That’s his top-shot poem “ the wheel of the quivering meat/ conception…” [Corso refers here to the 211th Chorus]

AG: There’s a very funny thing that’s pure sound [Allen reads Kerouac’s 217th Chorus] – “Sooladat smarty pines came prappin down..”..”twab/ twab/ twabble/ all day.”
[Allen then reads the whole of the 211th Chorus – and then] – Last chorus. Of the 242, this is a funny selection. Last chorus is actually an art of poetry – [Allen reads Kerouac’s 242nd Chorus] – “The sound in your mind/ is  the first sound/ that you could sing..”…”All’s well/ I am the Guard”.
AG: What time is it?

Student: Seven-thirty.

AG: Ah, we have some time.
[Milarepa (c.1052-c.1135)]
Student: Can you talk a little bit about why you chose the name - "the (Jack) Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics"?

AG: Because the tradition of the Kagyu lineage is exposition of dharma, spontaneously, through training and experience, and reliance on no-mind utterance, no-mind utterance, or the rising of thoughts, the observation of thoughts, the acceptance of such thoughts in a friendly manner, and the tongue-ing of such thoughts without check or hesitation, as being the actual rhythmic movement of Buddha activity. Several years ago, when (Chogyam Trungpa) Rinpoche and I were discussing my own "career", I said I was tired of going around to poetry readings (and I didn't see how he could keep up such a schedule of discourses cross-country), so he said, "Well, that's because you don't like your poetry". And I said, "What do you know about poetry?" (and) He said, "Why don't you be like the great poets, like Milarepa? You don't need a piece of paper. Why don't you simply get up on stage and recite poems out of your mind?"
That's the idea of this school. Kerouac was the chief American practitioner of that, and first introduced me to that notion, and I think first really nailed down that notion into American consciousness, the idea of total spontaneity and acceptance of first-mind reverie, first thought, best thought, not revising because revising is always a question of shame, trying to obliterate traces of nakedness. As the sound in your mind is the first sound you could sing if you were singing at a cash-register with nothing on your  mind. So there's a certain early knowledge of sunyata, or empty mind, in Kerouac, which gives him a tremendous playfulness, and when I read through a lot more of Mexico City Blues to (Chogyam Trungpa) Rinpoche, several years later to that conversation, (19)74, he laughed, all the way from Vermont to New York, over the wit of the lines, and ended by saying, "That's a perfect exposition of mind". So it seemed attractive, and honorable, and charming, to found an academy in the name of Jack Kerouac, who died shunned and not understood by (the) academy, and to join the American tradition of awkward first-thought, eager stumbling blissful desire for some innocent utterance that would open the gates of heaven (which was Kerouac's version of beatific, or "beat") to the more ancient practiced tradition of spontaneous utterance historically echoed from Milarepa to Trungpa, who is the director of this academy - And the word "disembodied"? - I'm not quite sure what that means. That was Anne Waldman's phrasing (when I was stumbling as a head of the academy and she was doing all the work!), she gave a name to the Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. 

AG: Ah, Gregory Corso - The other day Chogyam Trungpa (Rinpoche) gave a lecture on power, and tantric power, or power seen through tantric mind. A poem written in 1957 in Amsterdam? Gregory? Holland, Amsterdam?..

Gregory Corso: Amsterdam

AG: ... and I was struck by the similarity

Gregory Corso: Oh no, (19)56, San Francisco..

AG: I was struck by the similarity of statement, and also amazed, recollecting that Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was a good liberal man, saw this poem and thought it was a big Nazi poem, whereas I was seeing it as a big tantric statement for all, awkwardly that I knew of tantra. I was seeing it as a statement of non-attached mind, or a statement of non-attachment and egoless-ness. [Allen begins to reads Corso's poem "Power"] - "We are the imitation of Power..."

Gregory Corso: You forgot something.

AG: That's alright.

Gregory Corso: Say it.

AG: No, the students can look that up in the book.

Gregory Corso: Say it.

AG: Well it's dedicated to Allen Ginsberg. We were friends then. [Allen then reads the poem in its entirety - "We are the imitation of Power" -  (including a second section added on in 1958 - "Power is still with me! Who got me hung on Power"..."  - "My Power/ alive with a joy a sparkle a laugh/  That drops my woe and all woe to the floor/ Like a shot spy")].

Gregory Corso: Thanks for reading that one nice, Al

AG: Yes, that was good. What's the time now?

Gregory Corso: It's eight o'clock

AG: Oh well. Oh I had one last  tiny four-line poem to end. To switch the entire scene over to Jñāneshwar as a prelude to next term and a summary of everything that's been explained here in terms of both meditation lineage, here at Naropa, and, in the Poetics Institute, as a vocal lineage. Changdev here's a little tiny explanation - the reputed disciple of Muktabai, who is said to have lived for 700 years, has composed an elegant abhanga in praise of its teacher Jñāneshwar, his brother and sister. Another abhanga of his describes a final scene of the miraculous exit of the poet Muktabai thus (this is 13th, 14th  century) - "Jñāneshwar drank to his fill the water of pearls, Nivrutanath caught in his hands the freshness of clouds, Sopan decorated himself with a garden of smells, Muktabai fed herself on cooked diamonds. The secret of all four has come into my hands".  Thus speaks Changdev.
For those who want credit, please hand in a paper, either summarizing the gists and piths of this course, or an original poem. One page of summary will do, unless you're more verbal.

Gregory Corso: Do I have anything to do it with it, Al? When I took the class, do I have to correct any papers also?

AG: Gregory will correct anything written about him.

Gregory Corso: Ah-hah.      [class and tape end here] 

The original audio of the above may be heard at (from approx 31 minutes in).
(A so-far untranscribed 1988 class conducted by Ginsberg on Mexico City Blues is available here)

Monday, December 19, 2011

William Carlos Williams (1975 Naropa Class)

[William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)] 

Continuing with Allen's 1975 Naropa class.
(For earlier Ginsberg-on-Williams on the Allen Ginsberg Project see here and here).

AG:..What I want to do is spend a little time on William (Carlos) Williams, a little time on (Jack) Kerouac, and a little time on (Gregory) Corso. Beginning with early Williams. He’s compact with getting his mind clamped down on objects, or his first early compact with “No ideas but in things”. His first early covenant with “minute particulars”, (which was (William) Blake’s phrase), is expressed in his long poem to the Passaic River, his compact with the Passaic River, “The Wanderer, A Roccoco Study”, which he wrote when he was a young man, and wandering through Paterson, by St James Grove, which was by the river, which had already been polluted, industrialized, degraded. Still he saw the river as a goddess [Allen reads from “The Wanderer..” – “And so it came to that last day/ When, she leading by the hand, we went out..” to “And the filthy Passaic consented!" ] – It’s from the center of the poem, a long poem, written, as you can see, with a certain amount of baroque rhetoric, as Williams, as a young man, did write poems which were Romantic – he imitated Keats actually, he wrote Keatsian stanzas when in college - and still carried over that kind of Romantic, other-worldly, imaginary poetry to “A Portrait of A Lady” – young writing again [Allen reads “A Portrait of A Lady”] – “Your thighs are appletrees”…”I said petals from an appletree” – So he was beginning to reconsider his idea of poetry, until he finally began, basically, to begin to listen to his own speech, or the speech of the people around him, in Rutherford, New Jersey, around 1917, 1920, I guess, 1915, during the War and after, and began observing, also, what he could see through his eyeball in Rutherford, which was on a ridge overlooking the Hoboken marshes, across which the Palisades rose and above them whatever skyscrapers slowly grew, in his eyes, as the decades passed. But immediately outside of his house, trees, “The Trees” - “The trees being trees / thrash and scream” – “Christ , the bastards/ haven’t even enough sense/ to stay out in the rain” – The trees talking about the men - [Allen continues reading to the end of the poem] – “no part of us untouched” - So, common along with acceptance of his ”woollen sweater” that his grandmother gave him, and the trees outside of the window, acceptance of self, actually, the beginning of an acceptance of self and therefore ann acceptance of the world around self, or the world that self perceived, as in (Walt) Whitman. So Williams is a child of Whitman in these statements. Looking at a sea-elephant, a completely opposite monster from monstrous William Carlos Williams as a young man, going to the aquarium. [Allen reads “The Sea-Elephant”] – “Trundled from/ the strangeness of the sea..”…”Blouagh!/there is no crime/ save the too-heavy body”..”Spring is icummen in..” – So, he finally began not only discovering his own language but discovering his own sound, so he could put “Blouagh” in a poem.It’s spelled B-L-U-A-U-G-H. So he was the first poet to say “Blouagh” – the only one that was able to actually begin to express himself with all his body sounds as well as conversational speech

Student: What poem was that in again?

AG: Huh?

Student: What poem was that in again?

AG: “The Sea-Elephant”. Probably a giant-sized walrus..
Also a funny kind of attention to suffering social detail, early movement consciousness, or early left-wing consciousness in America, or this century – “An Early Martyr” – so this would be 19.. early 20’s, 1918, 1919, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical naked…” [AG begins reading – “Rather than permit him/to testify in court…” ] – Here he’s saying (he says) “They “cured” him all/ right”.” I don’t think any poet by 1918 had used that vernacular. “They “cured” him all/ right” – It’s “they..cured..him all..right” (that’s two lines, “right”’s on the second line - “They “cured” him all/ right”.)” What’s weird here is the weird ear, which sounds normal to us now because we’ve got accustomed to it in poetry but at that time it was almost incomprehensibly raw, so that Williams and (Ezra) Pound argued, and Pound wrote Williams a letter, saying, “What you’re interested in is the compost, the raw material, but I want the finished product” – said Ezra Pound, who was ransacking Chinese for phanopoeic visual imagery and methods of transmitting thought forms through visual particulars, or beginning to go through Provencal and early German minstrel poetics to see what was happening with the transition from, say, poets writing in Latin to when they had to write in their own provincial tongues. What kind of verse forms did they come up with?, what kind of measure did they invent for themselves? Just as the Americans, making the transition from English to American tongue, had to invent a new prosody, or new measure of the line, as Williams said. So Williams, all his life, was interested in the measure of the line. But when Pound wrote him, saying, “You’re interested in the raw material or dirt or compost and I’m interested in the finished product”, Williams replied, “You’re damn right I’m interested in the raw material. That’s all I’m interested in”. Because he had a kind of humility, realizing that American poetry had yet to be invented. An American poetry had yet to be invented, an American tongue, talking its own rhythm, it’s own diction, still had to be discovered, that the measure of American poetry had to be researched, as Madame Curie researched various (spots) to find her radium – looking for traces. So Williams was looking, just as she was looking for traces of radiation, he was looking and listening, looking on the page, listening for little traces of active speech, speech that seemed solid, un-selfconscious, concrete, direct, usable, in the sense of proposing little rhythms that he could distinguish, and even reproduce in poems, making up out of those rhythms little songs, written in American-ese, songs with American rhythms . So the key word that he evolved through his life was “measure” – he was looking for a measure of American speech. He took samples, here, or transcribed samples, either from his own tongue, or from hearing other people talk. (He) abandoned entirely any ambition to write “poetry” and just wrote down what seemed real to him as speech, what seemed “active” (that was his word). When I gave him early poems, he told me to eliminate, most of one long, long, long poem, called “Paterson” (sic), and just keep one paragraph in it, which, he said, had some active language in it, and (that) it’s much better to have just one phrase, or a line, that’s active than whole book-full’s of inert, dead, language that you’re simply imitating from English writers or from books that you read. So he advised listening to what was heard in the raw ear - and on his little physician’s prescription pad, he’d write phrases, like “I kick yuh eye” – “I k-i-c-k y-u-h-e-y-e” – I’ll kick your eye”. – and, looking at that, scratching his head. saying, “now, how could that be measured in traditional accentual meters?” It could, but it wouldn’t serve, whereas you’d have to listen and develop an ear. And of Pound he said, “Pound has a mystical ear”, because Pound’s ear was so delicate that he could actually measure vowel-lengths, successfully, at least in The Cantos .
(tape ends here)

[Allen continues – reads William Carlos Williams’ “A Portrait of the Times” – “Two W.P.A men/ stood in the new/ sluiceway…” - So he was willing to not write a great poem, but just sit down and write what he saw, write of the actuality, avoiding abstraction, avoiding generalization, except if it were a kind of generalization that sounded like a person talking to himself for real, perhaps, rather than the poet talking to himself to make a poem. [Allen reads next “To a Poor Old Woman” and “Proletarian Portrait”] - So then he began doing deliberate sketches like that – little vignettes or snapshots, portraits [Allen reads the short lyric, “ A big young bareheaded woman/ in an apron..”] –the verse-form there is actually as read, the verse-form there actually notates the spacing and gaps and enunciation of the poem, or notates all the phrasing, where you break and leave a little delicate instant for the thought to go on - "A big young bareheaded woman/ in an apron.." It couldn’t be more plain, it couldn’t be more sincere, couldn’t be more artful and it couldn’t be more artless, both. So he’s clamping his mind down on objects (which is his phrase). Then, when he met more ambitious poets in the literary universe, like T.S.Eliot, the one time he met – Eliot’s greeting to Williams was, “Oh, delighted to meet you, Doctor Williams. I so admired your characters. You must make more of them”. “Characters”, being a traditional English poetic notion of writing. What is a character? Anybody know? The traditional character..

Gregory Corso:  (It's rendered) from the etymology, "caricature"..

AG; Yeah. So a character would be (rendered with) rough strokes.

Gregory Corso: And it's also a doppelganger of himself...

AG: (So) Williams got mad, because Eliot, he felt, was implying some traditional English idea of poetry to the raw, direct, first-person, observation that Williams was doing. That Eliot was still trying to impose a category, and especially an already-used category, on Williams mind, and try and fit him into a category, which Williams resented, so he said, “That son-of-a-bitch, Eliot!”…

Gregory Corso: Tell it. That’s a top shot, Al. Williams did not know that Americans were automatically going to write American poetry.

AG: Well, maybe automatically, but he did himself automatically, but I think with him it took a lot of intention

GC: They were all writing English poetry,

AG: At that time, they were all writing English poetry, if you read the schoolbook texts of that time, 1923 to “30, put out by the Superintendent of Schools of the New England Association of High School Principals. There is such a textbook, which I grew up with…

GC: English

AG:…the poems are all iambic or variations of stress at a time when Pound, Williams (and) Marianne Moore were making great breakthroughs, there was none of that represented. It was Edward Arlington Robinson . Archibald Rutledge had a big picture in it as being the great poet of 1925 – the forgotten Archibald Rutledge! (and) it was from that textbook that I got the paradigm..that I mentioned – “Thou too sail on, O ship of state”, where the “O” was given an unaccented mark, from that very textbook, which was taught to kids. If you remember, at the beginning of my part in this course, I put on the (black)board a paradigm, and tried to show why accentual count of versification, or accentual measure, no longer was useful in measuring American speech, for American poetics.

Student: Didn’t Williams reply to Eliot?

AG: No. Though it is stated that poets would come naturally to write their own American poetry, it may not have been so without the hint that Williams gave to all us jailbirds stuck in the English tradition. (because), way back in the (19)30's, one interesting poem of Williams was "The Dead Baby"  [Allen reads Williams' "The Dead Baby" in its entirety] - "Sweep the house…” ..sweep under the table and the bed/ the baby is dead” ..”a curiosity/ surrounded by fresh flowers” – Then, fifty years later, “Italian Extravaganza” by Gregory Corso [Allen reads, by way of contrast, Corso’s poem on similar subject matter] - “..such a small coffin!/ And ten black cadillacs to haul it in” – When Gregory and I first met, we both agreed on Williams as being a real strange (Edgar Allen) Poe-like poet, almost, it was my thought anyway, because, “sweep the baby under the bed”, “Sweep under the table and the bed”, or “sweep the baby under the bed”

GC: What about eating the plums, Allen?

AG: I have that. I’m being chronological here.

Student: Allen?

AG: So, his conclusion...

Student: Williams wrote a really good essay on Poe (Poe's) poetics, like he really explains his ideas, American (ideas).

AG: Well, that's from In The American Grain

Student: Yeah, it's really good.

AG: So he began writing his explanations of why he was interested in particularly American, and that quality of awkwardness or originality that was American, and he saw Poe as a great original imagination. He was interested in the American grain, so there's that book of early historical appraisal by Williams if you want to look it up.
Conclusion.. [Allen reads Williams’ “A Poem For Norman Macleod” – “The revolution is accomplished..”..”You can do lots/ if you know/ what’s around you/ No bull..”

Student: What was the title of that

AG: “A Poem For Norman Macleod” (on page 114 in The Collected Earlier Poems).
Now for those of you who think that Williams, though he was shit-simple and clean, was still a provincial Paterson crank, and can’t accomplish the high mysteries and transcendental meditation that we all post-psychedelic hippies have apocalypsized ourselves onto, for those of you who are doing Shinay (S(h)amatha) meditation - (from) 1925, or ’28, “Thursday” [ Allen reads Williams’ “Thursday” – “I have had my dream – like others…”…and decide to dream no more” – So here a(n) original American mindfulness intersects with traditional Oriental mindfulness, and by that stripping himself bare of unnecessary diversions of culture and coming to the raw material, to his own senses, in total solitude in America, the solitude of complete un-fantasizing meat, standing on the street corner in Rutherford (New Jersey), the doctor, achieving by himself a basic grounded-ness. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche commented on Williams, hearing his voice in his later poems, he seemed to be grounded – achieving a self-illumination and making himself the founder of a lineage, then, going on practicing (as we practice meditation, as we practice noticing), practicing noticing. [Allen quotes “Spring” – “O my grey hairs!/ You are truly white as plum blossoms”] – Now if you are that mindful of your own nature and your own speech, what kind of non-sentimental, realistic, domestic life will you have? [Allen reads “Waiting” – “When I am alone I am happy…”..”What did I plan to say to her/ when it should happen to me/ as it has happened now?”]

Student: What’s the name of that one?

AG: “Waiting” (page 213 of The Collected Earlier Poems. One of the few times when an American poet, all by himself, tipped his mitt. After the.. Danse Russe”, I wonder if that’s in here? He’s discovering his solitude totally. (Page) 148, (so I) passed it. In the process of that self-discovery, in his domestic situation, “Danse Russe”, a statement of “I celebrate myself, and sing myself…”..”I celebrate myself and sing myself,/ And what I shall assume, you shall assume…” [Allen reads “Danse Russe” – “If when my wife is sleeping…”..”Who shall say I am not/the happy genius of my household?”] – That’s like a miniature of the entire “Song of Myself”. Then, continuing on himself, on his nose, a poem of that same period. [Allen searches for and plays a recording of Williams himself reading] - a poem called “Smell” – “Oh strong-ridged and deeply-hollowed/ nose of mine!...” – These were recorded in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1954, and he’d had a stroke, so there was a little hesitancy, actually, in reading the page and some hesitancy in timing, but his voice is so clear. Actually, at the moment, it sounded a bit like (Chogyam Trungpa) Rinpoche’s, in a sense of that almost high-pitched, almost feminine, alto, old man’s alto voice. He then considered from his own self outward the rest of the selves in New Jersey and the tragedy of their lack of recognition of their own language, their own thought, their own bodies, their lack of appreciation of their own existences, so a long poem called “The Pure Products of America Go Crazy” [actually, “To Elsie”] – the Pure Products.. Elsie mentioned here, is an Indian girl set up, hired by a local neighbor, or a doctor’s family as a sort of housemaid, from previous history [Allen plays a recording of Williams reading “For Elsie”, but, unfortunately, on this occasion, the record skips on several occasions – so he reads, and explains] – The missing lines were “unless it be..”, having presented the situation of succumbing without emotion to her lover – “succumbing without/emotion/ save numbed terror.. – “No one/ to witness/ and adjust, no one to drive the car” – It’s a funny kind of Whitmanic imagination. Again it’s the mind clamped down on particulars – “as if the earth under our feet/ were/ the excrement of some sky” – Everybody longing for heaven instead of accepting the suffering of the situation – “As if the earth under our feet./ were/ the excrement of some sky/ and we degraded prisoners/ destined/ to hunger until we eat filth..” – “(A)nd rich young men with fine eyes” or “ungainly hips and flopping breasts/ addressed to cheap/ jewelry..” – On the other hand, for the boys [Allen reads Williams’ “Horned Purple”– “This is the time of year/ when boys fifteen and seventeen…”..”dark kisses – rough faces”] – So, finally, bringing his attention to a complete focus in one classic anthologized poem that everybody takes as archetype of the Imagistic poem, where all attention is focused, like Emily Dickinson’s mind – “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died..” - “The Red Wheelbarrow” [Allen reads “The Red Wheelbarrow”] - totally no comment. Just complete absorption in the object. To finish, early Williams, with “This is Just to Say..” – a poem that he wrote as a note to his wife and put on the kitchen table and then read in the morning and said, “Ah, an interesting poem”. But it wasn’t a poem, it was a note to his wife: “This is Just to Say” is the title. [Allen reads “This is Just to Say”]

Gregory Corso: Allen, didn't he do one like that about the black woman eating plums

AG: Yes,  I read it earlier in class

GC: You did?

AG: They taste good to her/ They taste good/ to her. They taste/ good to her

GC: Right .

Student: What was the poem that he wrote about "I kissed her while she pissed", something that..

AG: It's not in the Collected Later Poems - it was eliminated by his wife. It began, "It was fifty years later from the first poem I read "Your thighs are appletrees whose blossoms touch the sky". I don't have the whole thing in my head, but it goes something like, "Your thighs are appletrees. "It's your sixtieth birthday", she said. I washed my hands in the sink. I turned around, touched her breasts. She didn't even frown, but smiled. I kissed her while she pissed." - And he has that refrain - "I kissed her while she pissed" (just like,"With hey, with ho, the thrush and the jay") - "I kissed her while she pissed". He is hearing the refrain aspect of the bathroom language, because he's hearing the Shakespearean refrain, as he did with a little thing I think I mentioned before, a tiny notation which he has in the Collected Later Poems [actually, Collected Earlier Poems] - "To The Mailman" [actually "To Greet A Letter-Carrier"] - "Why'n't you bring me..." W-H-Y-N-T - "Why'n't you bring me/ a letter with some money in it. [actually," Why'n't you bring me/ a good letter? One with/ lots of money in it"] That's what I need... [actually, "I could make use of that"] Atta boy! Atta boy!" - using "Atta boy! Atta boy!" with the same thing as "With a hey, with a ho, with a hey nonny no" - "Atta boy! Atta boy!". So he's looking for little musical phrases in his own ear.

The original audio for this transcript is available at, starting at approximately 25 minutes in and then continuing for the first approximately 27 minutes of