Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 119

Harry Smith at Allen Ginsberg's Kitchen Table, New York City, 16 June 1988 / Allen Ginsberg

[Harry Smith - Photograph by Allen Ginsberg - Copyright The Estate of Allen Ginsberg - Caption reads: "Harry Smith at kitchen table 437 East 12th Street. Apt 22, he lived in tiny quiet room off to the side of the kitchen, suffered compression fracture of knee, bumped by car on First Avenue corner - so stayed on nine months before moving to Cooperstown for half a year - still drank two bottles of beer in his room, taped ambient sounds of New York Lower Manhattan with a Sony Pro Walkman microphone wrapped in towel on outside window, ledge kitchen and front room. Night, June 16, 1988. Another stay for several weeks before we both moved to Boulder, Naropa for the summer. There he settled down."] 

Harry Smith's monumental and eccentric archives, (tape-recordings, papers, books -  but also, "a great range of (miscellaneous) objects, such as tarot cards, gourds, pop-up books, folk crafts, toys...egg-shells mounted on stands..(etc, etc).." - not to mention, his fabled string-figure collection and "an entire box of paper airplanes" collected from the streets of New York City) - long-time languishing, when we last heard, at the Anthology Film Archives), has now been acquired by the Getty Research Institute, it was officially announced this week. 
For select Smith postings on the Allen Ginsberg Project see here, here and here.

Jerry Aronson's definitive documentary portrait, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg is profiled here (on Network Q) with an interview with Aronson (and a surprise walk-on by Allen!) and significant clips from Aronson's eight hours (eight hours!) of footage. Our earlier postings about Jerry and this essential source/ primary video-documentation may be found here and here

Some of the out-takes from the 1994 Network Q presentation have also been made available -  including this ("Allen Ginsberg on Right-Wing Gay Obsession") - Allen (speaking as the credits roll): "The theo-politicians [sic], (along with Jesse Helms and their political arm) seem to be obsessively preoccupied with gay matters, and that indicates some kind of over-concern (as if it's like a personal problem for them), and that indicates a kind of perverse interest, tending toward S & M, I would say, the desire to humiliate gay people seems to be characteristic of the theo-politicians, (that (need)) to be on the top side of the gay equation, to be putting down and humiliating and forcing the gay people to their knees in front of them - which is an old familiar erotic pattern - they're probably not aware that they're playing that role."

David Biespiel further addresses Allen role as an arbiter of cultural sanity here    

Walter Salles' On The Road (see our earlier posts - herehere and here) has finally made it to widespread American distribution. Mick LaSalle reviews it for the San Francisco Chronicle  - "a movie that, like the book, is episodic and has dips in energy but has more than its share of glory and illumination", he declares. Ann Hornaday, in the Washington Post, disagrees - "Salles' On The Road takes Kerouac's breathless Beat Generation prose-poetry - created in a Benzedrine rush in front of a typewriter loaded with a 120-foot scroll of teletype paper - and reduces into the conventional elements of plot, character and setting, resulting in an episodic picaresque that all but obliterates the crazy, brazen, axis-shifting energy of the original work." A more typical "middle-ground" can be seen in Tom Long's review for the Detroit News - "It's not a wreck of a movie; it's not a sleek race car either. But there's heat to be felt here." -  Colin Covert, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune - "There's probably no substitute for reading  On The Road's incandescent prose. But this filmed interpretation is a very fine version all on its own" - and Ty Burr, in the Boston Globe - "Against all odds, (On The Road is), a surprising and effective movie".

Adam Mazmanian in the Washington Times singles out Tom Sturridge (Carlo Marx a.k.a. Allen) as "the only actor who gives expression to the spontaneous feel of the book".  

More reviews (plenty more reviews) here on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie-review site.

"Like (Marcel) Proust, be an old tea-head of time", Jack famously wrote, in his 1959 "Belief and Technique for Modern Prose" (see here). This week (the anniversary year of Proust - on the centennial of the publication of Swann's Way) Viking-Penguin releases a dual-language edition of  The Collected Poems of Marcel Proust [sic] ("the most complete volume of Proust's poetry ever assembled" - "Few of the poems collected here under the editorship of Harold Augenbraum, founder of the Proust Society of America, have been published in book form or translated into English until now"). The Daily Beast reproduces "Pederasty" (Proust's first poem!) and has more on the volume here.  

Jean-Marc Barr (who plays Kerouac in the recent film adaptation of Big Sur) summons up the Proust-Kerouac connection - and more, in this interview with the Beat Museum's Niya Suddarth, shot earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. For a glimpse of (the trailer of) the Big Sur movie, incidentally, see here.

Gregory Corso's  (what-would-have-been) 83rd birthday this week. How could we have missed this? (and this is only part one!) -  thank you Michael Limnios -  and here is the link to the second part, part two)

[Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg, 1959 - a still from Robert Frank & Al Leslie's movie, "Pull My Daisy"]

And March 25 was the anniversary of the "Howl" bust  ("520 copies... seized by U.S. Customs agents on charges of obscenity"). Quite a week! 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spontaneous Poetics - 55 (Edward Carpenter 2)

[Edward Carpenter (1824-1929)]

AG: A poem (by Edward Carpenter) that I've always liked is "From Turin to Paris" [in Towards Democracy] He's riding in the train from Italy to Paris and it's a long detailed description of the entire train trip. I got turned on to that kind of travel-detail poetry by a book that Kenneth Patchen lent me called "Voyage Trans-Siberian" ["The Prose of the Trans-Siberian" in Ron Padgett's translation]  by Blaise Cendrars (which was translated by John Dos Passos in the (19)20's, actually  - an odd combination). It's a travel diary poem, a poem travel diary, which is a whole genre which I've used a lot. I published a book called Iron Horse, which is the account of a 40-hour train trip (from) Oakland to Chicago (and then from) Chicago to New York by bus. Yeah?

Student: I've seen that book. Why did you do it with that kind of 3-D, kind of...

AG: I didn't do that. That was printed up in Canada by a bunch of real hip printers [the Coach House Press] (who) made a very beautiful job out of it. Actually, if you flip the pages of the book, the train moves and recedes, comes up and goes in the distance.

Student: What was the name of that book that you just mentioned, I mean, the name of the poet?

AG: Oh, ok. Blaise Cendrars - C-E-N-D-R-A-R-S. "Voyage Trans-Siberian". Trans-Siberian Voyage. God knows where you find it now.  [in 1993, University of California Press published Ron Padgett's translation of Blaise Cendrars' Complete Poems]

Student: There's a Selected Works of Cendrars out in New Directions.

AG: Yeah.

Student: I think that poem's in it.

AG: Ah!  Then also one of the St Marks' (Poetry Project) mimeo presses [Adventures In Poetry] has printed up a whole book called Kodak by (Blaise) Cendrars, translated by Ron Padgett, which I've put in the library. If you want to taste Cendrars. It's like little Kodak snapshots - Kodak. Around-the-world Kodak snapshots (again, travel poems). Check that out in relaton to this or what I've been talking about (the Cendrars' "Trans-Siberian", or travel photography)

[Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961]

The reason I find (Edward) Carpenter interesting is that it's this 19th Century version of later 20th Century Imagism, or Surrealist Imagism. It's got roots (its) in (Walt) Whitman and then it gets more condensed and exact when you get up to the Surrealists and later to the American Objectivists. Here it's more prosy, but full of detail. It's the weirdness of the detail that comes up. 

[Allen begins reading Edward Carpenter's "From Turin to Paris", beginning with Part 1 in its entirety - "Tireless, hour after hour, over mountains, plains and/ rivers/ The express train rushes on..." through to "And still the train rushes on, and the fields fly past/ and the vineyards"] - Part 2 is a landscape description. Part 3, more landscape description, ending, speaking of the train, "It flies - rolls like a terror-stricken thing down the great/slopes into the darkness - and night falls in the valleys".

Student: Is Carpenter British by birth or American?

AG: He was British. Carpenter was British by birth. Part 4 [Allen continues with the poem, reading part 4 in its entirety - "Here too then also, and without fail, as everywhere/else/ The same old human face looking forth.."..."And the inhabitants of opposite hemispheres exchange/glances with one another for a moment" - and the concluding section, section 5  - "The night wears on - and yet the same steady on/ward speed..."..."The rising of the sun, for a new day - the great red/ ball so bold rising unblemished on all the heartache and/suffering, the plans, the schemes, the hopes, the desires, the/despairs of millions. -/  And the glitter and the roar already and/ the life of Paris."] - There's really nice little vignettes here and there. Odd but genuine Whitmanic afflatus, that Whitmanic universal.

Student: You spoke about.. you used the word "prosy" in a somewhat negative way. Would you say something more about that (that happens to be my offense!)  

AG: "Somewhat" - not "too". I didn't mean it too negative. I forgot, how did I use it?

Student: You were saying it was somewhat, his description was somewhat, prosy.

AG: Yeah, a little bit. There's a lot of generalization in it.By "prosy"- I used it wrongly, I meant it isn't real crystal-clear sharp, line by line by line (like (William Carlos) Williams, or, more or less so, like (Charles) Reznikoff). There's a lot of philosophy introduced (though the philosophy seems to be based on some kind of direct perception that's pretty fundamental -  of the rising of the dawn and the moving of the planets and "the despair of millions") - There's some sort of genuineness about it. I think that was the (sense of the) word that I used in relation to (the) general -  "afflatus" (like in lifting a spirit, or expansion of spirit, like in Whitman, by whom he was influenced)  

Student: There's something about the rhythm that isn't.. I mean.. I was wondering whether you were saying something about the rhythm being a little more prosy.

AG: No, no. It's actually quite an elevated poetic rhythm. It's not as realistic as Reznikoff or Williams. The breath impulse is romantic(al) like in Whitman. It's still a hang-over of the divine abstraction of (Percy Bysshe) Shelley and Hart Crane, sort of. Yeah?

Student: When was it written? 

AG: I guess around 1890, 1900, 1910 maybe? I think this book was published in 1908, so this is probably late 19th Century. I don't know when it was first writ.   

Student: When was he first around?

AG: Well, let's see...somewhere in the (18)90's, I think. Late (18)80's or (18)90's. When did Whitman die?     

Student: 1891

AG: So this is probably 1885? when he went to see Whitman [1877 and 1884] - 1880 perhaps? [Toward Democracy was published in 1883]  Yeah? 

Student: One thing I noticed was that he put in his descriptions of someone.. what he.. he described what he felt that they were thinking of someone else, like the Chinaman..

AG [quoting Carpenter] - "(T)he dainty-handed Chinaman"

Student: ..yeah, who mentally, I forget exactly what it was, but he judged people as he walked by, and the old woman who raised her eyebrows at certain things.

AG: Yeah

Student: That didn't seem very...

AG: Yeah, except that he is very expressive about his own judgment, and he generalizes, and that's a little different than, a good deal different from, Reznikoff, from a later 20th Century method, where it gets harder and harder, more and more objective. That was like the surgical mind of (Ezra) Pound or (William Carlos) Williams influencing everybody to cut out everything but what you could actually see. Except there's a way of including your own subjective judgments simply by realizing that they are your own subjective judgments and putting them in the poems just like objects, just like trains, hard-ons, angers. And they're just facts too. "To be in anger you good may do but no good if...

Student: ..the anger's in you".

AG: Yeah. Something like that. It's a phrase by (William) Blake - "To be in anger you good may do, but no good if the anger's in you". It's something like that.[The actual quote, from "Auguries of Innocence" - "To be in a Passion you good may do/But no good if a Passion is in you"] -  The question of realizing, or being mindful of, your subjectivity, or not being mindful, being lost in it and thinking it's the whole world, rather than seeing your own subjective rush, or detailed noticing, or cry, or feeling, as one object among many objects in the entire panoramic spectacle. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spontaneous Poetics - 54 (Edward Carpenter 1)


[Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) c. 1875]

AG: (Now) we're on Edward Carpenter - where was I? - Edward Carpenter in relation to (Charles) Reznikoff again. (Let me read you) a Reznikoff poem by Edward Carpenter:
"A Scene in London" [from Towards Democracy (1912)] - "Both of them deaf, and close on 80 years old, she, stone blind and he nearly so, side by side crouching over a fire in a little London hovel, six shillings a week. Their joints knotted with rheumatism. Their faces all day long mute like statues of all; passing expression. No cloud flying by, no gleam of sunshine there, lips closed and silent. But for that, now and then taking his pipe out of his mouth, he puts his face close to her ear and yells just a word into it, and she nods her blind head and gives a raucous screech in answer." - The similarity of noticing and of detail between the style of Reznikoff and the style cultivated by (Walt) Whitman and his friends, is interesting. What it goes to show is that there is some common ground of humane particulars - humane eyeball - that can tell a little vignette story that sums up a lifetime, (usually in dark, unnoticed corners). There's a little longer poem, a description of St James' Park in London [also in Towards Democracy]. These are interesting. It's like time-capsules. There weren't many modernist writers of poetry in those days. Most of the poetry was very idealistic and had very little everyday detail, prosaic detail, in a sense. This reminds me a little of poems of my own in a period right after "Howl" - "Transcription of Organ Music" and "Sather Gate Illumination", which are like sketching detail in a park, in a subway, in a room, in a garden - "St. James' Park" - "An island ringed with surf, a cool green shade and tiny enchanted spot of trees and flowers and fountains, the ocean raging around it. The roar of London interminably stretching, interminably sounding. Great waves of human life breaking. Millions of drops together. Torrents of vehicles pouring. Businessmen marching. Gangs of workmen, soldiers, loafers, street hawkers. Shopkeepers running out of their shops to look at their own windows. A woman seized with birth pangs on a doorstep. Ragamuffins and children swirling by. At ease in rapids of fashion. The everlasting tide ebbing a little at night, rising again in the day, with fierce continuous roaring, yet infringing not on the little island. Here only a little spray. A dull and distant reverberation. In the soft shade a pleasant drowsy air. The willows hanging their branches to the water. The drake preening his feathers in the sun or swimming among the flags by the pondside regardless of Nelson peering over the treetops from his column, taking no note of the great clock face of Westminster. Only a little spray, broken water, drop by drop, one by one, or here and there in twos, specimens, items out of the deep. The bakersman, working fifteen hours a day, leaves his handcart in a convenient spot outside and puts in a quiet quarter of an hour here with a novel. The old woman, her thumb gathered and disabled by incessant work on crepe now, as a matter of course, thrown out of employ, goes along moaning and muttering to herself. The prissy old gentleman who's made his money out of the moving warehouse also goes along. The footman on an errand walks leisurely by. The French nurse plays with the little English children. The rather elegant lady meets her man by appointment at one of the garden sheets. They study Bradshaw together in an undertone, revolving plans. The middle-aged widower comes along, thin, so thin, dressed all in black, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, sitting down for a moment then up again, resting only in constant movement. The tramp, with dead expressionless face, the man who is not wanted, to whom everyone says "No" comes along and throws himself down listlessly under the trees. Only a little spray, broken water. The summer sun falls peaceful on the grass. The tide of traffic rises a little during the day and ebbs again at night but the great roaring bates not, breaks the surf of human life forever on this shore." - That's a funny mixture. You've got the Whitmanic roar of London, a little bit of  (William) Blake roar of London, a little bit of  (William) Wordsworth's Westminster Bridge, London silence, and then more modern, almost 20th century clear consciousness, humorous description of fantastical detail.

Student: Like (Charles) Dickens.

AG: Yeah. Of course, in prose, it's always been there. It's just that when that prose detail begins to enter poetry in the 20th century, (it makes) interesting poetry, as far as the eyeball, as far as common sense. Yeah, it's in prose all along (and, actually, it's in (Robert) Browning - there's quite a bit of everyday matter in Browning). 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 26 - Gregory Corso's Birthday


[Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso - "A Modest Portrait" - Tangier, Morocco, Spring 1961 -   Photograph by Allen Ginsberg, Copyright Allen Ginsberg Estate; Gregory Corso - "Alchemical Poem" - Alchemical Spring (Volume 9 of
the unspeakable visions of the individual), 1979, Copyright Arthur & Kit Knight); Gregory Corso, Boulder, Colorado, circa 1978 - Photograph by Cynthia MacAdams, Copyright Cyntha MacAdams; "Rarely, Rarely, Comest Thou Spirit of Delight (Portrait of Keats and Shelley)"- Gregory Corso, c.1994, (31 1/2" x 35"), oil on canvas board;  (originally collection of Allen Ginsberg);Untitled Drawing - Gregory Corso, 1991 (courtesy flickr (Paul Rickert, Rare Book Room); "Child Saturn's Flower Is Up", drawing by Gregory Corso (from the sequence of limited-edition prints, "The Saturn Family"), 1981, first published by the Parchment Gallery

Gregory Corso's birthday today.For further (extensive) Gregory postings see our quaintly-named Happy Birthday of Death posting here (that was the title of Gregory's 1960 New Directions book, by the way), included in it is a useful Corso videography, which includes Francois Bernardi's film, Original Beats (Corso and (Herbert) Huncke, in the early '90'sat the Chelsea Hotel and in downtown New York). Additional out-takes from that movie are available here  (see also below)

Not Forgetting Gregory Corso, a post from May 2011 includes links to vintage audio Corso (including audio of his free-wheeling 1975 Naropa classes). For transcripts see here, here, here, here, here, here, here  and here. For arguementative cantankerous Gregory see here, here, here - and (unforgettably) here.

Here's Gregory's lucid observations on his friend, Jack Kerouac

Here's Francos Kuipers recollections of Gregory and Ah Roma.

Here's Ed Sanders' Woodstock Journal Portfolio

We wanted to focus this year (just a little) on the visual artist, Gregory. Check out this unique series of prints, commissioned and published in 1981 - "The Saturn Family" .

Here's an original (undated) collage 

Happy Birthday, Gregory!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Written In My Dream...

Allen Ginsberg reads his poem, "Written In My Dream by William Carlos Williams" (included in the collection White Shroud - Poems 1980-1985) in September 1993 at the University of Vienna. Video text animation is by Niklaus Lesnik. The poem also appears on Holy Soul Jelly Roll (recently re-released by Ginsberg Recordings) - Volume 4: Ashes & Blues.

Album cover for Holy Soul Jelly Roll, Volume 4: Ashes & Blues

"I hear voices". There was, of course, the hallucinatory voice of Blake in '47, providing him, among other things, with his Blake melodies - Allen discusses that incident here
Kubla Khan? "Channeling"? Surrealist experimentation? - and/or, perhaps, more recently, Jack Spicer's poetics of a "Martian" dictation - but this is clearly something different, a whole poem served up in toto, verbatim, to Allen, in a dream, from his mentor, Doctor Williams - dream advice, dream counsel, dream admonition -   "No need/ to dress/ it up/ as beauty./ No need/ to distort/ what's not/ standard/ to be/ understandable".     
Useful tips

Listen to another version of the poem here 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ferlinghetti's 94th Birthday

Lawrence Ferlinghetti turns 94 today - Happy Birthday, Lawrence!  - Chris Felver's full-length documentary, Ferlinghetti - A Rebirth of Wonder is currently going the rounds and is undoubtedly a must-see. Last year's landmark art-show - Cross-Pollination: The Art of Lawrence Ferlinghetti  (at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art) was a singular event, a major retrospective. Lawrence is interviewed about that (and about other matters) here.

Here's previous birthday-posts on the Ginsberg blog - a links-rich posting from last year, and a salutation from 2011 (including a link to him speaking on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the City Lights bookstore) - also 2010's birthday-posting (which includes vintage notes from Kenneth Rexroth on Ferlinghetti).

His City Lights page (ah! City Lights, what an extraordinary achievement!) is here

Time of Useful Consciousness is his latest book (hear him discuss it with Michael Silverblatt - here and read David Melzer's illuminating interview with him about it here). 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Allen Ginsberg - Allen's Haiku 2

Last week's postings of Allen's haiku (from "(21) Haiku composed in the backyard cottage at 1624 Milvia Street, Berkeley, 1955, while reading R.H.Blyth's 4 volumes, Haiku" met with sufficiently enthusiastic response to embolden us to post more - these, more recent experiments from 1973 and 1975 (published in 1978's Mostly Sitting Haiku):

Mountain wind slow as breath,/mist drifts over pines -/ I've sat twenty days on this same pillow!

Meditation hall silent/ bird slammed into window/ sat brooding half an hour/ Saw Buddha then.

Fog rolling down/ the nountain/ the tram lift towers/above leafless aspen/Clouds part and blue sky shows.

A mountain outside/a room inside/a skull above/Snow on the mountain/flowers in the room/thoughts in the skull.

Snow mountain fields/ seen thru transparent wings/ of a fly on the windowpane.

Use breath as Manjusri/ Sword instantly cutting/ down thought after thought/heaviness of sleep dream/ fantasy, breath after breath/ outward.

(Graffiti in Teton Village) - "If you voted for Nixon/You won't shit here/Cause your asshole's in/ Washington."

(from Chogyam Trungpa's Crazy Wisdom Lectures - Observations Mixed With Trungpa Quotes) - "In the realm of Great Bliss" / Bark,/Bow Wow!
"No hope No fear"/ Pens rustle on paper -/ Steinbeck is coughing.
"Discipline, real Discipline"/ Yellow carnations open/under flood lamps in the tent.
"Talk stand shit"/ eat sleep -/ Flies walking on my nose.
"Good at the beginning.."/ tears roll down/ my palsied right cheek.
"You're not going to get your money back"/ Everybody laughing - / "Any questions?"
"Willing to be Fool?"/ Night moths/ circle the tent pole.
"Emptiness, no need for policy-maker.."/ Secretaries lean together/ at the tent wall.
"What do we mean by Craziness?"/ Dogs bark to each other/ across the meadow at night.
Against brown grass/ the hole in a black truck tire/ swings slowly between trees.
Sunlight mixed with dust/ rises behind a truck/ on the dirt road.
Rows of sitting heads -/ blue windows, car/parked silent on grass.

(from Cabin In The Rockies)
Sitting on a stump with half cup of tea,/ sun down behind mountains -/ Nothing to do.

Not a word! Not a word!/ Flies do all my talking for me -/ and the wind says something else.

Fly on my nose/ I'm not the Buddha/ There's no enlightenment here.

Against red bark truck/ A fly's shadow/ lights on the shadow of a pine bough.

White sun up behind pines,/ a moth flutters past/ the brown wood pile.

An hour after dawn/ I haven't thought of Buddha once yet!/ - walking back into the retreat house.

(Walking into King Sooper after Two-Week Retreat) - A thin red-faced pimpled boy/ stands alone minutes/looking into the ice cream bin.

(Park Avenue, Paterson - 2 a.m.) - A red sweater/ crumpled on lawn grass/ under bright streetlights -/ across the street from Louis' hospital.

The withered purple roses droop/ on their green dry-leafed stalks/ father dying Cancered in the bedroom.

and, five from 1976:
I thought my mother was dead and/lamented her/surrounded by billions of mothers/ cows grass-blades and girlfriends' eyes. 

Buddha died and/ left behind a/ big emptiness.

Candle-light blue banners incense,/ aching knee, hungry mouth -/ any minute the gong - potatoes &/ sour cream!

Sunlight on the red zafu/ clank of forks and plates -/ I used to sit like this years ago.

Did you ever see yourself/a breathing skull/looking out the eyes?

Here's a recording of Allen reading - more haiku

For related syllabic experiments - see, (amongst other works), "136 Syllables At Rocky Mountain Dharma Center" and "American Sentences".  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Weekly Round-Up - 118

An early draft of a segment of Allen's classic written-under-the-influence-of-LSD poem, Wales Visitation, goes up for auction next month in London at Bonhams auction house, part of the Roy Davids Collection, alongside countless other "poetical manuscripts and portraits of poets" (there's also, for sale, a rare shot of the poet taken with veteran English poet, Basil Buntingthe sale price for that is between £350 and £400). The manuscript is expected to fetch something between £800 and £1,000 (between (approximately) $1200 and $1500).    


Wales Visitation - American viewers will remember this classic rendition of it, in 1968, on the William Buckley Firing Line show

Plutonian Ode and the 1978 anti-nuclear demonstrations (and arrests!) at Rocky Flats, Colorado's infamous demonic "bomb trigger facility". The facility was closed down in 1992 (had halted bomb-component production two years earlier) and was swiftly transformed, in 2007, into the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge (a little too cavalierly, a little too hastily - original plans estimated that it would take 70 years and $30 billion to "clean up" the pollution on the site, but the DOE (Department of Energy) accelerated those plans.). The malevolent after-life of plutonian that Allen so prophetically warned against - ("Manzano Mountain boasts to store/ its dreadful decay through two hundred and forty millennia..") - There is still an urgent need to protest. Please read Marcella MacDonald's considered and rational petition regarding recent developments, and add your name to the signatories here.

Hannah Gamble over on the Poetry Foundation's Harriet site has been doing some useful compiling in anticipation of the forthcoming Collected Poems by Philip Lamantia (yes, that long-awaited collection will be coming out from the University of California this summer) - including a trenchant note from Allen, from 1963 in Poetry magazine (see the direct link). Our postings on Lamantia can be usefully read here and here.   

We wrote here last week of Ronald Collins (and David Skover's) new book, Mania. Footage of last week's Strand Bookstore event celebrating the book (consisting of Collins reading from the opening pages and then sitting down with Kerouac scholar and New York Times journalist, John Leland to discuss Beat culture and its profound First Amendment impact, followed by a brief Q-and-A with the audience) may be found here.  Collins is also interviewed by Gene Policinski here.  

Moran Haynal's Haggadah - at the Janusz Korczak Academy in Munich, Germany. Another (perhaps?) unlikely Ginsberg sighting?  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spontaneous Poetics - 53 (Revisiting Reznikoff - 3)

[Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) - photograph courtesy New Directions]

AG: I do want to get back to (Charles) Reznikoff  because, okay, we had a little haiku, and then we had a little sharp fast transcription noticings. Fast transcription. (Guy) de Maupassant. I think de Maupassant got this turn-on from (Gustav) Flaubert. Flaubert told him that if a guy was jumping out the window, he should be able to write a verbal sketch of the way that he fell out of the window (and) the way his shirt was ballooning into the air before he hit the ground, be that fast in noticing the particular detail of the situation that you could transcribe and put (it) in language.

(William Carlos) Williams instructions in the "Preface" to "Kora in Hell" for how to choose detail, or where do you go to get the exact flash, physical flash, eyeball flash, or the exact detail, the "minute particular" (to use (William) Blake's phrase), that you can describe that will conjure up the whole situation, that will conjure up the whole scene - Williams suggested that you choose that aspect, of a tree, say, which makes that tree different from all other trees. Choose that. Like, [Allen points to one of the students], over there, from where I'm standing, you got a thin face and white-frame plastic eyeglasses, (or pink plastic eyeglasses), so there's a little detail that brings your face out a little, or makes it different from other faces. So everybody's got a little particularity, (or every tree, or every object, has some particularity). If you were sketching, physically making sketches, like pictorial sketches, a horned tree with two horns at the top, you'd get the two horny branches at the top and then just fill out the mass, but it would be those two horns that characterize the tree (Williams (actually) has a poem about trees like that - does anybody know it? - "I must tell you.." - oh, I'm afraid it'll take too much time to find but there's a little poem by Williams describing a tree with two horns at the top, that begins "I must tell you.." can check it out in the Collected Earlier Poems)

Back to Reznikoff. Now, more narrative. What I was trying to do was (to) suggest the basic principles of picking out detail, as Williams prescribed them - also, out of his study of "le mot juste", (the) precise word, (a) concept of the French prose-writers Flaubert (and) de Maupassant, which the Imagists drew on, actually. Historically, they did read these people and were interested in their practice of accuracy - not so much to be accurate, as (it is) to be there, so you see what's there. It's not a question of being macho-accurate, it's a question of being completely present in the space where you are, so you see what's in front of you, rather than day-dreaming. So, in this sense, the study of poetics is the study of mindfulness. 
(It's) related to Buddhist meditation, which is why the haiku grows out of Zen meditation practice (and it is appropriate that, as American consciousness began to realize itself, that the poetry around the turn of the century would check out the precision of focus of Buddhist poetics, through the haiku, or through (Ezra) Pound's examination of traditional Chinese poetic method - as picture language, (in "The Chinese Written Character As A Medium For Poetry" - an essay, "The Chinese Written Character As A Medium For Poetry" - which he composed from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, re-published by City Lights - a very good study of language as pictures, using Chinese as an example of a picture-language, distinct from the abstract or American-English European languages, which are sounds, but (which) don't have any pictorial content in the writing). 

Alright, getting back to text examples. Well, something that's totally family-like:
"In high school she liked Latin and the balances of algebra./ Her mother had died years before and her father married again./ The new wife was solicitous for her husband. "A workingman/ - has he the means for this education of a girl?/ They took her out of school and got her a job as a bookkeeper./  A student at one of the universities whom she had met in high/school, began to call./ She herself had been reading, but evenings are too short,/besides, her reading was haphazard./ They talked of books that he knew and what was good in his/ lectures. Her stepmother and father said, "It will be years/ before he'll finish his studies and make a living. When/he'll be ready to marry, you'll be too old, He's wasting/ your time"./ It was useless talking to her, but they spoke to him and he/ stopped calling./  A salesman, professionally good-humored, introduced him-/self to her/ father. A good match, they all said. Besides,/ home was uncomfortable with a nagging stepmother." 
- So, apparently, after all that, the way he indicated that he'd decided to take it was - "Besides,/ home was uncomfortable with a nagging stepmother." 

Student: Who was that?

AG: We're back to (Charles) Reznikoff now.

Student: That sounded like a Henry James novel

AG: Yes. Yeah. That's the amazing thing, that these take in whole cycles of change.

Student: That's from Testimony?

AG: No, this is all from the Poems, 1920.

Student: Allen, how's that different from prose now?

AG: Well, the question is, how does it differ from prose? It doesn't differ from prose, but how does poetry differ from prose? Big question. I was talking with someone last night, D [unidentified], who's here, who said "How does this differ from prose? Isn't this just prose?", and I said, "Yeah. Now enjoy it!". Once he realized that it was ok that it was prose, then it didn't bother him anymore, and he could listen to it, but until he got satisfied that the terminology, "poem" (had) stopped nagging him, he couldn't actually hear what was on the page. Once I said "Okay, it's not poetry, it's prose", then he could hear what was on the page and began enjoying it. 

This differs from prose, I think in the sense that... well (Jack) Kerouac's prose is prose-poetry, (Arthur) Rimbaud's poetry is prose-poetry (in Season in Hell and Illuminations), (James) Joyce's Finnegan's Wake is prose-poetry, or poetry, certain (William) Burroughs is as dense as any Rimbaud or prose-poetry. (Louis-Ferdinand) Celine' s prose in Journey to the End of the Night, or later books, (like) Guignol's Band, approaches the intensity, rhythmic variability and excitableness and imagistic precision  of poetry. In the 20th Century, there was a notorious break-down of the distinction, especially in Gertrude Stein, beginning with Gertrude Stein, when both poetry and prose began converging on the mind itself as subject-matter. Then the distinction between prose and poetry broke down, because the forms that were suggested by observing mind functioning were interchangeable - poetry or prose. In other words, if the form in the prose or in the poem was a transcription of the jumps of mind, from little haiku, to long short-stories, to giant novels (like Finnegan's Wake, or The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein), if the form was modeled basically on the notion of the movement of the mind, and jumps from thought-form to thought-form, and gaps in-between thought-forms, and the recurred cycles of thought-forms, then the difference between haiku and epic is eclipsed, as between prose and poetry. Because you have a whole epic in these little stories, a whole novel, as you said, a  whole Henry James novel, in these stories.

The little thing I noticed when I started reading this (Reznikoff piece) was, "In high school she liked Latin and the balances of algebra ". Now that's very curious, interesting, precise language. She liked "the balances of algebra"? - For a schmucky high-school girl who marries a salesman, his intelligent noticing of her aesthetic intelligence is extraordinary, and there is a very high level of intelligence dealt with here. "In high school she liked Latin and the balances of algebra"  - that's very elegant (although it sounds like this grubby Jewish cat talking about a family problem, but it's really there as high poetry, sort of). You were saying?

Student: Yeah. Anne (Waldman) was telling us that Pound said that poetry should be "at least as well-written as prose".

AG: Yeah. Meaning, it is (should be) as straightforward . Well, there are distinctions we could make. It depends on how you want to make your disinctions, how you want to define it now. I would say, because of concentration of thought, concentration of history into so short a scope, condensing entire novels and cycles of generations in half a page,that makes it, by virtue of condensation (poetry). You could say it's poetry if poetry involves condensation (either of language, or of idea, or of history) into short notation space. Because of mindfulness and attention to language, it's poetry, because, although it sounds prosaic, he's actually being very mindful and attentive to a language that sounds like somebody telling a family story with (the) exact, precise, flavor of an old(er) generation's grandma's granny-wisdom story-telling, or like any grandfather's speech, condensing whole family cycles, taking decades and decades and karmas, taking decades to work themselves out into half a page, like old people do before the deathbed. Like my father telling me a story, which I think I've repeated several times [Allen re-tells this story in the poem, "Don't Grow Old", section III, prior to "Father Death Blues"] , that when he was young he lived on Boyd Street in Newark and in the backyard were bushes and green trees and a big empty lot, and he never knew what was behind the empty lot, and when he got older, he took a walk around the block, and he found out what it was - it was a glue-factory!  Because I'd heard Reznikoff, I suddenly realized (that) as being the same genre of exact detail and telescoping in a few paragraphs, or a few lines, a complete samsaric history, samsaric suffering history and suffering illusion history. 

Student: Allen?

AG: Yeah

Student:  (Walt) Whitman would seem to be the beginning of the breakdown between prose and poetry.

AG: Yeah, in America, Whitman. But then before him you've got (Herman) Melville's Moby Dick, which is a high-singing prose too.

Student: Was (Arthur) Rimbaud aware of Whitman?

AG: I don't think so. I don't know if Whitman was translated by then. 1890's, he was known in England, so, I don't think he was. [turning back to Reznikoff's poems] - I want to get a couple more of these in . So I'll see if I can find the most poignant - Oh, before we get into that, there's another fantastic short photograph-movie:
"Scared dogs looking backwards with patient eyes/ at windows, stooping old women, wrapped in shawls,/ old men, wrinkled as knuckles, on the stoops./  A bitch, backbone and ribs showing in the sinuous back/ sniffed for food, her swollen udder nearly rubbing along the pavement." - That's like the "fish hissing on the stove" - "her swollen udder nearly rubbing along the pavement." 
"Once a toothless woman opened her door,/ chewing a slice of bacon that hung from her mouth like a tongue" - That takes the cake for absolute horrific realism. His comment on this:
"This is where I walked night after night/ This is where I walked away many years" - In that universe, I guess. In that suburb. This is called "Sunday Walks In the Suburbs". It's one of a series. I'll repeat that little section - "Once a toothless woman opened her door,/ chewing a slice of bacon that hung from her mouth like a tongue"  - it's like Kafka. It's an apparition out of Kafka of actual, total, reality. So is this prose or poetry? Because of the photographic accuracy, but spareness, of detail, the whole, somehow, is more than the sum of its parts here - of the slice of bacon, the toothless woman, a door, chewing a slice of bacon, she's still chewing it. It's a little bit there like that little haiku about the old guy on the winter night chewing his brush with his remaining tooth ["Night/ biting the frozen brush/with a remaining tooth" (Buson) -sic] - But this is such a horrible picture that you know it's poetry.

Student: Allen? Is he doing the (William Carlos) Williams kind of meter also?

AG: No, he didn't seem to be so interested in the arrangement of lines on the page according to breath, according to syllable, according to balance. He was more accurately interested, I think, in diction. That is, in a diction and syntax that was an accurate reflection of his own home speech, or family speech.

Student: Don't you think that's characteristic of writers who change languages? Wasn't Melville originally Polish?  or (Joseph) Conrad originally Polish?

AG: Conrad, yes.

Student: His language is pretty exact too.

AG: Yeah. Reznikoff was brought up in another language...Reznikoff came from a mixed-language family, and this is very clearly slightly affected by Yiddish, like "the balances of algebra" - it's a very Jewish-American Lower East Side talk. 
"He showed me the album. "But this?" I asked, surprised at/ such beauty./ I knew his sister, her face somewhat the picture's - coarsened./ "My mother before her marriage"./ Coming in, I had met/ her shrivelled face and round shoulders./ Now, after the day's work, his father at cards with friends/ still outshouted the shop's wheels....." - So he's got a whole cycle change from "But this?" I asked, surprised at/ such beauty" - I had met her coming in - "her shrivelled face and round shoulders". And then her husband, still yelling loud, conditioned by the shop's wheels.

Well, let's see. I got some really good ones here. Okay, this is a whole long (piece). It's called "The Burden"
"The shop in which he worked was on the tenth floor. After six/ o'clock he heard the neighboring shops closing, the/ windows and iron shutters closed./ At last there was only a light here and there./ These, too. were gone/ He was alone./ He went to the stairs./Suppose he leaned over the railing./ What was to hold him back from plunging down the stairwell?/ Upon the railway platform a low railing was fencing off a drop/ to the street - a man could step over.."  (that's very Jewish, "a man could step over") ... "When the train came to the bridge and the housetops sank and/ sank, his heart began to pound and he caught his breath:/ he had but to throw himself through the open window or walk/ to the train platform, no one would suspect, and jerk/ back the little gate./ He would have to ride so to and from work. His home was on/ the third floor, the shop on the tenth. He would have to/ pass windows and the stairwell always."  

"He was afraid to go through the grocery store, where his/ father was still talking to customers. He went through the/ tenement hallway into the room where they ate and slept/ in the back of the store./ His little brothers and sisters were asleep along the big bed/ He/ took the book which he had bought at a pushcart to read/ just a page or two more by the dimmed gaslight./ His father stood over him ad punched his head twice,/ whispering in Yiddish "Where have you been lost all day, you louse that feeds on me, I need you to deliver orders."/ In the dawn he carried milk and rolls to the doors of customers./ At seven he was in his chum's room. "I'll stay here with/ you till I get a job."/  He worked for a printer. When he was twenty-one he set up a/ press in a basement. It was harder to pay off  than he had/ thought./ He fell behind in his installments. If they took the press away,/ he would have to work for someone else all over again/ Rosh Ha Shonoh he went to his father's house. They had been/ speaking to each other again for years./ Once a friend had turned a poem of his into Hebrew. It was/ printed in a Hebrew magazine. He showed it to his father/ and his father showed it around to the neighbors./ After dinner his father said, "Business has been good, thank/ God. I have saved over a thousand dollars this year. How/ have you been doing?"/ "Well". "But I hear you need money, that you're trying to/ borrow some?" "Yes". His father paused./"I hope you get it"  - Well, the thing is it cuts through to actual life. You know that's really family and who can write really family ? Who gets that close to the nose? Who gets that close to actuality, among any poet, ancient or modern? There's very few that get that cold void as well ( "Come in, she said, as gently as she could and smiled" - which covers the void too).

"Passing the shop after school, he would look up at the sign/and go on, glad that his own life had to do with books./ Now at night when he saw the grey in his parents' hair and/ heard their talk of that day's worries and the next;/ lack of orders, if orders, lack of workers, if workers, lack of/goods, if there were workers and goods, lack of orders/ again,/ for the tenth time he said, "I'm going in with you: there's more/ money in business"./ His father answered, "Since when do you care about money?/ You don't know what kind of a life you're going into -/ but you have always had your own way./  He went out selling: in the morning he read the Arrival of /Buyers in The Times; he packed half a dozen samples into/ a box and went from office to office./ Others like himself, sometimes a crowd, were waiting to thrust/ their cards through a partition opening./  When he ate, vexations were forgotten for a while. A quarter/ past eleven was the time to go down the steps to Holz's/ lunch counter/ He would mount one of the stools. The food, steaming/ fragrance, just brought from the kitchen, would be/ dumped into the trays of the steam-table/ Hamburger steak, mashed potatoes, onions and gravy, or a/ knackwurst and sauerkraut; after that, a pudding with a/ square of sugar and butter sliding from the top and red/ fruit juice dripping over the saucer./ He was growing fat."

Student: Allen? Are there any recordings of Reznikoff reading his own poetry?

AG: Yeah. Reznikoff was invited yearly to the St Marks Poetry Project by Anne Waldman in the last few years, and I think there are at least two tapes of his readings at St Marks, casssette tapes of him reading. I went to both of them and it reduced me to tears to hear him. Because it was so elemental. No fancy-business. No ambition. No poetry. Just actuality (but actuality so reduced to such clear terms that it was moving, completely emotionally moving and yet totally objective. Yeah?

Student: How would you describe the difference between this poetry of Reznikoff and his later stuff, like Testimony? 

AG: Well, later books, which we have in the library, Testimony and Holocaust. He was, as I said, a law clerk, and so Testimony was.. he was interested in this family story - family, every day, quotidian decade cycles. He picked out from 19th Century legal testimony, suits and counter-suits and law-suits having to do with people losing their hair in the machine press (etc). He picked out horrible stories, or poignant stories, and documents, little documents, and he isolated them in lines and he told them (unadorned), just picked them out, one or two paragraphs of testimony in legal trials. (In)  Holocaust, he researched through all the Nuremberg trials and excerpted tiny vignette stories of these kind of details from lives and deaths in the concentration camps. So it's one of the most strikingly accurate presentations of that apocalyptic situation that exists in literary record. He's done the work for you if you want to know what went on there.

"In a month they would be married./ He sang a song to himself in which her name was the only/ word/ His mother was waiting up for him. She said, "I was told today/ that her mother died an epileptic,/ and her brother is an idiot in a home somewhere
.Why didn't/ she tell you?"/ He thought of hugging her narrow shoulders, comforting her;/ of noting their children's quirks and screeches fearfully -/ how the moonlight had been glittering in her eyes."

Here's for all poets:
"At night, after the day's work, he wrote. Year after year he/ had written, but the right words were still not all there,/ the right rhythms not always used. He corrected the old/ and added new/  While away on a business trip he died. His children playing/ about the house, left home by the widow out to work,/ found the manuscript so carefully written and rewritten./ The paper was good to scribble on. Then they tore it into bits./ At night the mother came home and swept it out." - That's Reznikoff's situation, actually.

"When at forty he went to America, the family was glad to be/ rid of him.." [Allen's reading is interrupted by a banging and whistling outside the classroom] - "The poet was reading a poem from an old Jewish patriarch./ Outside the children marched up and down./ A police whistle blew on the corner." [Allen resumes the poem] -"When at forty he went to America, the family was glad to be/ rid of him, envious and quarrelsome. All but him had/ married and were well-to-do./ The smallpox when a child had left him ugly. Because it had/ also left him sickly, he had been humored in not going to/ school, and so he could not read or cypher./ To strengthen him he had  been apprenticed to a blacksmith./ When he walked he kept hitching up his shoulders and/ throwing out his hands./ He spoke indistinctly and so foolishly that when understood/ his hearers could not help smiling . Sure they did not/ understand, he would repeat what he had said until tears/ were in his eyes./  In New York he  stayed with a pushcart pedlar. The pedlar had/ a daughter who had worked her way through high school/ and was in college./ The blacksmith's arm became infected and he could not work./ He stayed at home waiting for his arm to heal, silently/ watching as she moved about the house or did her lessons./ She tried not to mind his eyes always on her./ At last she insisted that he move away. So he had to take/ lodgings elsewhere./  After supper he would stand in front of the house in which she/lived, hoping that she would come out on an errand./ The boys playing in the street discovered him and searched/ the gutters for peach pits and apple cores/ to throw over their shoulders at him as they passed, intent/ upon the sky./ He would chase them in his jerky way."

"As he read, his mother sat down beside him. "Read me a little"./"You wouldn't understand, Ma". What do you care? Read me/ a little"/ When I was a little girl I wanted to study so much but who could?/ My father used to cry when I talked to him about it,/ buthe cried because he couldn't afford to educate the boys -/ even./ As he read, she listened gravely; then went back to her/ ironing./ The gaslight shone on her round, ruddy face and the white/ cotton sheets that she spread and ironed;/from the shelf the alarm-clock ticked and ticked rapidly."squabbles

The Lawyer - This is Reznikoff himself, I think.
"A man made cloaks of material furnished. The man from whom/ the cloaks were made refused them: defects in the/ material. But the material was yours. But the defects were/ shown by white strings in the selvage; your cutter should/ have avoided them./ A woman fell downstairs; no light in the hallway. There was!/ but boys stole the electric bulbs. The janitor was told; he/ should have lit the gas."/ Water from the chop-suey joint upstairs came through the/ ceiling upon our silk. The water fell on a table where it/ damaged nothing; they took their silk, gone out of style,/ and dabbled in it in the water. The silks were on the table to/ be cut./ Our union takes steam-shovel engineers only, but their union/ takes all kinds; they want to put us out of business. One/ of our men was on a job; they call out the locomotive/ engineers and make the boss - / Why was he spending his life in such?"

(One more):
"When the club met in her home, embarrassed, she asked them/ not to begin; her father wanted to speak to them./ The members whispered to each other, "Who is her father?"/ "I thank you , young men and women", he said, "for the/ honor of your visit. I suppose you would like to hear/ some of my poems". And he began to chant."