Monday, October 31, 2011

John Keats (1795-1821)

[photograph of John Keats' life-mask by artist Benjamin Hayden (1786-1846) - photo by Joanna Kane from The Somnambulists: Photographic Portraits From Before Photography]

Today (tonight) is fittingly Halloween - and John Keats' birthday.
Allen, like any poet, revered Keats, and was particularly taken by this letter/manifesto (from a note written to his brothers, George and Thomas, and dated December 21, 1817) - the notion of "negative capability" -

"I had not a dispute but a disquisition (with [his friend] (Charles Wentworth) Dilke"), Keats writes, "on various subjects. Several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean, Negative Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason..."

"The really interesting word here is "irritable"", Allen notes. "which in Buddhism we take to be the aggressive insistence on eliminating one concept against another, so that you have to take a meat-axe to your opponent or yourself to resolve the contradictions...That's a completely polarized version of the universe - the notion that everything is black and white."

This Buddhist reading of Keats is further developed in his essay, "Negative Capability - Kerouac's Buddhist Ethic" (we drew your attention to it here).

Happy Birthday, John Keats!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Ezra Pound('s 116th Birthday)

[Ezra Pound, poet, Rutherford, New Jersey at the home of William Carlos Williams, June 30, 1958 - Photograph by Richard Avedon]

"What thou lov'st well remains,/ the rest is dross/ What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee." Ezra Pound (born on this day) reads here from "Canto LXXI" [2013 update - regrettably the video that accompanied these lines is no longer available - but audio of the entire Canto (from Pound's 1967 reading at Spoleto) may be listened to here - and here)]. For audio, the PennSound page cannot be recommended too highly, featuring, as it does, not only the 1967 Spoleto Recordings, but also the 1939 Harvard Vocarium Recordings, the 1958 Caedmon recordings, the (lesser-known) 1959 Bayrischer Rundfunk Recordings, a recording of him reading some of his translations of the Confucian Odes, and, even a segment from the infamous wartime speeches. Pound's distinctive "cranky" (and, latterly, broken) voice should not be missed.

Here's Pound reading from "Canto LXV" ("With usura..") in 1939 - and again in 1958 

and here's Pound reading from (the much earlier) "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley"

This extraordinary document - a filmed interview by Pier Paolo Pasolini with Pound may be seen here [2013 update - regretfully no longer] (Pasolini, in the course of the interview reads some of the poet's words back to him, including the heart-felt cry from "Canto LXXI", "Pull down thy vanity, it is not man/ Made courage, or made order, or made grace,/ Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down":

Here's more from Italian television (including footage of his funeral procession and Pound at Rapallo):

We have already drawn your attention to the Voices and Visions (tv) series made in 1988. The Ezra Pound episode is very much worth watching. It may be viewed in its entirety here.

For Allen on Pound - Here's selections from his (Pound's) Selected Essays that Allen highlighted (for his teaching practice). NAROPA classes (from 1980 and 1987) on Pound may be heard here and here.
A central document is his "Encounters With Ezra Pound (Journal Notes)" that opens the 1980 volume, Composed On The Tongue, memories of their 1967 meetings.

The photo above shows him and Pound together (with Fernanda Pivano, his Italian translator - and was taken by her husband, Ettore Sottsass).

Some selections from "Encounters With Ezra Pound" follow (some of this information, it should be pointed out, first appeared in Michael Reck's "A Conversation between Ezra Pound and Allen Ginsberg", Evergreen Review 55, June 1968):

Allen: "So explained to him - "You remember I was telling you about hearing Blake's voice-?
He hesitated and then pursed his mouth, nodded up and down slightly, looking away.
- "But I didn't tell it coherently." - so described to him the occasion - "a series of moments of altered modes of consciousness over a period of weeks, etc." - ending "no way of presenting that except through things external perceived in that state" and so continued explaining how his attention to specific perceptions & W(illiam)C(arlos)W(illiams)' s "No ideas but in things" had been great help to me in finding language and balancing my mind - and to many young poets - and asked "am I making sense to you?"
"Yes," he replied finally, and then mumbled "but my own work does not make sense' [or, "but I haven't made sense"]
I had asked him before if he would like to come to give a reading in the U.S. at Buffalo or S(an) F(rancisco), say, he replied, "Too late - "
"Too late for what? - for us or for your voice?" I laughed and continued, explaining mine and our ((Robert) Creeley, etc) debt to his language perceptions - speaking specifically of the sequence of phanopoeic images - "soapsmooth stone posts" - even his irritations and angers characteristic, humors, dramatic, as manifest in procession as time mosaic.
"(Basil) Bunting told me." said Pound, "that there was too little presentation and too much reference" - referring to things not presenting them.
I replied that in the last year Bunting had told me to look at Pound because I had too many words, and showed Pound as model for economy in presentation of sensory phenomena, via words...So Pound's work, I concluded to him, had been in "Praxis of perception, ground I could walk on."
"A mess", he said.
"What, you or the Cantos or me?"
"My writing - stupidity and ignorance all the way through," he said. "Stupidity and ignorance."
"For the ear - Williams told me," I continued, "in 1961 - we were talking about prosody, I'd asked him to explain your prosody to me - in general, something toward approximation of quantitative - anyway Williams said, 'Pound has a mystical ear' - did he ever tell you that?"
"No", said Pound, "he never said that to me" - smiling almost shyly and pleased - eyes averted - but smiling, almost curious and childlike.
"Well I'm reporting it to you now seven years later - the judgment of the tender-eyed Doctor that you had a 'mystical ear' - not gaseous mystical he meant - but a natural ear for changes of rhythm and tone.
I continued explaining the concrete value of his perceptions manifested in phrasing, as reference points for my own sensory perceptions - I added that as humor - HUMOR - the ancient humours - his irritations against Buddhists, Taoists and Jews - fitted into place, despite his intentions, as part of the drama, the theater, the presentation, record of flux of mind-consciousness...
"The intention was bad - that's the trouble - anything I've done has been an accident - any good has been spoiled by my intentions - the preoccupation with irrelevant and stupid things -" Pound said this quietly, rusty voiced like an old child, looked directly in my eye while pronouncing "intention".
"Ah well, what I'm trying to tell you - what I came here for all this time - was to give you my blessing then, because despite your disillusion - unless you want to be messiah - then you'd have to be a Buddhist to be a perfect Messiah" (he smiled) - "But I'm a Buddhist Jew - perceptions have been strengthened by the series of practical exact language models which are scattered thruout the Cantos like stepping stones - ground for me to occupy, walk on - so that despite your intentions, the practical effect has been to clarify my perceptions - and, anyway, now do you accept my blessing?"
He hesitated, opening his mouth like an old turtle.
"I do," he said - "but my worst mistake was the stupid suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism, all along, that spoiled everything - "..
"Well no, because anyone with any sense can see it as a humour, in that sense part of the drama - you manifest the process of thoughts - make a model of the consciousness and anti-Semitism is your fuck-up, like not liking Buddhists, but it's part of the model as it proceeds - and the great accomplishment was to make a working model of your mind - I mean nobody cares if it's Ezra Pound's mind - it is a mind, like all our minds, and that's never been done before - so you made a working model all along, with all the dramatic imperfections, fuck-ups - anyone with sense can always see the crazy part and see the perfect clear lucid perception-language-ground-"

Rodger Kamentz's "verse-essay", coming off this encounter (we've spotlighted it before) is available here.
Here's Allen's poem, "War Profit Litany", dedicated to Pound.

Back to Pound's own poetry - and original editions. Here's his Canzoni (1911), his Ripostes (1912), Lustra (1916), Umbra (The Early Poems) (1920), Poems 1918-1921 (including Three Portraits and Four Cantos) (1921). Here's Cathay (1915) and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920)

Here's his Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti (1912) - and here's the 1941 Faber and Faber edition (D.D.Paige's edition) of his Selected Letters .

And finally, we leave you with this.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Perfect Wisdom Sutra (ASV#19)

Here's Allen recorded by Mellon Tytell in 1993, on the occasion of Carl Solomon's passing, at a memorial event at the St Mark's Church, reading the Pranaparamita Sutra (the Perfect Wisdom Sutra, the Heart Sutra), in the translation that he had adopted (and adapted) from Shunryu Suzuki (with the roshi's consent).
His accompanist here, the man standing next to him, is, of course, poet and Fug, Ed Sanders.

Allen chants the Sutra also in a noisy New York City nightclub, around the same time, in recordings made by Jill Abrams, (here and, continuing, here)

There's also, for the intrepid, a further recording here (from a "Dharma Poetics" class (with Anne Waldman), a little over an hour into the class).

the text of the Sutra.

And, here's a little of the background
(from the interview he made with David Chadwick about Shunryu Suzuki):

AG: " the late sixties - mid sixties, I had memorized his (Suzuki's) translation of the Prajnaparamita Sutra. Slowly I had worked out a melodic intonation for it...I made a few changes with Gelek Rinpoche later. "No attainment because no non-attainment". Topsy-turvy extremes instead of views. 'Cause what do you mean? Extremes of nihilism or extremes of mind only. In '68 I was really intrigued by Suzuki-roshi's translation. Sort of like telegraphese compared to others I'd read. It was so succinct. So I went to him and sang it to him and asked him his permission to sing it in public. He said, sure. I was adding a little American melody and flavor there. Using inflections and notes to emphasize - "no suffering, no cause of suffering". Very operatic there. Also "no non-attainment". Which I found emotionally the heart of it, in a way. So I got his permission to do it in public. I didn't know if I was messing around with something I didn't understand and appreciate. Just thought I'd better tell him what I was doing and wouldn't do any brain damage to anybody. He was very nice about it.."

A "Chant Card" (from 1962) used for services at the San Francisco Zen Center in its early days (this one, on the occasion of "officially installing Suzuki as the abbot of Sokoji..") may be examined here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday's Weekly Round-Up 47

[Allen Ginsberg Collection, at the People's Library, Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park New York, October 2011]

We refer you to our earlier postings - here and here - but Allen's spirit continues to be present in the continuing (global) Occupy Wall Street protests. The inevitable "op ed" header has appeared (Austin Allen on Big Think) - "What Would Allen Ginsberg Think of Occupied Wall Street?" - (Claudio Willer and Eduardo Mora Basart have similar musings, in Spanish, here and here). Here's Aaron Kravig reciting "America" (complete with ambient sound and hand-held camera) on-site. Here's an earlier article, in case you missed it, on "The Occupy Wall Street Library" (Poet/librarian, Betsy Fagin is quoted - "She has seen", the author notes, "a couple of people reading Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" (and) Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass", and has noticed that the manga is flying off the shelves").

Last week, we sung the praises of Dangerous Minds. We find ourselves doing so again. Never an inopportune moment to point to the wayward genius that was Harry Smith. Our Harry Smith page, (another of our "birthday (death-day?) tributes"), is accessible here.

Also last week, noting Howl (movie)'s African opening. Here's two reviews - Kavish Chetty's and Shaun De Waal's. Over a hundred reviews of the movie now up on Rotten Tomatoes - World-wide, the movie continues to garner mostly positive feedback.

Speaking of old reviews, don't think we passed this on - The Economist review of Donny Mather's recent staging (as a one-man show) of "Kaddish (or The Key in the Window)"), directed by Kim Weild for the Adaptations Project.

In Charleroi, Belgium, this weekend, "Howl" will be the basis of a new dance/performance piece (more about that here).

Is it too late to take note of Denise Behrens and her group of enthusiasts in Iowa City conducting (last weekend) a "Public Outdoor Reading of Allen Ginsberg's Howl" ? (asserting the right to free speech). Well, we guess that it is!

Claire Askew's "Starry Rhymes" Ginsberg anthology (previously noted here) gets a review (by Chris Emslie in "Sabotage - Reviews of the Ephemeral".

Beatitude (the novel, not the magazine!) - by Larry Closs, is now out (more details here from the publisher, Rebel Satori Press). The book features, intriguingly, "two previously unpublished poems by Allen".

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

[Dylan Thomas 1914-1953]

Dylan Thomas via Kenneth Rexroth? Dylan Thomas via Allen? Dylan Thomas via Bob Dylan? Whichever way it went, Dylan Thomas influenced Beat. Here's Allen's account, "Late April 1952" (he was 26 years old!), from Journals, Early Fifties, Early Sixties:

"Left Dylan Thomas and someone else with a big bruise on right forehead - thin mediocre type - in cab on 6th Avenue, 15 minutes ago.
I was in San Remo sitting relaxed towards closing time when they walked in. I only half-recognized him when they came in door & stood next to my seat at bar.
Thomas said, "Congratulations" and "Imagine that", when bartender spoke his name overloud & said he'd read his poem over the bar.
"Don't believe everything you hear", Thomas said to me.
"Only if it's spoken loud enough, I answered.
His companion said, "Where do you go to school?" - I said I didn't go, huffily.
"Do you know - ever study English literature", said companion.
"Of course, I'm a poet myself", I said.
"Do you know who this is?", he said
"Of course, man, it's obvious"
"Oh, another", said Thomas.
"Well don't look at me", I said, stiffening up.
Thomas, "I was just in another pub - drinking place - whatever you call them - and a girl said to me - would you like somewhere to go to see a girl and me do a trick?"
"Is it a question of interpretation of "trick"", I said
"No, I'm a professional", Thomas said, "I'm a professional".
"Well I just thought it was a question of language", I said
"But she wanted $50 which I didn't have "
"Oh well".
"Do you know any amateurs?", he asked.
"I think the best I can do is knock on a door and it will be opened by a pretty girl who'll offer us a bottle of beer".
"Will she do a trick?"
"I can only supply one pretty girl who'll open her door", I said
"Well, that's a lot, that's half of it".
"That's the way the world is", we agreed.
"But that's a lot", he said. "What can you do?" I said.
I then said that Lucien and Cessa would be newspaper people at home. "But they have 'likker, but they aren't "intelligent"."
"Well I insist they'll have to be intelligent" - he.
"No, I didn't want to mention that - they, of course, of course, have feelings, heart, mind, suffering - and nobility".
He nodded understanding .
I was very eager to see him off and go along. But everything was very chancy and superficial and no action took place. I called Lucien. There was no answer. Alas!
I came back and said they weren't home - and on and on. Mary Jo was there [at bar]. "Who's she?" they wanted to know.
He could have had her but she was silly & he a fool about reputation.
Said, "I've got the shortest legs in the world. My belly hangs down to my groin".
She chatted and camped but no action.
I tried to get him to go to Dusty's - the bartender took him aside and asked me to leave. I said to Thomas, "Shall I wait outside?. He nodded very gently & graciously, perfect gentleman tho' he didn't know me,
Later outside I remembered my attic and he said, "but not an attic... Just you and me?". "That's all", I replied. He had said he had a bottle along too. "I want to go to drink the bottle where there are other people around".
Outside Victor and several other heavy-handed hipsters - 3 of them stood by the door while I sat on gutter & waited - They were conversing, wondering why narcissistic girls went for weak-chinned people like him - talking about him in manly cultural underground terms, but spitefully, asserting their own virility and new generation removal from dependence or sympathy with him - said , "Byron had strength", and complemented each other too.
I yelled "Hey" when he came out and got up and joined them too - wasn't sure he'd even remember. He said, "I never was so bored" by the action inside Remo with proprietors -
I had difficulty raising subject of continuing on with him as I asked inside by saying, "I don't know what will happen but if I may I wish to continue and go on with you where ever you are going tonight if you have anywhere to go". He said, "Yes, I'd be glad, of course" - but with eye wandering, alas but, so dissolute he was he meant it too, just as well.
On way he stopped in middle of street. "I don't know what to do" -
I took up the initiative and said,
"OK, I'm telling you, then come with me !
Meanwhile companion said, "I'm awfully tired, should go home", and "Caitlin is waiting".
Finally Thomas decided to go and I closed a cab door on them, ran to other side & stuck my tongue in window at him which I immediately regretted tho' I meant it as a friendly gesture. He stared out at me, drunkenly, without response.
We had been followed down corner and West 4th Street by 3 subterraneans. I ran off, leaping.
Friend companion earlier had said about bruise - "In fight" - on account of Thomas saying things - an hour ago, wound up in hospital.
Ah, Dylan Thomas, I would have liked to know you that night, wish I could have communicated who I was, my true feeling, and its importance to you. For I too am a lover of the soul.
How disappointing to come away empty-handed with no recognition from this Chance meeting - I fell sick and unhappy because I could not make a great sweet union of the moment of life - now this is 45 minutes after, it will pass but it is sad & true."

Nigel Williams 2003 BBC documentary, Dylan Thomas, From Grave To Cradle (with the voices of Dylan Thomas and those who knew him), a personal odyssey in search of the poet is available in 7-parts on You Tube

"In My Craft or Sullen Art" (from the famous Caedmon recordings) may be heard here.

October 27, Dylan Mariais Thomas was born on this day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gelek Rinpoche's Birthday!

[Gelek Rinpoche and Allen Ginsberg, at the reception after a Jewel Heart Benefit, Chicago, November 9 1991. Photo c. Jennifer Girard]

Gelek and Allen and Jewel Heart - Jon Kain in his piece for the Shambhala Sun, some years back, "Gelek Rinpoche's Remarkable Journey", notes "They [Gelek and Allen] met in the early 1990's, forming a fast friendship. Allen eventually became Gelek Rinpoche's student, with Rinpoche performing the ritual at Allen's death. "Allen never missed the opportunity to teach me about American culture and language, Rinpoche told me", (Kain recounts), "He pushed me all the time. He was really so kind. And then what little dharma I know I contributed to him".

Mutual respect. It was (always) sincere mutual respect, (notwithstanding the teacher-pupil relationship(s), notwithstanding Rinpoche's charming, disarming, modesty).

"I've had a very good life, especially great luck with teachers particularly Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and now Gelek Rinpoche. Both have great hearts. So there's a basic security to all that".

and from the same interview (as part of a response to the question, what brings him joy?):

"Seeing my present lama advisor, who'll be here in San Francisco this Thursday-night actually, lecturing - Gelek Rinpoche, who has a center in Ann Arbor. He does some advising for me, meditation advice, and for Phil Glass. Twice a year, Phil and I go off on a retreat with him and another 150 people. Phil and I are roommates, so we cook up more mischief.."

In the spirit of Glass-Ginsberg "mischief", we wish Gelek Rinpoche a Happy Birthday! - Happy 72nd Birthday today!. May his spreading of the dharma continue..

Here's Allen (the photo is by Lisa Law, by the way), singing Guru Blues

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

History of Poetry 12 (class concludes)

[Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1661) - Vanitas With A Putto Resting His Head On A Skull, oil on panel 16 3/4" x 13"]

Allen's June 10 1975 NAROPA class concludes.

AG: It's called "Dirge". Now, (James) Shirley's 1596-1666, so now we're getting about half a century later than Shakespeare. So that little airy thing in Shakespeare is beginning to get a little bit lost, but a kind of funny Buddhist Noble Truth logic horror is coming in. A Death's Head is coming in. It's perhaps stupidly, in a sense, like, Western mechanistic industrial-minded.. the wheel has been invented or something, and (William) Blake is about to be born pretty soon (well, maybe another century). It's this kind of thing that drove Blake mad, really, but actually it's the apex of logical English horror thought. It comes out of Shakespeare, because it's like the Shakespeare lines, "All lovers young, all lovers must/Consign to thee, and come to dust". "Golden lads and girls all must consign to thee, come to dust." "Dirge", from "The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses". [Allen reads James Shirley's poem - "The glories of our blood and state/ Are shadows not substantial things.."] - No, it's better than I thought, actually. That's really good, Marianne Moore paraphrases that in one of her poems about the war. I was influenced by this.. and, this mainly. This is [he turns to his own poetry] called "Stanzas - Written at Night in Radio City", [Allen reads his 1949 poem - "If money made the mind more sane/ Or money mellowed in the bowel.." in its entirety] - Actually, the first, one, two, three, four, five, six lines were after Shirley's "Scepter and crown/ Must tumble down", and then I got mixed up and started writing like (W.B.) Yeats. The "woman withered in the lips". So I got to be "Crazy Jane" or something. "Contemplate the unseen Cock/ that crows all beasts to ecstacy" - that was a take-off on "I know, although when looks meet.." You know "Crazy Jane"? Yeats?, a figure, sort of a dharma crazy-wisdom figure in Yeats. "I know, although when looks meet.." On "Wild Jack", her lover..[Allen then reads Yeats ("I know, although when looks meet..", from "Crazy Jane and Jack the Journeyman")]. So I think I was getting some of that dirty old woman talk, kind of "Crazy Jane".
So, that was James Shirley. That's really so good, that - "Upon Death's purple altar now,/ See where the Victor/victim bleeds" - it's like perfect dharma karma talk. That poem, "Brightnesse falls from the ayre" of (Thomas) Nashe, and (Shakespeare's) "Of his bones are Corrall made" have some funny perfect things. "Death lays his icy hands on kings/ Scepter and Crown/ Must tumble down". It's really so pearl-like, it's so beautiful. You should know those poems. You should keep track of just a few really exquisite lines, with the exquisite time, and the exquisite literary detail that they present. So that's Shirley. If you've got it written down, look it up and read it a couple of times. If you read it a couple of times, you'll have it in your head without even attempting to memorize it. That's what I find, and I find (true) with a lot of people. If you have something really good and perfect like that, where it makes total sense and where it's totally literal, and the music is perfect, if you read it three or four times, then fragments hang around in your consciousness, and you'll have them for the rest of your life to refer to, and then you'll have to fight them when you want to write your own poetry. Because the nervous system practically gets altered, the entire nervous system, the neural network, gets altered by these vibrations. It's like really subtle perfect vibrations (which was a theory of the French 20th century poet, Antonin Artaud, who, speaking of music and voices and poems, said that there are some tones and vibrations which are so penetrant that they actually alter the molecular composition of the nerves. A certain vibration enters in and alters the physical, biochemical, structure of the corpse, making a permanent change. What time (is it)?

Student: It's ten to..

AG: Yeah, okay, We'll continue. I'll continue with a few more of these. I'll continue next week, or next, with George Herbert, (Henry) Vaughan, (Andrew) Marvell, (Thomas) Traherne, and begin/do a little (John) Donne.
[class and tape end here]

Audio of "History of Poetry" parts 10-12 is available at As always, thanks and gratitude to Randy Roark