[Allen Ginsberg reading for the Library of Congress, NYC, April 28 1988]
"This is 1958, a recollection of an old aunt that I had who was a great lady in the family who died in 1940, so, 18 years later in Paris, thinking back on my childhood family affairs, a little poem called "To Aunt Rose". "The way of writing you see, you just write down what you think as you're thinking it. So the slogan there would be, “First Thought, Best Thought”. William Blake said, “First thought is best in art, second thought in other matters”. (Jack) Kerouac was in favor of spontaneous improvisation, like in jazz, and here it’s a kind of spontaneous improvisation, one thought after another, as it came, thinking about my Aunt Rose, who died 18 years earlier, and here am I on a different continent, a world away and a world away in time too - "To Aunt Rose"" [ Allen reads].
"Then we go on to 1957 or so, '58, in Paris... (but) lets jump ahead to the psychedelic era of the '60s, a poem called "Wales Visitation". That’s a kind of (an) odd one, because it was actually written as a kind of psychedelic intensity experience, but trying to make it an intermediary between ordinary mind and visionary mind, so there’s a lot of minute particular details, common objects, that the reader’s eye can see and my eye picked out. The site is Wales, in Great Britain. The valley, Llanthony Valley, in (a) rainy day, green, green declivity, farm-houses along the sides of the valley, "Lord Hereford’s Knob", a big mountain; on the right hand side, Capel-Y-Fin, an old ruined chapel, where artists used to have a bohemian printig house in the 20s , a commune-like place. I was visiting my editor-publisher. I call it a "Visitation" because, in the old days, the bards, the Welsh bards, or travelling poets, used to go on what they called Visitations, from town to town, rhyming the gossip. So this is, like, the gossip of my own mind, on a foggy day, high in a valley in Wales. [Allen reads "Wales Visitation"] So that’s an account of a visionary experience, composed of natural objects seen through the natural eye and describable, palpable, sensory – “lamb hair hung gossamer rain beaded in the grass” -“sheep speckle the mountain-side with empty eyes" - Those are, like, sort of focused, focused eye, focusing on detail, because what William Blake says is that the key to poetry is in the detail. He says "Labor well the minute particulars”, take care of the little ones, “generalization and abstraction are a plea of the hypocrite, knave and scoundrel" (like presidential candidates, generalization and abstraction, that’s all you hear out of them - out of poets you might get “lamb hair hung gossamer rain beaded in the grass” – you’ve actually seen it, you’ve been there)".
Allen concludes with three poems not by him (well, the second, he confesses, is!) - Schwitters, Williams, Shelley - "
"First I’d like to begin with a 2oth century poem, pure sound poem, by Kurt Schwitters, born in 1887, a Dadaist, Futurist, famous collage artist (if you go to the museums of the world like the Museum of Modern Art in New York (probably in Philadelphia you'll find collages by Schwitters. Some of the best and prettiest and brightest and most spacious little tiny collages that anybody ever made. This is a little sound collage called "Priimiititiii"" [recording of Allen reading Schwitters not included in the broadcast]
"So that little pyramidal litany, little pyramid litany, it gets bigger and bigger, is very similar to... I used it basically as the form for certain sections of "Howl" and "Kaddish", like “O Mother what have I forgotten? O mother what have I left out..” Oh, I have an interesting poem that’s half-song-half-poem – “Hum Bomb”. I’ll do that and then we’ll figure a song – Hum Bomb" [Allen performs "Hum Bomb"].
"My old poetry mentor-teacher-acquaintance was William Carlos Williams, one of the great American poets of this century who taught us all to write the way we talk. Idiomatic diction, idiomatic rhythms, vernacular pronunciaton, using tones of voice just like when you’re talking with your grandmother or yourself or with a classroom of pupils, from high school, so..how do you sound? You sound like you’re talking - so, he said, write the way you’re talking, from the living language. And I was in China, in 1984, and went to sleep in a little town of Baoding, Baoding - B-A-O-D-I-N-G, on November 23rd, and slept, and saw Williams, as he started writing me a poem, actually giving me instructions, (on) how to continue as a poet. So this is called therefore, put in quotation-marks, (but the whole text is in quotation marks because it’s what he said in the dream), “Written In My Dreams by William Carlos Williams". Obviously, it’s a joke, I wrote it because I dreamed it up, but, on the other hand, that’s part of the dream, he said it, so.."
"...a great formal terza rima, a three-lined rhymed verse that Dante used, (and) that Percy Bysshe Shelley used, for one of the greatest Romantic poems in the English language, the “Ode To The West Wind”. My father used to recite that in high-school. He would go around the house reciting it, and so I learned a lot of it when I was a kid. The theme is the West Wind , you know, Winter’s coming, the West Wind comes with its chill, blows everything apart, the decline of civilizations, perhaps, the fall of America, or the fall of Rome, creation and destruction at once, but also it’s the wind through the world, like the wind through our mouths, like in (Bob) Dylan’s "Idiot Wind" – the wind blowing through the buttons of our clothes..no wonder we can even breathe” – the breath, the wind of our own breath. And Shelley is identifying the breath of his own poetry with the breath of the great world’s wind, the Western wind . It’s interesting to know that the word “spiritual” (because this is a really spiritual poem) comes from the Latin “spiritus" or “breathing”, so when you speak of "spiritual", you’re talking of unobstructed breath, big breath - and this is the poem of big breath, inward and outward, inspiration (taking in the breath), exhalation (exhaling the breath). So he’s really talking about his own spirit, his own breath, identifying his breath with the grand breath of the world – because everybody has that big ambition to be the king of the universe, to possess the universe, sacred world, and to make his own talk the sacred pronouncements of the majesty of cosmos. So this is how Shelley actually went ahead and did it. And if you yourselves pick up a copy of this poem, "Ode To The West Wind" by Shelley, and recite it aloud, taking a breath whenever you see he has a punctuation mark or period or parenthesis, you too can get as high as (him) Shelley on the majesty of the breath of the West Wind.. So, (Percy Bysshe) Shelley’s "Ode To The West Wind"."