Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beatniks (More Beat Kitsch)


Our posting of a little "Beat kitsch" (only peripherally-related), a couple of weeks back, got such a good response, we're reluctantly posting a little more. "Beatniks" and "Beat poetry" in the film world, this time, (tho' we begin with the necessary caveat - that we're surveying not the art and the artists but crude sociological and advertising stereotypes. As Joyce Johnson puts it, in her 1987 memoir, "Minor Characters" - "Beat Generation" sold books, sold black turtle-neck sweaters and bongos, berets and dark glasses, sold a way of life that seemed like dangerous fun thus to be either condemned or imitated". Co-option, exploitation, humorous (or maybe not-so-humorous!) parody, from Hollywood and Madison Avenue). With that said..


Albert Zugsmith's 1958 "High School Confidential" features the scornful, insouciant (and actually, pretty wonderful!) Phillipa Fallon - "My Old Man was a bread-stasher all his life/ He never got fast/ He wound up with a used car,/ A seventeen-inch screen, and arthritis/ Tomorrow is a drag, man, tomorrow is a king-sized drag".

And it was Zugsmith who produced, the following year, the eponymous "The Beat Generation" (with its shameful equation of "Beat" revolt and hoodlum violence that so incensed (and rightly so!) Beat's progenitor, Jack Kerouac). The poet-declaimer this time was Maila Nurmi ("Vampira"), the Hollywood horror-movie host (she performs her poem with a rat on her shoulder!)

The sheer absurdity of the stereotypes. Check out the mindlessly sexist, "Wilbur, the Beatnik",
Beatnik artist, from a 1958 episode of the t.v. detective show, Peter Gunn - [2014 update - well, this little snippet has since been pulled, but we'll replace it with this - a compendium of Beat Kitsch to the soundtrack of Shelley Manne and His Men performing "Hank" Mancini's (sic) "Goofin' at the Coffee House"] - [2015 update- well that footage has been pulled too, but you get the  picture!

And, of course, such a brief survey, would not be complete without at least a quick check-in with the t.v. stereotype, Maynard B Krebs

[Bob Rosenthal (from his recent extended New York Times interview/recollections) - He (Allen) didn't watch t.v. People would ask him, "What do you think of Dobie Gillis, Maynard G Krebs?" He would go -"Oh, Maynard G Krebs - late 1950's stereotype of beatnik character". He had a memorized response, but he never saw it - he wasn't aware of it.]

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday's Weekly Round-Up 80

[Eric Drooker - "The Lion For Real" from Illuminated Poems]

The Lion For Real - Bryant McGill has helpfully put up multiple translations of this classic Allen Ginsberg poem (in French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish, along with the original English). The multi-lingual Lion For Real may be accessed here.

This past Monday, the Library of Congress opened the show "Books That Shaped America", 88 initial titles - "Howl" is, of course, among them ("On The Road" too). The list is, they point out, "not a register of the "best" American books - although many of them fit that description -Rather (it) is intended to spark a national conversation.." Among other poets included - Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost and Langston Hughes.

Sweet memory traces, Allen is as ubiquitous as ever. Check out these fugitive postcards, postcards to the architect, Ed White, from Denver's Auraria Library

Here's photographer, Bruce Weber, being interviewed. In answer to the question (veiled declaration?), "Isn't beauty age-less?" - "Not necessarily. You know I've met some people in my life who were much older than me at the time, but their spirit was so young. I met the poet Allen Ginsberg, for instance, and he was so open and so free of expression as a person and in his poetry. This is where beauty really lies, in my opinion. I think each day brings you a different experience (of) it and you try to make something personal out of it, something you can share".

Eric Greinke has been awarded the 2012 Passaic County Community College Allen Ginsberg Award

Christian Kallen reviews the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art Lawrence Ferlinghetti show

For all you Tim Leary-o-philes, the Timothy Leary Archives have just released a never-before-published transcript of a conversation between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Timothy Leary and Rosemary Leary, at the Montreal "Bed-In" in May of '69.

More archival-revival news - do you know that Lawrence Lipton's 1959 "Holy Barbarians" is now available on-line in its entirety? - on the incomparable Internet Archives here

Colorado wildfire news. We are obviously following the situation there with concern. The Naropa Summer session continues out there (week three). Allen and Peter's ashes are safe (encased in stone) but obviously getting something of a roasting!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mind, Mouth and Page - 24 (Contention)

Student: Do you think that he (Pound) really got off on the poetry? - or (wasn't it) just the fact that they were cutting away from writing in a royal tongue, and (he was) just.. going at it, like a professor - out to put out a book, because (maybe) somebody's out to throw him out of his chair, if he doesn't get published in the next year, ("'publish or perish"), and.. (so just more of the usual bullshit-academics)

AG: You have too much resentment. Are you finished (with) your question? You have too much resentment against what you think other people know that you don't know.

Student: No, I think that...

AG: Let me answer your..

Student: Okay

AG: ... your question. (So) shut up! -
The thing is he loved the poetry. The organic thing is when you make a change like that, when you break apart an old form, as (William Carlos) Williams points out, just like when you break up the atom, you release tremendous new energy. Just like, all of a sudden, Dante can write about (himself) or somebody in Purgatory or Hell squinting his eye just like a tailor squints his eye to thread the needle. Because you're thinking and writing in your natural language that you talk all the time, all of a sudden the images and perceptions are your own images and your own perceptions. So he was getting off on the poetry obviously. Really, really, getting off on the poetry. It had nothing to do with the scholarship or the professor trying to prove (himself) - nothing! And he was constantly trying to point out that when there is that transition to the local dialect, that's when people really begin swinging their ass, that's when people really use their heads, that's when they're actually talking from themselves.
So he surveyed the whole history of the European languages and some Oriental languages, to find those transition points to see what he could learn that he could apply to American. And what he learned was as follows - one last sentence - he said he thought the development in later times.. American prosody would develop along the lines of an approximation of classical Latin/Greek quantitative meters. By which he meant that people would develop an ear for the vowels they were talking and hear their vowels for the first time, instead of hearing accents every time they opened their mouth to write. They would hear their own vowels. So, he thought, an approximation (now he said approximation, because in Latin and Greek the vowels had a definite fixed length that was assigned to them and there were rules for the length of vowels - half vowels, whole vowels - and also there are tones which went with the vowels - high and low - there are grammarian's rules, written after the fact, as Pound points out, but nobody knows how to practice that now). So he was saying we would have to develop a practice in the American tongue of mindfulness of our speech, listening to the vowels, and he guessed it would be (an) approximation of classical quantity that would develop, historically. And that's why he went to all that trouble to research all those languages. Yeah?

Student: But you haven't answered my question. Very informative - but not what I was asking .

AG: Okay

Student: Okay

AG: I wanted to give that information out anyway

Student: Yes, fine, okay.. At the end...

AG: I'm sorry I yell at you all the time, but it's just...

Student: No

AG: ..that you always make this big scene.

Student: I'm sorry. It was just that I was trying to tie it in with that line (that we'd been discussing) in the (Bob) Dylan song, because I thought, like, that was what was coming through. I thought that it was just the general gut-feeling that, like, if I open up (to) Ezra Pound.. (except for the last, you know, I've been opening (up to) some stuff that I hadn't been open to before - I think maybe the last Canto, and the one about "usury", there are a couple that I can get a little bit out of, but that's just...) For some reason, he's hard as hell for me - and T.S.Eliot also (in ways that other people are just not hard for me). Like if I hit William Blake I hit this thing that's just an immediate (slap) and I think that's what he's talking about. Because, I know that, when Dylan would go at blues and stuff, I'm sure that he was just getting into stuff (that) just naturally wound up popping all over his own music.

AG: I would venture to say, I guess, my feeling is that there would have been no Bob Dylan without Ezra Pound, and until you understand why, in the development of American poetry, how people's minds worked and how things changed, without the original research and invention made that Pound made, that Williams used, that turned me on, it would not have been that kind of Dylan, see? That's why it's important to understand Pound if you want to understand the bones of the thing, if you really want to understand how everything developed historically, how attitudes and practices developed from one person to another in a kind of transmitted lineage in a way, personal transmissions, and over the radio, and in Time magazine, you'd have to go back to Pound, and then, before Pound, you'd have to go back to Whitman, and then to understand Whitman you'd have to go to crazy (Edgar Allan) Poe. So it's all one beautiful unfoldment of people developing, one upon another, their ideas. And it's really beautiful when you understand the development, because otherwise you get to make mistakes between mind-obsessions and gut-feelings (which a lot of Beatnik poets did - do - including yourself, sir, looking at your poems!)
I remember the big argument (that) we had the other night about whether you were actually using your own body-mind perceptions or whether you were writing something imitative, or.. actually.. your writing sounds like the worst of Pound! - What you don't like in Pound is actually a certain element that comes into your writing, which is the flowery abstraction or something, I guess, but.. Well, enough of beating on each other. We constantly get into this big argument all the time. We got into an argument for two (whole) hours at my house one night. I'm sorry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mind Mouth & Page - 23 (Pound and the Vernacular)

[Ezra Pound 1885-1972]

Allen's 1975 lecture (that we've been serializing) continues. More on Ezra Pound.

AG: Ok. We need a whole course on Pound (alone), but, briefly, they (the early American modernists) were faced with the problem, 1905-1910, (that Walt) Whitman had already broken apart the old forms. Pound had a little poem..["A Pact"] - he didn't like Whitman, because, at first, he thought that Whitman was too unsophisticated and too cranky and too American-provincial, compared to his friend Henry James (who was almost a contemporary of Whitman's). In other words, that's "so refined a mind that no idea could violate it" - Who said that? - Henry James (allegedly) had "so refined a mind that no idea could violate it" - That's Pound or Eliot talking about James, [it was Eliot] and it was that kind of really sharp mind that you had to deal with then. So there was a certain European culture that (Pound) dug, and he also got kicked out of Wabash College, Illinois, because he took in a girl who was supposed to have been (a) loose girl-of-the-streets, and put her up in his room overnight, and didn't even sleep with her, and created a great scandal, and this was American culture, provincial culture. So he finally went to Venice where everybody understood things more.
Now he realized that American prosody (we know what the word means, now, by this time - prosody is the measure of the verse and the way that you look at your verse line, the way you figure out how to arrange it on the page, the rhythm, the hearing of it, the sounds, the vowels, counting syllables, or counting iambics, or counting stress, or counting length of vowel) - he realized that American prosody still had to be formed, that it was a whole new field that had to be started all over again from the bottom. Then he also realized that the cause of the problem was a transition from English traditional meters, traditional book meters in English, to American rhythms, which are different from the English rhythms. People in England talk different from people in America (in England, they talk differently, in America, they talk different!). So the rhythms are different too.
So Pound, being a great scholar, went to find all the parallels in history where there was a transition from an official, or archaic, or classical, prosody and tongue and language to a popular language. There are other times in history when this has happened, and those have been times of great growth and creation of new forms. So he went, as I mentioned before, to Sextus Propertius, who had made the transition from the Greek dance rhythms, (bringing) Greek dance rhythms into Latin verse. (He) made use of the treasury of Greek dance rhythms to get Latin verse hopped up a little and get it out of the heavy-handed mold that it was in, a heavy-mouthed mold. He went to Chinese, because he realized that the English language and the American language were subject to such abstractions - the language itself was"more subject to abstraction and conditioned thought than hieroglyphic language(s), in which each word is a picture. So that in his essay on "The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry", (Pound) notes on notes of a professor, Ernest Fenollosa, who had done that kind of study.
(Fenollosa) pointed out that we have the word "red" - R-E-D - Now, we're conditioned to see red when we hear red. In Chinese, the word "red" is a combination (of the) hieroglyph of rust, a flamingo's neck, a sun setting behind a tree, and maybe something else. In other words, pictures that carry the actual red instead of the abstract word, "R-E-D". And so it was out of that study that he got to the ideas of Imagism, that is, that it should be primarily (a) visual image.
And he pointed out that poetry had always been a combination of three basic elements - phanopoeia - the casting of a visual image on the mind's eye - melopoeia - the tone-leading of vowels, or the melody of vowels with tones and with lengths of vowels, or the vocalization part, melody, including rhythm somewhat - and logopoeia or the wittiness of the words, the funniness of the words, or, as he said, "the dance of the intellect among words". So there's the intellectual logopoeia, there's the melopoeia, which is a song, and there is the phanopoeia, which is the picture part.
Now for the melopoeia part (which is what you were asking about really), for the melopoeia, he went to research how rhythms had been adapted and changed when all the high-class verse had been written in Greek and then there were all these creepy Latins trying to write in their vulgar Latin tongue (because Athens was the great cultural center, and for a long while it was considered vulgar to write in Latin). However, Sextus Propertius (so go read Ezra Pound's "Homage to Sextus Propertius") was the great man who brought Greek rhythms into Latin in a way that they were useable in Latin and fitted the Latin tongue, or was conscious of the problem. (Propertius) was conscious of the transition. There was a tradition in Dante from writing in church Latin to writing in the Vulgate tongue, and I think Dante also - who else beside Dante? - was the first - Petrarch?

Student: Petrarch's the first.

AG: Petrarch was the first to write sonnets in Latin, and I guess invent a sonnet form perhaps,
because he was singing songs in Italian rather.. singing songs in Italian, instead of intoning church Latin. And then Dante went ahead and picked up on that, and wrote this huge epic [The Divine Comedy] in Italian common tongue, using all sorts of precise Italian talk, like "then I squinted my eye like a tailor squints his eye when he tries to put a thread inside a needle" [e sì ver’ noi aguzzavan le ciglia come ’l vecchio sartor fa ne la cruna]., (which nobody could write about in Latin, but you could write about that (in Italian)) Just like Williams wrote about turning on the water-tap and waiting for the water to freshen in American language, so Dante wrote common perceptions in the common language. Pound got hung up, then, and studied Dante to see how did he do that? (because Dante was very conscious of having done that - and Petrarch also).
Then he (Pound) got interested in the Provencal tongue - Provencal - provincial - (just) like Williams - Do you know what century? 13th? 14th? 12th? 12th-13th? - (In the) 12t-13th centuries, Frenchmen in the south of France stopped writing in a royal tongue and started writing in a local dialect (like Kerouac wrote? (spoke) in Canuck, local dialect, from Lowell, Massachusetts...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Allen Ginsberg Criticizes Bob Dylan (MMP 22)

AG: You had your hand up - Yeah?

Student: I was reading (Ezra) Pound yesterday

AG: What were you reading?

Student: Huh?

AG: What were you reading?

Student: Uh, what were the ones he did right before the Cantos?

Student: Yeah

AG: Selected poems

Student: Yeah, and anyway, all of a sudden four or five lines from (Bob) Dylan came into my head - from "Desolation Row"

AG: Yeah

Student: "T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound fighting in the captain's tower while gypsy singers laugh at them and fishermen wave flowers"

AG: Yes

Student: So I just got real frustrated with Pound. I couldn't understand it. I just wanted to go wave flowers because it was easier.

AG: You just what?

Student: I got real frustrated with Pound because I wasn't understanding it.

AG: You know, that's one of Dylan's fucked-up lines, I'm afraid.

Student: You think so?

AG: Alas - Because I love him as a poet. But, see, Eliot and Pound were friends, they weren't "fighting in the captain's tower" - "T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound are fighting in the captain's tower.." - What was it? How does it continue?

Student: "While calypso singers laugh at them"

AG: Well, that might be. Because, calypso singers, literally, in the early part of the 19th century, were practicing an art of improvisation, using actual diction, street diction, and using spontaneous mind practices, which really were the ultimate goal of Pound's study of the minstrels and minnesingers. But Pound didn't actually pick up on the fact that there were living minstrels and minnesingers and troubadors in America among the blacks. He didn't quite understand that as an art form. (Pablo) Picasso was smarter when he went back to African statuary directly for his spirit, for his modern spirit.
But then Dylan goes on and fucks it all up with a real dull image (like [the example he gives in his "A Retrospect"] "the dim vales (dim lands) of peace")

Student: Yeah

AG: What's the next line? "While calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers"?

Student: Hold flowers? Wave flowers.

[tape ends - continues on reverse side]

AG: At..

Student: No, just...

AG: What was the line? You just quoted it

Student: "Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow"

AG: Yeah, so Dylan has to bring in his old tired "lovely mermaids" there. I mean, Dylan finally falls into exactly the same trap that Pound was warning against. Where did he get those "lovely mermaids" at "the windows of the sea"?, "fishermen holding flowers"? - that's all out of his head, out of his head from reading Ezra Pound or something. No, I mean it's all out of his head from reading (Alfred Lord) Tennyson, probably, in high school - "Mermaids of the sea"! - My ass! - I mean, he doesn't know anything about mermaids of the sea! Dylan had not read, really, Pound. He'd read Eliot but he hadn't really read Pound and, at that time, understood Pound. And so later he told me that he's ashamed of that line (he's not ashamed, but he's a little.. he can't sing it with the conviction that he wrote it, because, actually, Pound was warning against that kind of dopey sentimentality).

Student: Wasn't he referring.. I always thought that by this line he was referring to this fascist state..

AG: Yeah, The tower.

Student: Of Pound.. The fascist.. Fascists. And this as the fascist Ship of State coming down - and Anti-Semitism as well..

AG: I don't think so. I don't think (that) he had that in mind

Student: That's what I got out of it.

AG: He thought they were too arty - "While calypso singers laugh at them" - Maybe. Of course, unconsciously, he may have had "lovely mermaids" there. Dylan finally falls into exactly the trap that Pound was warning against. Where did he get those "lovely mermaids"? It's ignorance of Pound's beauty. At that time he had not yet read (Arthur) Rimbaud even, much less Pound.

Student: Maybe he was sort-of doing it then. It seems throughout all that song, he's comparing, like, ideology with literature in one heavy way

AG: In a kind of heavy way

Student: Yeah

AG: In a too heavy way

Student: Yeah

AG: I'm saying I think there's a.. Well, I mean, that's the main thrust - his ideology and literature. I mean the main thrust..

Student: But that's (just) one vein..

AG: Yeah

Student: .. that seems to run through it.

AG: I don't think it's the major thing. The major thing is about.. ego-fascism, sort of - "Dr.Filth" and his nurse (he's talking about an amphetamine scene) - amphetamine fascism, actually.

Student: I'd say the major thing is "Howl"

AG: I don't know how much of an influence..

Student: I really...

AG: ...precisely, that was

Student: ...think..

AG: Probably some
A little after that time I started bringing Dylan books to read and I brought him an (Emily) Dickinson...

Student: Educated him

Student: He hadn't read these people?

AG: Yeah, a little, in an anthology - (Christopher) Smart - he read him in anthology like everybody does. But he hadn't looked at the body of the work. His reaction to Rimbaud was really great. He loved Rimbaud, and said, "how can anyone write after Rimbaud"?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gay Pride 2012

Gay Pride weekend here in New York City and we'd direct your attention, of course, to these previous postings here, and here.

We've been intending to mention it before - it's been out for a few months now - but, better late than never, Christopher Bram's - Eminent Outlaws - The Gay Writers That Changed America (gay males, it should be pointed out - no women authors are covered in the book - his original concept included lesbian writers, but his editor advised him against it - "He was right", Bram now concedes, "I was able to find a clear coherent narrative with just the men and it would have been a lot harder if I'd included the women". There is, he believes, a "parallel narrative" in lesbian literature (but less clearly defined, and with more of a "stop-and-start quality") - "With the women, it's a more tangled, more ambivalent story". Allen is, of course, one of the "eminent outlaws", but the dominant figures in the first part of the book are Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams and Christopher Isherwood. The voices of Edmund White, Armistead Maupin, Larry Kramer, Tony Kushner and Michael Cunningham, carry the narrative in the second part of the book. And narrative (tho' non-fiction) it is. An accomplished novelist himself, Bram is adept at integrating the various strands in his tale. As one (representative) reviewer, Stan Persky, puts it, "Eminent Outlaws" is thoroughly readable, as well as useful and timely. It brings together what had been little more than scattered anecdotes and half-forgotten memories, and it appears at pretty much the right moment".

Persky, (a poet),'s detailed and "personal" review in the L.A Review of Books is a remarkable piece and bears further quoting. Especially, as it relates to Allen:
"I can recall Ginsberg", he writes, "whom I knew since I was a teenager, reciting Hart Crane for us, and, when we were in Paris, (c.1960), directing me to the English translation of Jean Genet's "Our Lady of the Flowers", which was still sold at the Kroch and Brentano's Paris branch from under the counter. The absence of homosexual taboos was of course only an indirect feature of the new poetry, but what it meant for younger gay writers was not simply a social sanctuary but an educational site where the history of literature that was informally taught to neophytes included, in their appropriate place, gay poets. One learned from Jack Spicer in San Francisco about Rimbaud and Garcia Lorca (Spicer's "After Lorca" appeared in 1957, only a year after Ginsberg's "Howl"). At San Francisco State College where I studied in the early '60's, I remember writing essays about Whitman as a gay poet long before it was an acceptable scholarly topic. Not only were you not alone, you were part of an historical tradition".
Regarding "Howl" - "Bram rightly emphasizes "what Ginsberg and others have said - this was a coming-out poem. There is nothing coy about the homosexual imagery. It's also a poem about politics, America, culture, capitalism, and an emerging Beat Generation, but, as Bram observes, it's the homosexual thematic that tends to be downplayed in critical accounts"
Persky goes on - "Bram has his doubts about the quality of much of Ginsberg's poetry, but not about his role as a gay public figure. It's a point that deserves to be underscored. For more than a decade prior to the Stonewall demonstrations of '69...Ginsberg was the sole artist, or public figure of any sort, to present himself openly as a gay man, one engaged in cultural and political affairs as much as sexual politics. When people publicly asked him why there were so many homosexual references in his poetry, he replied. "Because I am a homosexual".
Jack Edson, in his review for Buffalo Rising, likewise gives a personal account:
"Whenever we read a collective biography like this book, I think we all come away with a favorite personality from the group. Mine would be Allen Ginsberg, the late American Jewish hipster poet, probably most remembered for his shocking poem, "Howl". When I think of Ginsberg, I think back to a certain afternoon in 1970 during my sophomore year at Canisius College when Allen Ginsberg presented a poetry reading for all the students. We probably had heard his name before, but really didn't know what we were in for in his poetry reading. I can remember it as if it were yesterday - this hairy guy playing his squeeze-box with his pony-tailed companion ringing bells as he sang "The Nurses Song" of William Blake. Ginsberg repeated the refrain of that poem many times that afternoon and I often play it over in my mind and it reassures me - "And all the hills echo-ed"."
Brad Gooch too, in The Daily Beast, is thrown back to memories:
"Once a month or so, during the 1970's, I had dinner at Joe LeSueur's teeny East Village apartment - dinner was all gay guys, crammed into a little living room. Allen Ginsberg (living nearby) had nailed the issue in an elegy for the poet Frank O'Hara when he wrote of his gift for "deep gossip". That was the lingua franca of the after-dinner dish sessions at LeSueur's, bleary data dumps that were actually history lessons, full of information passed only by word-of-mouth, because the subjects were too marginal or the material too outre'
Kevin Killian in the San Francisco Chronicle notes Bram's limitations - "Bram's taste is catholic but doesn't extend to the experimental, so you don't hear much in Eminent Outlaws about William Burroughs, John Cage, Samuel R Delany, James Purdy, Alfred Chester, Harold Brodkey, Robert Duncan, John Wieners, Paul Bowles, James McCourt, and others" (the list could go on). That said, he concedes, "All in all, though, Eminent Outlaws is a worthy account, jam-packed with anecdotes, gossip and aplomb, of a tumultuous time in U.S. history as refracted by its books and dramatics".
The book received not one but two New York Times book reviews - here and here.
Here's the review in the Washington Blade.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday's Weekly Round-Up 79

[Allen Ginsberg's annotated copy of T.S.Eliot's "The Waste Land" - from Houghton Library, Harvard University]

At the Vienna Kunsthalle - just recently-opened and up through the summer (till October 21st, in fact) - Cut-Ups, Cut Ins, Cut Outs - The Art of William S Burroughs.

and, more images from - and Ann Knickerbocker's generous review/preview of - "The Painted Word" (the show currently up at San Francisco's Meridian Gallery, that we mentioned here, in this space, just last week).

Here's one of the Burroughs' images from there:

[William S. Burroughs - Piece For City People, 1993]

The Ferlinghetti art show (also mentioned last week), Cross Pollination - The Art of Lawrence Ferlinghetti opens at the Sonoma Valley Museum tomorrow.

Here's one of Ferlinghetti's images (sans the headline - sic) - "I Am Not A Man" - (inspired by a photograph that had belonged to his brother, who'd been a prison-guard at Sing Sing for many years, and who had witnessed, first-hand, numerous disturbing state executions)

[Lawerence Ferlinghetti - I Am Not A Man (2012)]

(Actor) John Malkovich gave a performance in Florence, Italy, this past weekend, Factory of Silence, which incorporated a reading of part of the Philip Glass setting of Wichita Vortex Sutra (the piano was played by Ksenia Kogan, Philip wasn't in attendance).

Here's a recently-posted interview with Paul McCartney (from 2008), in the charmingly-named Stool Pigeon
Stool Pigeon: Where did you get the album title, "Electric Arguments", from?
Paul McCartney: It came at random. I just delved into an Allen Ginsberg book and I saw the phrase.
Stool Pigeon: And it seemed to work with what you were doing?
Paul McCartney; This is the interesting thing - how does an artist work? You don't always work intellectually. You sometimes just look at the color or the look of words, and "electric arguments" fascinated me. I didn't even think what it might mean. I just knew I liked those two words together (and) I knew it was Ginsberg, so I thought, "It's got a good provenance, my dear" [McCartney laughs]

"The Poetry Project burns like a red hot coal in New York's snow", Allen once wrote. Their 38th (sic) extraordinary season (under the watchful care of Stacy Szymaszek) was recently completed. Meanwhile, the Project's history ("Insane Podium") has been deftly summarized by Miles Champion. Take a look.

& finally this - an extraordinary found-document (from PRX's David Gerlach and Blank on Blank) - Allen Ginsberg visits Julian Beck, in 1984, on his sick-bed. Ever the documentarian, he brings along a tape-recorder - "making the private world public, that's what the poet does".

A transcript of this haunting recording may be read here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mind, Mouth and Page - 21 (Williams and Meditation)

[William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, Rutherford, New Jersey, June 1959 - photograph by Richard Avedon]

AG: Well, I've been making a great thing about, all through the course, trying to correlate some of (William Carlos) Williams', perceptions, practices, attitudes, and mindfulness, with the mindfulness practices that you are all familiar (with), or most of you are familiar with, here [at Naropa], who have undertaken some practice of meditation. We finally come to the intersection point of the two - a great dramatic moment in the history of American Literature. How many here do practice meditation? or have learned some meditation practice? [Allen receives a show of hands] - So everybody should understand this. And you all know about breathing and watching the air. [Allen reads to the class William Carlos Williams' poem, "Thursday"]


I have had my dream - like others
and it has come to nothing,
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky -
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose - and decide to dream no more.

That's "Thursday". It happened to him on Thursday. He got that grounded and got that much into his body and that much into his own mind that there is an astounding naturalistic home-made American, not even a discovery, (but) simply a setting into a natural awareness, which in Oriental cultures had been cultivated as an aesthetic and psychological self-investigatory form. Here, by the practice of poetics, he arrived at the same place, arrived at the tip of his nose - "air passing in and out/at my nose".

Student: I was wondering where (Ezra) Pound related to this watchfulness and awareness and, (from) what I've read of him and Williams, (there were) radically-felt differences...

AG: Yeah

Student: what they were...

AG: Were you here when I was reading the Pound instructions for watchfulness?

Student: Yeah

AG: ..for watchfulness of the language? Well, see, Pound was more intellectual. It was up in his head more. So that..

Student: So it was more.. it was more...

AG: More as, what you might say, a practitioner. The difference was doing it more as a Jnana yoga, so to speak. Is that the right word, Jnana (yoga)?

Student: Right.

AG: That is.. the guy.. like Herbert Guenther.. J-N-A-N-A - Jnana - There is a yoga that involves intellectual research and refining the thoughts of the mind to such precise classical perfection that you arrive at the same point as the sitter. Or there is, as far as I know, supposed to be some such yoga, or some such class of yogi.
If you followed Pound's directions just from the very beginning - "Go in fear of abstraction" - They're a little more general than Williams' insistence that you pick out that aspect of the tree, or that gesture of the tree that makes it different from other trees. Williams is a better meditation master in this particular study, but Pound has the right direction and the right ideas on it, and, actually, the right practice in his own poetry, though maybe Pound is a little more heavy-handed and deliberate - too deliberate and heavy-handed - At the beginning, not at the end. He mellows tremendously at the end, and he's engulfed with the actual world by the time he's in a cage - in the prison camp in Pisa after World War II. He's directly confronting phenomena around him and recording them - the later Pound. And there's a lot of clear, crisp early (poems) ("crisp" is the word one student used for "Personae", the early book of Pound), the crisp detail, or attention to detail so that his rendering of it becomes very crisp and clear, or, in Buddhist terminology, vajra-like.

Student: How do you deal with the.. well, relative (difference) that he was.. well (in his case, his) awareness seems to be (occasionally) developed on external objects and external people,
whereas meditation is almost always an external experience, that he really had correlatives and images, let's say, that were..

AG: Well, for the instructions in the development of Tantric iconography (presented here in Boulder) last might, the instructions were to go out and look and observe detail.

Student: But that's not...

AG: Remember?

Student: But that's not sitting practice

AG: No, that's not sitting practice, it's another practice, sometimes, depending on development of sitting practice (but this was before (the) general audience last night, most of whom hadn't sat). As far as I know, Vipassana meditation may begin with observation of the point (of) the tip of the nose, but then extends onwards to the skandhas, or different senses, and then it extends through the body (as I've heard it explained in a little seminar the other day). And then it extends outward into the world, to notice the details of the world too, isn't that right? Didn't (Joseph) Goldstein (sic) describe that? as part of his meditation? - extending attention outward to notice detail in the so-called external universe.

Student: Essentially too, it confirms the abstractions of the mind, by grounding it..

AG: Well, refines the abstractions of the mind by seeing them as a thought passing through, and of definite things also..

Student: Hmm

AG: In other words, that's the Objectivists' angle - that the thoughts of the mind are also definite things and can be rendered like things, very precisely.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mind, Mouth and Page - 20 (Williams' Speech & Robert Frost)

Student: Could you say something about (William Carlos Williams') "The Desert Music" (1954), in the context of this direct observation, mindfulness.

AG: Well, I'm going to build up to that in another class. I'm going to do Williams chronologically. By the time he gets old, and in "The Desert Music", there's a great deal of generalization. There's a lot of detail in it, but there's also an enormous amount of generalization. In that sense, it's more in the line of Objectivist, as I was defining (it), as including one's own thoughts in the head, and feelings, as well as external observation. But, just as in meditation, you have to practice simple shamata or mindfulness, (or at least it's traditional to practice some kind of bare attention of some sort before you play with your mind more, or abandon the discipline), so, in both philosophy and poetics, there is Aristotle's old dictum, which makes sense - that philosophy is not for young men because they have not assembled "a sufficient phalanx of particulars from which to draw their generalizations". [Allen is quoting (Ezra) Pound here] - It's very funny, if you heard it (I(t) went (by) very fast/ (I) read it very fast) - Philosophy is "not for young men because they have not assembled a sufficient phalanx of particulars from which to draw their - generalizations" - "a sufficient phalanx of particulars" ("phalanx" is funny there - "phalanx', you all know? - a little army troop going in in a "V" (formation), while the barbarians are massed in a long line along the horizon, and there's this "V' of armed men with shields going (forward)).
By that time, in his old age, (by) The Desert Music, Williams had assembled such a phalanx of particulars, that he was prepared to make generalizations. In fact, generalizations were particulars of his mind, so to speak. But I wanted to work, and get, into that, because I've been thinking about that, actually - after all this bullshit about paying attention to the external world, or putting your mind outside of you, or us(ing) your head, or us(ing) your watchfulness, how then does Williams, at the very end, come to be a philosopher, so to speak? - But it becomes obvious as you run through his lifetime practice.

Student: I just had a quick question about how articulate Williams was in his speech. Was he.. from.. it seems that he would be a very quiet man that would just be...

AG: Stammering

Student: He was stammering a lot?

AG: Well, I mean, he didn't stammer, but he thought of himself as stammering. He mentions it in poems - "stammering into speech". He had a weak chin and a kind of womanish face, I mean wrinkled-old-man face, but there was an element of tenderness in his eye, and a weak chin that made him... I mean, he certainly wasn't macho. I think he felt that he was a dumb-bell, basically, compared to Pound. So there was a sort of raw.. He was interested in just his own scene. I mean, sensitive to the fact that it related to Pound's larger world-canvas, so I think he'd characterize his own speech as stammering. Then he had a stroke, in the early '50's which made him actually stammer a bit, or forget words, or halt a bit. And there are some recordings of him (reading "The Desert Music" incidentally, as well as some of the early poems) made after the stroke, which I'll bring in, so you'll get his voice towards the end, when we get to "The Desert Music".
I mentioned a line - "The peaceful beer of impotence be yours" the other day. The poem is in order here. [Allen reads Williams' poem, "The Old Men"] - "Old men who have studied/ every leg show/in the city".."Old men/ the peaceful beer of impotence/ be yours" - He was willing to get along - sort of. Well, (next), "The Late Singer" [Allen reads "The Late Singer'] - "Here it is spring again/ and I still a young man".."I am late at my singing" - (and) "Complaint" [Allen reads "Complaint"] - "They call me and I go/ It is a frozen road/ past midnight.."..."I pick the hair from her eyes / and watch her misery/ with compassion" - Now, he's put himself in there - "and watch her misery/ with compassion" - He hasn't hesitated to include his own (thought), and even abstractly here ("with compassion") - except that he's laid it out - "I pick the hair from her eyes / and watch her misery" - so, obviously, there's compassion, so he's able to say it. That, I guess, would be the Objectivist element there, including one's own thought (but then it has to be done so delicately and carefully that the reader is sure that you are firm and solid and it is there - real compassion and not idiot sentimentality, or idiot compassion, or a fake emotion dreamed up for the sake of the poem).

Student: It's amazing, because he's there as a doctor, but yet he's just taking the hair out of her eyes and feeling the compassion, which is not what one would think of when one thinks of the doctor.

AG: Yeah. And it wouldn't be what one would think of if one were a doctor, coming in to a great woman laboring on her tenth child, except, apparently (from evidence in the poem) they've known each other for a long time (because he was a children's doctor, a pediatrician, he probably knew her). (But), obviously, here, you have the inside of a human being, who is also a doctor, so, actually, you're getting the secrets of an American professional man's real mucous membrane existence, as distinct from a series of stereotypes of role-playing. Yes?

Student: I get the feeling that he's (just talking, reassuring). (I was reminded) of (Robert Frost's) "Stopping by Woods..", and I sort of feel the same kind of flavor in it. I don't know, I may just be..

AG: Well you could say they're both talking.. Well, let's see. They're both talking more or less straight American talk. That was notorious about Frost (and Pound liked Frost (early) and approved, and tried to get him published, because Frost was one of the few people writing counted stanza and iambs but writing it in American diction and with rhythms that reflected his own New England speech. So there's two human beings who made... Yeah, I think the overt statement of responsibility is more in the Frost. In the Williams he just doesn't have to worry about the responsibility because "the natural object is always the adequate symbol".He's sitting down, tending the old woman, as a doctor, helping her in labor. There's a little element of abstraction, mental abstraction, in the Frost, a bit - "miles to go before I sleep" - if you're interpreting that as a moral lesson, or lesson in responsibility (except, he also has "the natural object..(as) ..the adequate symbol" there - he's got "miles to go before.. (he) sleep(s)", and the horse wants to...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mind, Mouth & Page - 19 (Williams Early Surrealism)

["Unidentified Man with Pan Flute" (Williams?) - from the William Carlos Williams papers at the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library]

Student: (William Carlos) Williams was involved in the early Surrealist movement wasn't he? Didn't he have a hand in some of the journals they did or the magazines that they put out?

AG: Well, he edited Contact magazine, which published the first novel by Nathaniel West, "The Dream Life of Balso Snell", which was a Surrealist novel, which took place in the.. I think it was the rectum of the Trojan Horse! - a joke Surrealist novel, a home-made Nathaniel West Surrealism (but, oddly, that was published in Contact, Williams' magazine). If he was in America, he must have known the people who were connected to the 1913 Armory Show, where all the Dada and Surrealist and Futurist and Constructivist and Cubist works were shown, hanging around the Stieglitz "American Place" gallery. There were several (other) art galleries there where all the European influences were coming in. He was a friend of Charles Sheeler, who was a painter, who was making use of composition..a Cubist-style composition, or collage, a little bit. So he was in contact with all of that. And, I think, probably, "Kora in Hell" reflects his artiness of that period.
But the point I was trying to make was he gave specific instructions for how to notice things, how to pick out detail, to chose the detail by which an object differs itself from objects of the same class (I think his phrasing is similar to that). And that's actually an old prose, or poetry, trick, for those who've studied (Gustave) Flaubert or (Guy) de Maupassant. I think there was some story of de Maupassant being instructed by his elder, (perhaps Flaubert?, I've forgotten), that he should be able to make a quick fast sketch of somebody who jumped out of the window, before he hit the ground. He should be able to grasp some detail that fast, and be able to write it down before the guy hit the ground - if he was a real writer. He should really practice and be able to get it that swiftly and that perceptively, being trained to look for detail.

Student: Would you agree with this statement.. it's something I read in (a) Canadian journal three or four years ago.. they made the statement that (Bob) Dylan was the first to really bring Surrealism to American music effectively and convincingly in his later albums..

AG: I think Surrealism in painting had already been absorbed by the advertising industry.

Student: I mean, Surrealism in writing..

AG: Probably. I guess you could say so.

Student: (But) so many others did..

AG: Who else did, actually?

Student: I think Henry Miller sort of did, somewhat..

AG: Yeah, but Henry Miller never got to be that widespread until (after) Dylan came..(well, practically the same time, actually). Dylan was singing "The motorcycle black madonna/ two wheeled gypsy queen/ And her silver-studded phantom.." (which is) straight out of "Howl" (straight out of Apollinaire, actually).

Student: Allen, don't you think (Jean) Cocteau did a number on Hollywood a lot earlier?

AG: Yeah, but it was probably in French and published only in French.

Student: No, in the movies, you know, from his plays

AG: Yeah.

Student: "Beauty and the Beast" (La Belle et La Bete)

AG: Yeah, so there was the introduction by Cocteau much earlier. I'd say World War II, and later.. Well, when was (Le Sang D'Un Poete) "The Blood of A Poet" of Cocteau?

Student: Forty-nine

AG: Forty-nine? - made in (nineteen) forty-nine?

Student: Twenty-nine.

AG: 'Twenty-nine and 'thirty. Yeah, but we're talking about writing - and there's some emphasis here on actually penetrating American consciousness...
[tape continues..]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mind Mouth and Page - 18 (Williams continues)

[William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) - "at home in his landscape"]

AG: ...mindfulness, Oriental-style. You can see it already when I interjected the fifty or so haiku in the middle of (William Carlos) Williams' short poems last time.

What I'll do today, actually, is go through more Williams, one or two poems, a couple of poems by an Objectivist (quote-unquote) friend of his, Charles Reznikoff, and I had mentioned a specific story by Williams in "The Knife of the Times". It's called "The Knife of the Times". Did anybody get to read that? Can you raise your hands? - so, ok, I've got it here in class, it's very brief, three pages, so I'll get into that.
So (first) "January Morning". Williams went out on a walk..and, I'll find my place in a moment.. one moment

Student: It's (page) 162

AG: 162? Is that where we began. He calls it a "suite". There's still some effort to keep track of his forms - as if it were, like, a legitimate European somewhat-musical form - a suite. There's a kind of naivete in that. [Allen reads Williams' "January Morning"] -"I've discovered that most of/ the beauties of travel are due to/ the strange hours we keep to see them"..."Well, you know how/ the young girls run giggling/ on Park Avenue after dark/ when they ought to be home in bed?/ Well,/ that's the way it is with me somehow." - Well, that's a perfect example of what was proposed earlier in this class, and proposed upstairs in the Great Lecture Hall, as "mindfulness". In other words, the same practices are useful. The same place is being watched outside of your head, or, if you include your thoughts, inside your head, as well. But you're watching your thoughts, you're not getting lost in them, (or) getting dreary and wound-up and sentimental and involved in the movie of your own mind. You're watching the movie of your mind and taking down a few notes on the scenes.

He (Williams) gets a little heavy in talking "To A Solitary Disciple" - because he has a solitary disciple now in Rutherford (he's a guru, he's a poetry guru) and these are his instructions to his solitary disciple. [Allen reads "To A Solitary Disciple"] - "Rather notice, mon cher/ that the moon is/ tilted above/ the point of the steeple/ than that its color/ is shell-pink/ Rather observe/ that it is early morning/than that the sky/ is smooth/ as a turquoise"..."..observe/ the oppressive weight/of that squat edifice/ Observe/ the jasmine lightness of the moon." - So he's making fun of his own practice, but also giving very intelligent instructions how to look - how to choose detail, how to avoid getting too poetical and describing the turquoise aspect (which in Paterson, New Jersey, was not so omnipresent as it is in the Southwest).

Continuing with character again, or a "a portrait of a lady" - "Dedication for a Plot of Ground" - [Allen reads "Dedication for a Plot of Ground"] - "This plot of ground/ facing the waters of this inlet..".."If you care bring nothing to this place/ but your carcass, keep out.") - Well, it's a little novel actually. Like, a complete history (even more exquisite - you see his practice of, actually, complete life-histories in one page).Williams wrote a play called "Many Loves", which was the doctor and his girlfriend and the doctor's wife and the girlfriend's girlfriend (the gay motorcyclist of 1932, zapping through Rutherford in a black jacket). So, Williams himself was not gay but his mind was gay, or his humane nature was gay, or humani nihil a me alienum puto - whatever the proper quotation is (do you know? classicist, sir? - nihil?) - nothing human is alien to me - nothing human alien - So it's an odd sympathy on Williams' part, but absolutely true. It's a complete life expressed in that short story (that play) - anybody's life, or anybody's particular weird love - not necessarily homosexual, but anybody's weird love.
He's written novels too - Life Along the Passaic River - many short stories - White Mule, the novel. A number of short stories. They're all very detailed attentive realistic, (unimaginative, in the sense that there's no display of smart-aleck imagination, there's no un-Rutherford-ian turquoise in it, but there is the solid back-rock of Passaic County).

Student: What was the name of the book that you just read from?

AG: The book that I just read from is The Farmers' Daughters. It's the Collected Stories of Williams and that's the first of the stories. There's a big funny story about a handsome motorcyclist coming in from Greenwich Village to New Jersey all the time to visit his friend - that's back in the '30's. (It has) a photo of Williams on the cover with all the smokestacks of downtown Paterson behind him - at home in his landscape. His friend - Charles Reznikoff (I spoke of the Objectivist movement - they presented the image, presented the fact, the meticulous details) - I keep quoting these phrases, hoping that, sooner or later, they'll fall into place - "minute particulars" says William Blake - "minute particulars" - "No ideas but in things" (says Williams). I guess the present Buddhist terminology is "watchfulness" (as distinct from analysis). The Objectivists also presented the thoughts (so they were watchful of their thoughts, or their feelings, (and) included those in the poem. [turning to student] - You had a question?

Student: I was wondering.. I took a very brief look at a book called "Kora in Hell"

AG: Yeah

Student: I was wondering if you could say something about it.

AG: Well, there's one great thing in the "Introduction" to "Kora in Hell" (which is not included in the City Lights (edition)). There's a long introduction, talking about his method of composition. "Kora in Hell" was a little different from this using-the-building-blocks-of-daily-perceptions-but-including-daily-imaginations-daily fantasies-daily fancies..(There's) a little turquoise (sic) in that book. They're sort of Surrealist or (and) Objectivist. Objectivist - including the interior thought; Surrealist - mixing things up, just for the fun of the mind moving along. (But) still with a naturalistic base. Williams, in his introduction, gives us, like, very good meditation instructions for people who are walking down the street, and then trying to articulate or put in words the perceptions they have, say, of trees. And he says that, if you want to describe a tree, well immediately, the first thing is that you're boggled - so how do you find words? you've got to describe each leaf? do you begin at the bottom with the first crack in the trunk? would it be better to be a painter? maybe you could make a drawing? - but, to do it in words? how do you begin to describe a tree? - I mean, a tree - you've seen one, you've seen them all, so to speak. Well, the idea "seen one tree, seen them all" is a trap, it's a stereotype trap of the mind, because each tree is different. So he suggests that you pick out that particular aspect of the tree which makes it different from other trees - describe the little extra horn at the top, rising like a cow's horn, or (a) broken large branch leaning, elbow-like, on the green grass, or a flock of birds on the top at sunset, or a particular leaf mold, or withering... Special weird branch branching. Take that detail or specific thing about the tree which differs it from other trees and describe just that one aspect and you'll conjure up the entire tree. So if you say "oak with great lower branch covered with moss" then the mind imagines the rest of the oak leaves. You don't have to describe each leaf.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Beat Kitsch

Every once in a while, we visit Beat kitsch (with the essential caveat that "Beatnik" is not "Beat" - that sneering contemporary put-down term, coined, as is now universally recognized, by San Franciscan newspaper-columnist, Herb Caen). Hear Allen with Margaret Mead, as early as 1959, setting the record straight.

Rod McKuen, the veritable poster-boy for poetic kitsch, was, it seems, under a pseudonym, significantly responsible for this "Beatnik anthem"

We, frankly, prefer this version - Bluekilla (from 1989)

and doesn't it have more-than-a-passing-resemblance to this "anthem"? (from the heady ol' days of 1977)

Louis Armstrong (yes, Louis Armstrong!) surely should've known better (we guess "Pops" just loved a good tune) when he recorded this (in 1959)

covering the unquestionably-more-kitschy Mamie Van Doren

(tho' our award for misplaced hypocritical '50's American Hollywood moralizing has to go to Beverly Garland (or perhaps Marion Kay, since she (he?)'s credited, on the single, with having penned the words) - "Tempest In A Teapot" - "Non-conformists, they call themselves, (but) these babes in the woods (are) still fast asleep"!
- Listen and weep!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday's Weekly Round-Up 78

Memories of Allen, Ginsberg encounters - here's Greg Tozian's memories of 1983 (including his Tampa Tribune article).

Antler, Jeff Poniewaz, David Carter and Michael Schumacher will be gathering together to discuss Allen's life and work at the annual Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books tomorrow evening (July 16).

Here's a bizarre thing - Allen's "Howl" analyzed from a Jewish-Christian perspective!

From the "Comments" box in the EV Grieve (our favorite "local" (New York City) blog):
"Allen Ginsberg's favorite restaurant is now a Starbucks [Starbucks coffee chain]. Is there a more painfully symbolic example of all that is wrong with the world in 2012".
For more on that story, see here
- Grieve, indeed - homogenized urban gentrification.

Meanwhile on the West Coast..

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's art is about to be featured in a major exhibition at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, opening on June 23rd, "Cross Pollination - The Art of Lawrence Ferlinghetti". For more details and some of the images, see here.
His work is also included (currently) in the show, "The Painted Word" at San Francisco's poet-friendly Meridian Gallery. Also included there are works by Michael McClure, William Burroughs, Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan (amongst others). That exhibition has been extended from its original dates, through to July 14.

Paul Iorio has posted an illustrated Jack Kerouac walking tour of San Francisco (take a look)

Speaking of Kerouac, you can dress just like him, apparently, for a "mere" $1,200! - No comment.