[seed syllable AH, (in fact an A) - Calligraphy by Chogyum Trungpa. Source: "Calligraphies by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, 1980, Los Angeles"]
The title of the course is “Spiritual Poetics”, which was just a spontaneous title arrived at when we had to have a title, but it might as well be used. And we’re beginning with considerations of breath, considerations of vowel, and the relationship between vowel and intelligence, vowel and soul, I’ll try to define more clearly the words I’m using.
Vowel and intelligence and vowel and soul, as they are etymologically connected as breath and soul have been connected, as with Chogyam (Trungpa)’s teaching – “AH” is a basic mantra. "AH" as the exhalation of the breath (as appreciation of breath also, appreciation of the empty space into which breath flows, or appreciation of the space into which breath flows, the open space into which breath flows). So, if we’re talking poetics and beginning with breath, via the vowel road, it is connected then to the title of the course – “Spiritual Poetics”. And it’s a lot more important, I think, than has been understood in Western poetry – that mantric aspect of poetry and pure breath and as exhalation of breath, as articulation of breath, as manifestation of breath, as animation, as expression (in the really easiest and most natural way of your own nature which is by breathing and by making a sound while breathing, just like the wind makes a sound in the leaves, no more presumptuous than the wind in the leaves (of course, no more honorable, either, but, at any rate, not guilty), no more guilty than the wind in the leaves. You’re just making the “sounds of Aleph and Aum/ through forests of gristle.” If you took the approach that you’re singing, or chanting, or your poetics is as neutral, impersonal, objective, as the wind through black oak leaves, then you wouldn’t have to be ashamed of expressing yourself, because it’s not yourself, it’s just your wind, it’s just wind, it’s just soul going through you, or breath going through you, then you might take the trouble to fit it to whatever your subjective intellect is thinking about at the moment, and you might take the trouble to link that breath up to what’s going on in your mind at the moment, or what you remember is going on in your mind or your body at the moment, but that can be done as spontaneously as breathing (in the sense that the mind is always working. It’s hard to stop, as those of you who have been meditating know. How many sit?
(Students raise hands)
AG: So, nearly everybody. So, we all know the experience of observing our mind moving and listening to chatter and gossip, discursive thought, not being able to stop it, and maybe not even needing to attempt to stop it , simply observing it. I’ve lately come to think of poetry as the possibility of simply articulating that, you know, observing your mind, while thinking and remembering maybe one or two thoughts back, and laying it out. So, in that sense, as easy as breathing, because all you’re doing is loosen-ing the particulars, letting loose with the particulars of what you were just thinking about. And in that respect, it’s very close to meditation. Meditation is good practice for poetry. In other words, it’s not the opposite – it’s not the enemy of poetry, I don’t think. It was formerly seen to be, occasionally, by various hung-up intellectuals who were afraid of meditation – that they’d be silent and they wouldn’t be able to be poets then. But, actually, all it does is give you lots of space and place and time to recollect what’s going on in your mind, so providing lots of material.. ammunition, lots of material to work with. There’s a problem, since you’re thinking all the time. There’s always some kind of discursive thought or lyrical thought or observation going on – very often verbal. I seem to tend to think in words. Whether that’s universal or not, I don’t know. I think most people think somewhat in words or have words going through their head a lot of the time Though the ideal samadhi condition, apparently, is no words , no nuttin’ goin’ on – endless mind. (William) Burroughs, years ago, I think twenty years ago, told me that he didn’t think in words, he thought in pictures, which is very interesting, and, I think, is true
Student: Is that what (Albert) Camus talks about?
AG: I didn’t read anything on that. Did he talk about that?
AG: Camus spoke about thinking in pictures?
Student: In images
AG: Aha! Well, did he mean verbal images or picture images?
Student : Picture
AG: Well, we do see flashes of images all the time, too. But (William) Burroughs was claiming that his thought was silent pictures, like silent movies, and I think, considering the quality of his prose-poetry, it’s likely true. I remember twelve years ago in Tangier him sitting at a typewriter sort of staring into space, and I said, “What are you thinking about, Bill?”, because I really was curious about how he worked, and he said, “Hands pulling in nets from the sea”, which is, like, a very mysterious, beautiful image, just coming up like that. Hands pulling in nets from the sea – it was like something out of Saint-John Perse or Rimbaud – just a pure image. And I wondered where it came from and later asked, and he said, “Oh, every morning in Tangier, on the beach, the fishermen go down and pull in their nets from the sea”. So it was actually a practical thing, too - something that he had observed. He was just remembering that picture. He thinks in silent movies, and then his method of writing is transcription of the pictures he sees flashing by. A lot of Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded is written that way. He reshuffles them very often, cuts them up and reshuffles them, but his primary method is simply transcription of thought-forms, visual thought-forms.
(Andrei) Voznesensky, the Russian poet, asked me in an elevator in Moscow how I thought, what language I thought in, and I said, “Sometimes French, sometimes Spanish, mostly English”. And he said, “I think in rhythm” - which is another interesting thing, which is true, some people think “Un-un-un-un-uhh-ah, Un-un-un-un-uhh-ah”. Like a lot of babies do. Like a lot of babies do in cradles, rocking back and forth, singing to themselves – little sing-song things which are rhythmical. Words may change with a stable rhythm, which I think adults (use), like on the subway, quite a bit in New York, riding in a car (I’m trying to be specific and practical about it).
I think in rhythm, sometimes. Like, for years, I’ve had in my head the “Dah-duh-duh-Dah-duh-duh-Dah-duh-du-duh, Dan-duh-duh Dah Dad-duh-duh-dah. Dan-duh-duh-duh Dan-duh-duh-duh Dan-duh-duh-duh-duh”, or some such dance rhythm as being a great thing to write a poem about, or, one time I was thinking of, uh, “Dah-dah, duh-Dah-du-dah-dah-dah-Dah-dah, DAH, duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-Dah-du-du-dah” – “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows” - like that, so, in other words, that was a definitive physiological rhythm thing, which occurred before the line (came) and which was filled in by the words. But usually they occurred together. And to get a rhythm like that you have to have that long vowelic breath, also, for that one long, rhythmic, run. You had a question?
Student: (unintelligible - Is there a name for this?)
AG: Well, it probably would be better off for us if we didn’t have a name for it. Just consider it as, just.., you know, raw data, raw practice.
Student: (unintelligible – phanopoeia?)
Student : (unintelligible)
AG: No, Pound used the word, the “casting” . Oh,.. you said that an image should have the quality of “phanopoeia”, which is “the casting of a visual image on the mind” - on “the mind’s eye”, maybe, he said.
Student : (unintelligible)
AG: Well, you could say Burroughs’ primary mode of thought is phanopoetic. If you wanted to.. but I don’t think anybody would profit from the formulation (unless anyone wanted formulations). Pound had three.. - this is not.. we might as well interrupt, since we brought in Pound – and the other elements that Pound spoke of were.. “melopoeia”, the music, which I guess would be covered by what I was talking about (with) vowel assonance, though it would be more detailed (his analysis of melopoeia would include consonantal trickery and syncopation – “t’s, “q’s, “p’s, and “titties”..) and “logopoeia”, “the dance of the intellect among words” – the wittiness or funny-ness of the images, or the funny-ness of the conjunction, of the juxtaposition, of the words. That’s something – just native intelligence and shrewdness on your part. It’s absolutely necessary, I think, to make a poem interesting, that the combination of the words and the words themselves, be goofy or strange or interesting or elegant, or reverberating, in-between themselves – “in the dread vast and middle of the night” (Shakespeare). “In the dread vast and middle of the night”, “in the dread vast and middle of the night” - vast and middle.. that’s like a weird.. very funny. Kerouac, listening to Shakespeare said, “Genius is funny” – speaking of the quality of juxtaposition of words, that, when you get down to it, the juxtaposition is so strange and odd that it’s funny. It makes you laugh with appreciation of freshness of mind, the oddity freshness of the mind. “Every third thought shall be my grave”. That’s also Shakespeare – “every third thought..” – which is what six-year-old’s think – about every third thought - “Every third thought shall be my grave”.
So, logopoeia, melopoeia, phanopoeia. Well, I started on melopoeia - vowels. I’d rather stick with vowels because that’s what we know about more, and it’s also related to mantra, spirit. Pound’s was more of a literary formulation. It wasn’t quite yet connected up to the practice ofyoga and meditation that we know, so I was trying to put it in the context of our own experience, sort of solitary improvisation, or meditating, or blues-shouting, or rock dance vocalization, Dylan’s long vowels, Dylan stretching out his vowels (for a) long time.
Or Bhagavan Das’s stretching out his vowels a long time, upstairs. Is that Bhagavan Das?
AG: ..back to.. where does the actual material come from, then? So it comes from the mind (whatever that Is), mind-body. It comes from the consciousness. We think in pictures, rhymes, words. Everyone does it all the time, so it’s not a big hassle. So the problem, then, is, two problems, as I see it. One, is being… (side one of the recording ends here)
(side two continues)
AG:…rhapsody, or to get Finnegan’s Wake, universal mind babble. It’s pieced together synthetically, but, if you are practicing, more, I guess, in the line of Gertrude Stein and more of Kerouac, spontaneous transcription, transmission of your thought, how do you choose, then, what to put down? The answer, in a way, is that you don’t get a chance to choose, because everything is going so fast, and so, it’s like driving on a road, you just have to follow the road and take turns, “eyeball it”, as a carpenter would say, you don’t have any measuring-rod, except your own mind, really. In other words, I don’t know of any scientific method for the artist …measuring-rod..that’s usable. So you just have to chance whatever you can, and pick up whatever you can. There’s almost a process of automatic selection - whatever you can draw in in your net, is it, is what you got. Whatever you can remember, and whatever you can manage physically to write down, is your poem, or is your material. And you’ve got to trust that, sort of, as the principle of selection. So you’ve got to be a little athletic in that, in the sense of developing means of transcription, and ease of transcription, and overcoming resistance to transcription.