["Top of the charts" - Shakespeare (title page of first folio, 1623, with copper engraving by Martin Droeshout)]
Allen, periodically, in his early Naropa teaching, would conduct what he, endearingly, referred to as “a pecker-count” (an impromptu survey of student’s familiarity with various (what he saw as) “essential” authors). An early example of such a “pecker-count” may be found here. In his 1976 Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) lecture course (the course that we’ve been serializing), June 14, 1976, he tries it again, and announces:
"Almost everybody has read some Shakespeare – Well, 44 people (out of 50) have read T.S.Eliot and 45 have read Shakespeare –The top of the charts – Shakespeare – and 45, Whitman (out of how many? do we know? – Okay, so there are a couple of people who didn’t put one in, there are 5 people who didn’t have papers – Shakespeare 45, Whitman was read by 42, Poe was read by 39 (but that means there are 20 people here that never read Poe, which is amazing!) – no, 11 – Wordsworth – 36 people read, Shelley, 34, Chaucer (amazingly) 33 people have read, Keats, 33, Dickinson 33, Coleridge 33. 31 people have read Blake (So we’ll probably go through some Blake – there are 20 people who haven’t read Blake, so anybody who hasn’t read Blake, should go right to Blake fast)
Then of the other group – more modern, it was (yes), 44 people that have read T.S.Eliot, 39 had read Gary Snyder (the one (real) “modern”, I guess – except probably for myself, but didn’t have my name on it (on the list) – Gary, apparently, the champ “modern poet”, in terms of penetrability, beating out Ezra Pound by one set of eyes – 38 people had read Pound), 35 had read (William Carlos) Williams, 30 had read Wallace Stevens, 30 had read (Gregory) Corso (and Burroughs was read by 27) – (Robert) Creeley was read by 22,21 read Charles Olson. 30 had read W.B.Yeats, 30 had read D.H.Lawrence. Only 28 (not quite over half) have read Rimbaud – amazingly (So I would say for those who haven’t read Blake or Rimbaud, that would be, obviously, for anybody in this room, (that) is material you should go to fast. 24 have read (John) Donne,22 had read (Pablo) Neruda and 21 had read W.H.Auden. Then, for the rest, it’s under 17, under 17 for everything else (or under 20) – Marvell, Dryden.. In other words, less than half the class have read Marvell, Dryden, Milton, Vachel Lindsay, Marianne Moore, Hart Crane, Frank O’Hara (16 have read (John) Ashbery).
Then, for the people who are almost unread (in this sampling) – Antonin Artaud, a great French Surrealist and post-Surrealist poet, founder of much modern theater, who’s best known work is called “The Theater and Its Double” and whose wildest poetry is called “To Be Done With the Judgement of God" (Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu) which is a very powerful work which has influenced a lot of modern writers. So I would recommend that). Who else have we got unread? Sir Thomas Wyatt is unread.. Yes, we’ll get all this in the library..Wyatt is unread. Christopher Smart, only 7 people read (Thomas Wyatt only 7 people read). Ted Berrigan (who’ll be here (at Naropa)), 9 people have read, Kenneth Koch, only 8 peole have read. Herman Melville’s poetry, hardly anybody knows – 7 people. In the 19th Century in America, Whitman and Emily Dickinson and Egar Allan Poe – and Herman Melville, are, in my opinion, the great poets. You know Melville’s a great prose writer, but as a poet (too) he’s absolutely great, like Shakespeare. Very awkward in his stanza-forms, but his language is a Shakesperean as it is in his prose. We don’t have a book of Melville’s Collected Poems around. There are anthologies. There is a collection which I’ll try and get ahold of for the library."