Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Years Eve (Looking Back on 2013 & Forward to 2014)

Embedded image permalink
["Buddhist (and one non-Buddhist) Action Figures" Photograph by Reverend Danny Fisher 2013]

Last posting of 2013, we thought we'd list a few of our "greatest hits" from the past year - January - Nanao Sakaki and Allen Ginsberg singing "Birdbrain" in Osaka, Japan, February - William Burroughs' 99th (next year will be Burroughs centennial), March - (speaking of nonagenarians) Ferlinghetti was 94, April - the Beats and the rock muse - "Text and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll, May - our Bob Dylan birthday posting, (this year - "The Night Bob Came Around" (and the night Harry Smith refused to see him!)), June - Marianne Faithfull and Gregory Corso, July - "Arabic America" (Allen's famous poem in, symbolically, Arabic translation), August - the wit and wisdom of Herbert Huncke (from his 1982 workshop at the Jack Kerouac Conference at Naropa), Philip Lamantia, in September, Lou Reed in October (just a week before his death), Ted Berrigan and Ron Padgett in November, the wild wonderful Peter Orlovsky in December..
And that, as our friend, Michael McClure says, (see our Michael McClure birthday posts here and here) is nothing, doesn't give the half of it, is merely "scratching the Beat surface".
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy Birthday Patti Smith

Patti Smith AGO exhibit opens

Happy Birthday, Patti Smith, 67 years old today! - Our last year's birthday posting (including links to many other Allen Ginsberg Project postings) can be found here.  

PattiSmith.Net, is, of course, the official Patti Smith web-site, and that may be accessed here.

She, along with Philip Glass, have, for some time now, been performing together, often taking the opportunity to present stunning live renditions of Patti's "Spell" (Allen's "Footnote to Howl") and "On The Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa Vidyadhara", and Philip's  "Wichita Vortex Sutra (from "Hydrogen Jukebox")" - and presenting the full-length show, "The Poet Speaks" (most recently at this year's Edinburgh Festival)   

An earlier version of that tribute to Allen may be seen here

Patti and her band will be gigging tonight (where else?) in New York City at the second of their two dates downtown at Webster Hall. Ubiquitous, non-stop, hard-working, always inspiring. Yes, Happy Birthday, Patti! 

[Patti Smith & Philip Glass performing live a selection from "Wichita Vortex Sutra" at the opening reception for the exhibition "Swords Into Plowshares/Tony Price",  held, 2005, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York]

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Robert Duncan

Robert Duncan

The concluding two volumes of the University of California's magisterial commitment [magisterialis, from the Medieval Latin, master] - to Robert Duncan a commitment to publishing his complete Collected Writings in four volumes (the first two volumes, the legendary H.D.Book and The Collected Early Poems and Plays, appearing at the beginning and end of last year, these last two, forthcoming in January, 2014) is, we at The Allen Ginsberg Project believe, cause for considerable celebration and excitement. 

We should also perhaps mention (from the same publisher), Lisa Jarnot's definitive biography, Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus, and from Richard Grossinger's North Atlantic Books, the Christopher Wagstaff-edited  A Poet's Mind, Collected Interviews..   

The newly-expanded and revised Michael Rumaker memoir, Robert Duncan in San Francisco is also well worth reading.   

And if all that weren't enough, Duncan's centrality within an all-too-neglected California visual art world is finally being recognized.  An Opening of the Field, Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle is the catalog to a groundbreaking show that will be opening at New York University's Grey Gallery on January 14 (after which it will travel to Washington and Pasadena - the show originated this past summer in Sacramento at the Crocker Art Museum )     

The Allen Ginsberg Project's previous page of Duncan resources is  here

Any mention of Duncan would be remiss without mentioning Jess.  He is central to the "Opening The Field" show, and is also well-served by a new book from Siglio - Jess, O! Tricky Cad and Other Jessoterica". 
Patrick James Dunagan's review of the book (and of the "Opening The Field" catalog) is available here

An extraordinary Jess-Duncan collaboration, the "Scrapbook for Patricia Jordan" has been made available on-line by the Archives of American Art.       

Jess is now represented by the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

[Jess (Burgess) Franklin Collins - "The Enamored Mage" (Translation#6) (1965)]

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday's Weekly Round-Up -158

"Junge Wilde" (Wild Youth) is the German title for John Krokidas' Ginsberg-centric Beat movie, Kill Your Darlings (actually, to be scrupulously accurate, the German distributers have chosen both - "Kill Your Darlings - Junge Wilde"). In Italian, it's "Giovano ribelli" (Young Rebels), just in case that William-Faulkner- (actually, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch) -based title gets "lost in translation". When it opens (not until next February) in Brazil, it will be "Versos de Um Crime" (Verses of  A Crime? Stanzas from A Crime?). 

Here's John Krokidas, from an interview with The Back Lot: 
"I initially was terrified to contact the Allen Ginsberg Estate or any of the Beat estates while writing the movie because I thought I'd suddenly try to write up the legends of who they later became in life. I wondered perhaps if my depictions were inadequate".."I think the greatest encouragement I've gotten was from people who worked with Allen Ginsberg and people who've worked with the Beats. They absolutely loved the movie and told me that Allen himself would've loved it. That was the greatest compliment of all".."Hearing now from people who were really close to him...hearing those kind of compliments - it's humbling, and makes me proud that the work that Austin (Bunn) and I did researching the project and creating the characters was close to the truth and served one of my idols justice."
Er.. hold on a second - here's Bob Rosenthal, Allen's long-time (twenty-year) secretary, addressing the issue of "truth" and ethics, in a piece we published here in February (shortly after a post-Sundance pre-release, pre US-release, screening) - "The film, "Kill Your Darlings", confuses me greatly", Rosenthal writes, "..(T)he film takes its own title too seriously. The large fabrications in the film are not so worrisome as the small ones. In any case when the truth is stepped on and the nuance of truth is denied the message become's moribund.... "Kill Your Darlings" purports to be sensitive to the characters but falls into reductive cliches and hurts those who knew and loved those characters.."
Marc Olmsted and Brian Hassett follow up here, citing numerous particular instances and weighing in on this all-important issue of responsibility and truth.

[Lucien Carr (1925-2005)

Dane Dehaan as Lucien Carr and Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg
[Dane DeHaan (as Lucien Carr) and Daniel Radcliffe (as Allen Ginsberg) in John Krokidas' "Kill Your Darlings" (2013)]

That having been said, there's no question that "Kill Your Darlings" ( or "Ubij svoje najdraže" - that's its Croation title!) has met with a singularly rousing and enthusiastic response. We strongly urge you to go see it. For our various "Kill Your Darlings" postings (reviews postings)  see here, here, here, here, and here - with doubtless more to follow.

[Allen Ginsberg teaching at Brooklyn College, 1991 -Photograph by Christopher Funkhouser

Allen as a teacher - The writer Kirpal Gordon recently published a heart-felt memoir - "Allen Ginsberg expressed in his person a remarkable quality of courage and being his summer apprentice at Naropa in 1978 helped give me the courage to change my life.." - "Allen's was a calm voice. I was knocked-out by his spoken-word delivery and how he used music to enrich his long lyrical lines with (Walt) Whitman and (William) Blake as touchstones. I read, liked & taught his work to inmates in maximum security and eighteen-year-olds on a campus nicknamed Sin City. But meeting with him at his Boulder apartment, sharing work every other day (he was finishing "Plutonian Ode"), doing readings with him, going to his class and hanging out with him at parties - that was the thing.."

The improbably-named "50MillionChickens" (on the social-media site Reddit) picks up the story several years later - with an account of Allen teaching at Brooklyn College - "He helped me make a commitment to actually writing honestly about myself and my own view of the world I lived in. He would be brutally dismissive of any poetry that had any pretense or any hint of fakery in it. It was like he was a really well-defined bullshit-detector and he could red-line bad poetry like nobody else. He was able to help me highlight the "moments" in my own poetry where my own true self really came through and had something to say. I could then gut the rest of it and build on the true insight." (This is just the beginning of what is a clear, unvarnished, portrait of Allen that is well-worth reading - for the whole piece (the author responds to questions about Allen and (Neal) Cassady, Allen and (Jack) Kerouac, Allen and (William) Burroughs, etc), see here). 

Don White - "Allen Ginsberg and Me" - "When Allen Ginsberg died, I cried. And cried. I couldn't stop the tears. I was forty-four years old, married with two small sons, an English teacher, a school administrator living in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and I cried".
Troubling news this week about Amiri Baraka, On Monday, he was rushed to the Newark, New Jersey's Beth Israel Intensive Care Unit in critical condition, for, (so far), unspecified reasons. On Christmas Eve, his son, Councilman Ras Baraka of Newark's South Ward, through a spokesman, announced that he "seems to be steadily getting stronger", and, hearteningly, the message this morning was that "he continues to improve" and that "his condition is not dire", tho' the family remained deeply concerned and on high alert, and have decided to keep publicity to a minimum. We all have him very much in our thoughts   

[Amiri Baraka,  press conference at Newark Public Library, Fall 2003, during the "Somebody Blew Up America" controversy. Photo by Christopher Funkhouser]

Amiri Baraka in Gloucester Speaking on Charles Olson and Sun Ra on the John Sinclair blog. We were going to run this anyway. So here it is.    

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Jack Kerouac's Christmas

carte de voeux ancienne


"I think the celebration of Christmas has changed within the short span of my own lifetime. Only twenty years ago, before World War II [sic] it seemed that Christmas was still being celebrated with a naive and joyous innocence whereas today you hear the expression, "Christmas comes once a year like taxes". Christmas was observed all out in my Catholic French-Canadian environment in (the) 1930's, much as it is today in Mexico. At first I was too young to go to midnight mass, but that was the real big event we hoped to grow up to. Until then we'd stay in our beds pretending to be asleep till we heard the parents leaving for midnight mass and then we'd come down and sneak a look at our toys, touching them and putting them back in place, and rush up again in the dark in gleeful pajamas tittering when we heard them come back again, usually now with a big gang of friends for the open house party.
When we were old enough it was thrilling to be allowed to stay up late on Christmas Eve and put on best suits and dresses and overshoes and ear-muffs and walk with the adults through crunching dried snow to the bell-ringing church. Parties of people laughing down the street, bright throbbing stars of New England winter bending over rooftops sometimes causing long rows of icicles to shimmer as we passed. Near the church you could hear the opening choruses of Bach being sung by child choirs mingled with the grownup choirs usually led by a tenor who inspired laughter more than anything else. But from the wide-open door of the church poured golden light and inside the little girls were lined up for their trumpet choruses caroling Handel.

My favorite object in the church was the statue of the saint holding little Jesus in his arms. This was the statue of St Antoine de Padoue but I always thought it was St. Joseph and felt that it was quite just that I should hold Him in his arms. My eyes always strayed to his statue, he who now with demure plaster countenance, holding the insubstantial child with face too small and body too doll like, pressed cheek against the painted curls, supporting in mid-air lightly against his mysterious infinite breast the Son, downward looking into candles, agony, the foot of the world, where we kneeled in dark vestments of winter, all the angels and calendars and spirey altars behind him, his eyes lowered to a mystery he himself wasn't let in on, yet he'd go along in the belief that poor St.Joseph was clay to the Hand of God (as I thought), a humble self-admitting truthful saint - with none of the vain freneticisms of the martyrs, a saint without glory, guilt, accomplishment or Franciscan charm - a self-effacing grave and demure ghost in the Arcades of Christendom - he who knew the desert stars, and spat with the Wise Men in back of the barn - arranger of the manger, old hobo saint of haylofts and camel trails - my secret Friend. Now in midnight mass I gloried proudly in his new honorable position at the front of the church, standing over his family in the manger where all eyes were turned

After mass the open house was on. Gangs would troop back home or to other houses. Collectors for a Christmas organization of Medieval origin and preserved by the French of Quebec and New England, called "La Guignolee", and now sponsored by the Society for the Poor, St.Vincent de Paul, would appear at these open house parties and collect old clothes and food for the poor and never turn down a glass of sweet red wine with a crossignolle (curlier) and even join in singing in the kitchen. They always sang an old canticle of their own before leaving. The Christmas trees were always huge in those days, the presents were all laid out and opened at a given consensus. What glee I'd feel to see the clean white shirts of my adults, their flushed faces, the laughter, the bawdy joking around. Meanwhile the avid women were in the kitchen with aprons over best dresses getting out the tortierres (pork pies) from the icebox. Days of preparation had gone into these sumptuous and delicious pies, which are better cold than hot. Also my mother would make immense ragouts de boulettes (pork meatball stew with carrots and potatoes) and serve that piping hot to crowds of sometimes 12 or 15 friends and relatives: her aluminum drip grind coffee pot made 15 large cups. Also from the icebox came bowls of freshly made freshly cooled cortons (French-Canadian for pate de maison), a spread to go on good fresh crusty bread liberally baked around town at several French bakeries.
In the general uproar of gifts and unwinding of wrappers it was always a delight for me to step out on the porch or even go out on the street a ways at one o'clock in the morning and listen to the silent hum of heaven diamond stars, watch the red and green windows of homes, consider the trees that seemed frozen in sudden devotion, and think over the events of another year passed. Before my mind's eye was the St.Joseph of my imagination clasping the darling little child.
Perhaps too many battles have been fought on Christmas Eve since then - or maybe I'm wrong and little children of 1957 secretly dig Christmas in their little devotional hearts."  

- Jack Kerouac from The New York World Telegram and Sun, December 5th 1957

Monday, December 23, 2013

Allen Ginsberg & Bob Dylan at the Grave of Jack Kerouac

This little excerpt, this classic excerpt, from Bob Dylan's lost epic, "Renaldo and Clara"
(courtesy of the essential "The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg", Jerry Aronson's deluxe two-disc DVD set). 

Bob and Allen, in 1975, in Lowell cemetery (Edson cemetery), on the occasion of a stop-over on the legendary Rolling Thunder tour, famously standing together, beside Jack Kerouac's grave, musing, (Allen's certainly taking the lead), in memento mori. 

Allen (gesticulating towards the grave):"So that's what's gonna happen to you?" 
Dylan: "No, I want to be in an unmarked grave."

The clip begins with Allen reading from Kerouac (from the conclusion of Mexico City Blues' "54th Chorus")
"Once I went to a movie/ At midnight, 1940, Mice/ and Men, the name of it, the Red Block Boxcars/ Rolling by (on the Screen). Yessir/ life/ finally/ gets/ tired/of/ living -. On both occasions I had wild/ Face looking into lights/Of Streets where phantoms/ Hastened out of sight/ Into Memorial Cello Time"

AG: You know what's written on (John) Keats' grave?

BD: No

AG: "Here lies one whose fame was writ in water"..writ in water, yeah, all his fame was writ in water [Editorial note - Allen, actually, mis-quotes here - his "name" was writ in water, not his "fame"] 

[Photograph - Rebecca Price Butler]

BD: Where's he buried?

AG: He's buried in a beautiful cemetery in Rome, the American cemetery [Cimitero Accattolico (the A-Catholic Cemetery - the Non-Catholic Cemetery)] - in a Pyramid, next to (Percy Bysshe) Shelley [Editorial note - well, not in the Pyramid of Cestius, and not, strictly, next to Shelley, but, yes, in the cemetery, close by] 

BD: We have to read this?

Kerouac - Mexico City Blues coverart.jpg

[The two read, in collaboration, from Kerouac's Mexico City Blues - ". Allen begins, reading, at random, from towards the end of the "230th Chorus"]
AG: "..frozen /and sliced microscopically/ In Morgues of the North" - [Editorial note - The complete line is "Pieces of the Buddha-material frozen/and sliced microscopically/ In Morgues of the North"]

BD:  "Quivering meat of elephants.."

AG:   "of kindness" - [Editorial note - The complete line is "The quivering meat of the elephants of kindness/being torn apart like vultures"] 
What I liked actually was (the next line) "Conceptions of knee-caps" - [Editorial note -"Conceptions of delicate kneecaps"] (and the concluding line) "Like kissing  my kitten in the belly/The softness of our reward". It's like a Shakespeare sonnet that ends funny. 
He quit football because he wanted to study Shakespeare.

So Sebastian [Sampas] went off to war and got killed in Anzio beachhead in World War II, and just before he died, he sent Jack a litle phonograph record with Shelley's Adonais, saying "I weep for Adonais - he is dead!"

[Sebastian "Sammy" Sampas (1922-1944)]

BD: Ever been to (Anton) Chekov's grave? 

File:Grave of Anton Chekhov 3.jpg

AG: No, but I've been to (Vladimir) Mayakovsky's in Moscow

Vladimir Mayakovsky

What graves have you seen?

BD: Victor Hugo's grave

Victor Hugo
[Photograph - David Conway]

AG: I used to haunt graveyards in Paris. I went to see (Guilllaume) Apollinaire's grave.

Guillaume Apollinaire
[photo: Scott Michaels]

AG: So, that's what's gonna happen to you?

BD: No, I want to be in an unmarked grave

AG: I laid a copy of Howl on (Charles) Baudelaire's grave....

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jewel Heart Howl Reading


Allen Ginsberg reads "Howl" in 1994 at the Hill Auditorium, Ann Arbor, Michigan, at a benefit for Jewel Heart

From the program notes:

On "Howl, for Carl Solomon"

Allen Ginsberg's writing and first reading of "Howl, for Carl Solomon" in 1955 marked a change in American letters and public life that is still unfolding today. Some felt that both "Howl"'s words and the act of speaking them aloud were profoundly liberating, while others thought that they were a threat to public order.

Ginsberg himself, at the start of writing, felt that the emerging poem could never have a public existence. He later recalled:

I sat idly by my desk at the first floor window facing Montgomery Street [in San Francisco]...I began typing not with the idea of writing a formal poem, but  stating my imaginative sympathies, whatever they were worth. As my loves were impractical and my thoughts relatively unworldly, I had nothing to gain, only the pleasure of enjoying on paper those sympathies most intimate to myself and most awkward in the great world of family, formal education, business and current literature.

The story of "Howl"'s development is of Ginsberg's willingness to at last speak the "unspeakable", to accept what most wanted to be said - first to himself, then to those he loved and trusted, finally to everyone.

Though Ginsberg finished "Howl" in a few months, in a sense its composition included the previous decade of Ginsberg's struggles with his muse and with society. The poem goes to the heart of  the conflict between our experience as persons and the requirements of a society that feels both rigid and out of control. As Ginsberg wrote in 1986:    

The unworldly love hypostatized as comradeship through thick and thin with Carl Solomon rose out of primordial filial loyalty to my mother, then in distress. Where mother love conflicts with social facade, the die is cast from antiquity in favor of sympathy
Blocked by appearances love comes through in the free play of the imagination...a shrewd humor that protects our unobstructed sympathy from chaos. The matter is in objective acknowledgment of emotion.

 In 1955 poetry largely stayed on the printed page. Today it walks abroad, finds audiences in public places, and seeks out musicians and makers of images in a way that was inconceivable back then. More than any other single poem, "Howl" was the catalyst for this change. Ginsberg's first reading of it - in a packed art gallery, where Gary Snyder also read and Jack Kerouac shouted encouragement - was charged with the excitement of transgression and breakthrough of new energy and generosity.  

As a sidelight, Ginsberg adds, I thought to disseminate a poem so strong that a clean Saxon four-letter word might enter high school anthologies permanently... "Howl" has long since won its court battles against the censors. But its affirmation of personal experience - physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, political and spiritual - against all the forces of denial still carries the excitement of happy transgression.

You have to be inspired to write something like that. It's not something you can very easily do just by pressing a button. You have to have the right historical situation, the right physical combination, the right mental formation, the right courage, the right sense of prophecy, and the right information

Allen Ginsberg, 1982

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 157

[Allen Ginsberg by Dan Bratton (with digital enhancement by Steve Silberman]

New books from the University of California Press noted on the horizon (we'll be saying more about them all in the weeks ahead) - Robert Duncan's  Collected Essays and Other Prose and Collected Later Poems and Plays (the introduction to which by the editor, Peter Quartermain can be read here) and (eagerly-awaited) Robert Creeley's Selected Letters
(for those of you who missed it, here's a taste from last October's Poetry magazine - Rod Smith's introductory note's here - there's also a glimpse, some further early missives, on the UCP author's page).

and Peter Orlovsky and Allen's extraordinary love-letters - Maria Popova’s gleanings, last week on BrainPickings reminded us of this particular remarkable volume, not exactly a stocking-stuffer, (and long-time out-of-print), but a singularly important title – Straight Hearts Delight

Straight Hearts' Delight: Love Poems and Selected Letters, 1947-1980

"Dear Petey, O Heart O Love everything is suddenly turned to gold!.." (A.G., 1958)
"Hello Hinde Long Sweet Beard Hair Eyes - Was just crying thinking you may die before we meet again..." (P.O., 1963)

We confess we were a little alarmed when we read Sarah Tomlinson's piece in the current Volume 1.Brooklyn - "The Last Soup of Allen Ginsberg" - Someone stole the soup?  (Steve Silberman's definitive piece from 2001 in The New Yorker on the legendary soup, preserved "for the benefit of future scholars", may profitably be read here). 
That line about serving it up to her sister (even just a single spoonful - a guarenteed recipe for botulism, even a few days past its making) alerted us to the likelihood of fantasy-fiction. A phone-call to Soup Central (current location of the beleaguered endangered artifact) verified the facts. The historic mush, you'll be pleased to hear, continues to be preserved and respected. Meanwhile, while we're on the subject of Allen's culinary habits, guess it's too cold these days for a spot of borscht?  

Michael Horovitz and Barry Miles' Ginsberg profile on BBC Radio 4 is now up on line and can be listened to here  

Producer Ali Skye Bennet announces her "Untitled Allen Ginsberg Project", a projected 2014 theatrical event, an attempt at "a  Howl for the 21st Century" - "The cultural, social and political landscape may be different now", she writes, "but our howl - for recognition, revolution, and solidarity - is the same."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Expansive Poetics - 11 ( Herman Melville)

AG: Then, another heroic precursor, nineteenth-century, is Herman Melville, as a poet. How many here have run across Melville as a poet? Yeah. Has anybody here read Melville as a prose writer? - Moby Dick?  That's much more common. And how many have seen his poetry again [show of hands] - Yeah - I think he's one of the four great poets of the nineteenth-century - (Emily) Dickinson, (Herman) Melville, (Edgar Allan) Poe (and) (Walt) Whitman. His work in poetry isn't as well known, but it's great. And he's got a big thick book. Robert Penn Warren did a selection of them back in 1967, and then a guy called Howard P Vincent did a Collected Melville - (a) thick volume, about eight-hundred pages (five-, six-, seven-hundred pages)). University of Nebraska, back in the (19)40's. His poetry is almost Shakesperean in some ways. Let's see what we've got here.

Peter Orlovsky: Did he read a lot of (William) Shakespeare?

AG; He read a lot of Shakespeare, yeah - Shakespeare and Sir Thomas Browne, and the great English prose writers

[Sir Thomas Browne 1605-1682]

There are a  few poems by Melville that I'll bring up. How many have read "Billy Budd" - the handsome sailor?. There's a poem at the end of "Billy Budd" that's very beautiful, that has a Shakespearean ending, actually. Billy is a handsome boy who is attacked by some evil, covetous, first-mate, who loves him in secret and so contends with him, and puts him up-tight, and lies about it, and says that Billy is trying to start a revolution, a mutiny - and Billy is so outraged by this when he finally hears about it, and confronts.. Innocent Billy is so outraged that he stammers, and suddenly strikes out, and with one blow kills Claggart, the evil guy. And then Captain Vere, who has to judge in this situation, says, "Well, you've got to die for it. You broke the law. You "fought the law and the law won" - So this is Billy's "I Fought The Law and The Law Won" - Billy is tied up [Allen begins reading Melville's poem - "Good of the chaplain to enter Lone Bay/And down on his narrowbones here and pray/ For the likes just o' me, Billy Budd..but look -/Through the port comes the moonshine astray".."..me they'll lash me in hammock, drop me deep/Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I'll dream fast asleep./I feel it stealing now, Sentry, are you there?/ Just ease this darbies at the wrist, and roll me over fair,/I am sleepy and the oozy weeds about me twist" - So the thing with him (as with Moby Dick) there's that vowelic melody - "I am sleepy and the oozy weeds about me twist" - Like the last line ending his great prose-poem, Pierre - "and her long hair fell over him and arbored him in ebon vines" -" And her long hair fell over him and arbored him in ebon vines" - that's the line of a novel, Pierre.

Billy Budd (1962)
[Terence Stamp (Billy) and Robert Ryan (Claggart) in the 1962 screen adaptation of Billy Budd]

And so there's a kind of power-sound he gets - There's a famous poem called "The House-top", from New York, July 1863, when there were Draft Riots. He went upon the roof of his house on Twenty-third  Street and heard the noise of people screaming, and shots. This is when (President Abraham) Lincoln, I think, ordered troops to fire on the draft rioters.

So, it's called "The House-top - A Night Piece" - Now, "Draco" - who knows? - Draco? - you know the term "Draconian laws"? 

                         [NewYork City Draft Riots 1863 - contemporaneous image from The Illustrated London News]

Student: Sure

AG: Draco was an Emperor, a Roman Emperor, who came and gave... Roman? What?

Student: It's Greek.

AG: Greek?

Student: Spartan

AG: Spartan, yeah - What's the story of Draco and his harsh laws?  

Studen: I think he was an Archon, who, during a time of trouble, set up some laws to stabilize the state

AG: Yeah, and the phrase (adjective) "Draconian laws" means really tough, tough laws - chop your hands off for stealing a pea!

And "Calvin's creed measured" here is the creed that, if you are prosperous, you'll be prosperous. And if you're pre-destined to be damned, you can see it by the weak look on your face, and the fact that you ain't got no money in your pocket, and you're going around asking for spare change" - [Allen then begins reading "The House-top - A Night Piece"] - "No sleep, the sultriness pervades the air/And binds the brain - a dense oppression such/As tawny tigers feel in matted shades/ Vexing their blood and making apt for ravage" - that's very Shakespearean - "Vexing their blood and making apt for ravage./ Beneath the stars the roofy desert spreads/Vacant as Libya.." - That's a real Kerouac-ian line - and Shakespearean - "Beneath the stars" - This is New York City, Manhattan - Beneath the stars the roofy desert spreads/Vacant as Libya. All is hushed near by./Yet fitfully from far breaks a mixed surf/Of muffled sound, the Atheist roar of riot/ Yonder, where parching Sirious.." - the star - [Allen continues, reading the poem] - "..set in drought,/Balefully glares red arson.."...  "The grimy slur on the Republic's faith implied/Which holds that Man is naturally good,/ And - more - is Nature's Roman, never to be scourged"..] - Are you (were you) able to follow? - Well, (so), he's up on the roof. There's a vast solitude of roofy desert, "vacant as Libya", everything is hushed, but from down on around Wall Street, Twenty-third (Street) to Wall Street, he hears a rioting, the roar of the draft riot....[Allen continues] - "Yonder where the dog star Sirius, is setting.." - Downtown, I guess. In the south, that would be - Where does Sirius set in the sky? 

Student: In the north?

Student: Isn't there some relationship to the Big Dipper?

AG: Does anybody know?

Student: It's part of  Canis Major

AG: So if you were in Manhattan, looking at Sirius, what direction would that be? Uptown? Downtown?

Student: (Well, it would depend what time of the year it was)

AG: Well this is July. Anybody know astronomy..?

Student: Nobody can see the stars in Manhattan anyway!

AG: Anyway, whatever direction Sirius is, there are burning buildings..."Balefully glares red arson" - Arson is the burning up of buildings. All the hippies, and draft-rioters, and Yippies, and Dippies, are out making riots - "The town is taken by its rats - ship-rats/ And rats of the wharves" - All the conventions, or "civil charms'' ("All civil charms/And priestly spells which late held hearts in awe.."), or agreements (social agreements) that kept order so nobody was sticking each other in the teeth....

Peter Orlovsky: This was the Civil War?

AG: Yeah. There were draft riots. People didn't want to be drafted to go down and fight. "All civil charms" which kept people in order are suddenly dissolved and it looks like everybody's turning into beasts, going back aeons in time. And then, all of a sudden, you hear the fire engines and the paddy wagons coming up - "Hail to the low dull rumble, dull and dead/And ponderous drag that jars the wall", as they bring up the cannon (and I guess with horses - I guess it was a horse-drawn cannon, and horse-drawn...)

Peter Orlovsky: To shoot at the draft resisters?

AG: Yeah, to shoot at the rioters.  I love that line  - - "Hail to the low dull rumble, dull and dead/And ponderous drag that jars the wall" -  "ponderous drag that jars the wall" - he has a fantastic ear. It's very distinct...

Student: Who is this?

AG: Herman Melville!. - the author of Moby Dick, writing poems...

Peter Orlovsky: But why "hail"? Is he.. he's..

AG: Well, I guess he's..

Peter Orlovsky: ..happy the riot's being stopped? - or..?

AG: Well, I think he was on the Northern side and he thought slavery was a bad thing. But, also, I don't think he was that much involved, in a sense of judging. It was just that it reminded him of an old Roman riot, the clang of a Roman scene..

Peter Orlovsky: You think..

AG: But he's got Rome mixed up with Greece. He's talking about Draco coming and then "nature"'s Roman ("aeons back in nature"). So he's got it mixed. That's why I got it mixed up.

Student: Do you think..do you think that the reference to ship's rats is indicative of the fact of, you know, that, in contemporary times, a riot was seen as being perpetrated by shady outcasts of society?

AG: Probably. Just like now. Because he's calling them "ship-rats"  - "The atheist roar of riot" (is) interesting too - the atheistical subversives! - "godless Communists"!

Peter Orlovsky: Wasn't Melville.. Wasn't Melville an atheist?

AG: Later, I think he got to be, yeah. But I don't know. Well, I don't know. He was fighting with it, sort of. Because the whole point of Melville ( is) he's got his hero chasing God, chasing the big white whale, or chasing the vast abstraction.

Peter Orlovsky: Where was Melville, when this was.. I mean..

AG: Out..

Peter Orlovsky: Whitman? (Walt) Whitman..?

AG: Whitman, I think, was in Washington, taking care of the wounded.

Student: The ship's rats there are probably immigrants...

AG: Maybe..But (so) you were mostly able to follow it? - It just went on to say, so the troops are coming to shoot at the rioters - "Wise Draco comes, deep in the midnight roll/ Of black artillery"- That's the line I like the best - "Wise Draco comes, deep in the midnight roll/ Of black artillery" - See, it's actually a round thing in your mouth when you pronounce it. It's like cocksucking or something! -"Wise Draco comes, deep in the midnight roll/Of black artillery"- You've got a thing in your mouth there when you're pronouncing it, an "air-cock" is what I'm saying, you've got an "air-erection" in your mouth! 

No, but the physical mouthing of the language is what gives the power, I think - the realization of the hollow vowels, the hollow-ness of the vowels. It's like, in a state of inspiration the body becomes a column of air, actually. You've heard that description?.. like the empty body becomes a column of air. The body seems to be hollow and become a column of air, very light. And that's the actual physical sensation of a state of inspiration. Has anybody experienced that? You might get it, say, in a love situation, where you're talking, or perhaps in an anger situation - righteous wrath - duh-dah! - But when the speech is unobstructed and breath is unobstructed and it feels like a column of air or a hollow reed..

So, he comes, Draco, the dictator comes, to restore law and order, the man on horseback, as we know him these days, "though late". 
I didn't understand the (next) line(s) - "In code corroborating Calvin's creed/And cynic tyrannies of honest kings" -  "cynic tyrannies of honest kings"? - what is that? - (Henry) Kissinger? - "cynic tyrannies" - or is it just...

Student:  He seems ambivalent of  himself or the situation.

AG: Pardon me?

Student: He seems ambivalent

AG: Oh, yes, he is. Oh, definitely, definitely. And actually what he says - "and the Town redeemed/Give thanks devout' - the dumb fucks are glad to be rescued from themselves!

Student: Yeah.

AG: "(N)or, being thankful" - The crowd, the town, doesn't heed that it's a big insult to the original conception of the Republic - the original conception, the faith, of the Republic, which was that that Man is naturally good, and is not going to be punished. Like the Roman citizen - you don't get punished - you're a free man. You might punish the slaves, but not the citizens. But here he's saying that they're asking for it, they're asking for it from above.

I'm interested in his rhythm and his sound. Here's an interesting piece of (short quatrain) rhetoric - "Implacable I, the old implacable Sea;/ Implacable most when most I smile serene --/ Pleased, not appeased, by myriad wrecks in me" [section V of his poem "Pebbles"] - talking about the ocean - "Pleased, not appeased, by myriad wrecks in me" - or his person - "Pleased, not appeased, by myriad"  failures of his life.  Then next ["Healed of my Hurt"] - "Healed of my hurt, I laud the inhuman Sea -/ Yes, bless the Angels Four that here convene/ For healed I am even by their pitiless breath/Distilled in wholesome dew named rosmarine " -  Just so pretty! - but also powerful -   "Healed of my hurt, I laud the inhuman Sea.." - it's old-fashioned rhetoric -  Yes, bless the Angels Four that here convene " - "Healed of my hurt, I laud the inhuman Sea" - try that on - try "laud(ing) the inhuman Sea".

Stock Photo Smoke from a Black Woman's Lips

Then he has a really interesting poem during the Civil War (or a few interesting lines in it (that) I like). (It's called) "The Swamp Angel. I've mentioned it before a few times. This particular poem had quite an effect on (Jack) Kerouac's adjective and rhetoric - "There is a coal-black Angel/ with a thick Afric lip.." You know that? Did I bring that up before (I think I mentioned it before) - "The Swamp Angel" - [Allen reads Melvlle's "The Swamp Angel" - "There is a coal-black Angel/ with a thick Afric lip/And he dwells (like the hunted and harried)/In a swamp where the green frogs dip"..."Who weeps for the woeful City,/Let him weep for our guilty kind -/Who joys at her wild despairing -/Christ, the Forgiver, convert his mind." - So the "Swamp Angel" is a cannon. You all got that? Anybody pick that up?  -  "There is a coal-black Angel/ with a thick Afric lip.." - There's also a parable of the guilt over slavery, I imagine. Interesting. "Vainly she calls upon Michael/(The white man's seraph was he)" - I never thought of that. But I liked the way he said “Afric” (he cut the adjective, instead of “African” – “Afric) – and “tropic” instead of “tropical”  - “tropic” – “Carib” – “Has thou sailed on Carib waters toward the Afric shores?”...

AG:  Then, “A Canticle Significant of the National Exaltation of Enthusiasm at the Close of the War” – this is his poem at the end of the Civil War. And it has a refrain which is really amazing. It’s a little bombastic, I think, but the refrain that he repeats several times is really something worthy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as a chorale. [Allen proceeds to read, in its entirety, Melville’s , “A Canticle Significant of the National Exaltation of Enthusiasm at the Close of the War” – “O the precipice Titanic/Of the congregated Fall/And the angle oceanic/Where the deepening thunders call…”…”Thou Lord of hosts victorious/Fulfill the end designed/By a wondrous way and glorious/A passage Thou dost find -/A passage Thou dost find/ Hosanna to the Lord of Hosts/The Hosts of human kind” – I just like those two lines –“ A passage Thou dost find -/A passage Thou dost find” – [Allen continues] – And the rest is weirdly interesting, like I don’t understand the  “But the foamy deep unsounded/And the dim and dizzy ledge,/And the booming roar rebounded,/And the gull that skims the edge” – Well, some vision of the ocean – “The Giant of the Pool/ Heaves his forehead what as wool” – (I don’t know what that is) -  “Towards the Iris/Rainbow.. ever climbing/ From the Cataracts that call -/irremovable vast arras/Draping all the wall.” – This is somewhere in Poe-Land, Edgar Allan Poe Land. 

You’ll have copies of all these poems when we xerox up our book so you can examine them..examine them yourself.

There’s an interesting prophetic verse on America also. I  don’t think I have the full thing here, though. Let’s see.

Then there’s one other national prophetic one, that’s sort of like (Bob) Dylan’s poem [sic], “Idiot Wind” – it’s like (Melville’s) “Idiot Wind” a poem called “America”. I don’t have the full text, but the lines in it that I thought were interesting were, “So foul a dream upon so fair a face” – for America - So foul a dream upon so fair a face/And the dreamer lying in that starry shroud” – It’s kind of interesting – two lines in it – The Civil War – the slavery he was talking about and the battles of the Civil War – the flag – “that starry shroud”  

The Belfast Historical Society will show its 1864 Civil War quilt 4-7 p.m. June 14 at Belfast Free Library.
[Civil War Quilt (1864) - from the collection of the Belfast Historical Society, Belfast, Maine]

And there’s another aspect of him which is extremely tender. Recollections of young fellows he loved when he was young and sailed with, when he was a sailor, put together with some sense of later (Walt) Whitman – that the United States was turning into a  Mammon Moloch material late-Roman civilization that was wrecking everything fine and original and individualistic. So there’s a tiny short poem that’s equal to some of the more delicate poems of William Butler Yeats  on the subject of the cycles of time and civilization. It’s called “The Ravaged Villa” – just eight lines [Allen reads, in its entirety, Herman Melville’s “The Ravaged Villa”] –“In shards the sylvan vases lie,/Their links of dance undone/And brambles wither by thy brim/Choked fountain of the sun!/The spider in the laurel spins, /The weed exiles the flower:/And flung to kiln Apollo’s bust/Makes lime for Mammon’s tower.” – That’s great, short, sharp, precise, clear – “In shards the sylvan” is pastoral  - (an older..a villa in Italy, actually, he’s talking about)  - in “shards”, pieces, fragments, the “sylvan vases” (like the “Grecian Urn” that you remember) –“In shards the sylvan vases lie,/Their links of dance undone” - (because on those on those vases there were linked dancers incised, or carved, or painted), so “Their links of dance undone/And brambles wither by thy brim/Choked fountain of the sun” – So it’s a Roman fountain in sunlight, but “brambles withering by the brim”, so no longer water. “The spider in the laurel spins” – The laurel is for what? – What’s the laurel crown? – That’s poetic.

Student: Victory

AG: Victory.. military victory

Student:  Or poetic also?

AG:  Civic victory?

AG:  Oak is military. Laurel, I think, is..poetic..yeah

Student: Definitely

laurel wreath

AG: So, “The spider in the laurel spins” – that’s the worst prophecy that he could have for himself – “The weed exiles the flower:/And flung to kiln Apollo’s bust/Makes lime for Mammon’s tower.” – which was literal. there was.. I think, there was a point in time when the Turkish occupation of Athens, when they used the Parthenon for a…

Student: They stored ammunition…

AG: Stored their ammunition. And I think, at some point or other (I’ve forgotten where, in Rome, or in Greece - or both), a lot of old marble statuary was ground down to make limestone, for medieval churches probably - do you know?  do you remember?

Student: Well, it happened all over Italy so you will find medieval buildings that have Roman stones that.. there are too many to number.. 

AG: Yes, I think there was actually one period when, actually, stones were being ground down for lime.. (from) marble, the better marble would be ground down to make lime.. but,  I don't know.. Limestone? Limestone? Lime comes from limestone?

Student: (Typically) limestone is used to make cement [editorial note -  more specifically, cement is formed from a powder of calcined limestone and clay, mixed with water]

AG: Limestone was used for cement? 

Student: The lime in the marble.. the marble-lime combination was used to make cement. 

AG: Do you know what particular period or what particular occasion that.. Was there any particular historical period when this was rampant?

Student: It was was one, the beginning of the fifteenth-century.. especially the... - no, excuse me, I'm thinking of something else..

Student: I remember when they were building St. Peters in Rome, they used the Roman Coliseum as a quarry for stones.

AG: Yea, yeah, that part I know, that part I know. I was just wondering about the literal thing of grinding down the marble to make lime - grinding down Mona Lisa's nose! Winged Victory's wing or arms!

The Winged Victory of Samothrace
[The Winged Victory of Samothrace - Parian marble - by an unknown Greek Sculptor  (200-190 BC) - in the collection of the Musée du Louvre in Paris]

The last poem of Melville's that I have here is "To Ned (Bunn)", who was a sailor friend of his when he was young, and this was written in his old age, looking back on the decline of nature, on "Silent Spring", so to speak, looking back on the corruption of the South Sea Islands, which  once were paradise islands for him when he visited them with Ned Bunn when he was young. And now, later, in a book called John Marr and Other Sailors, he goes back and recollects, like an old sailor talking to his wife, over a cup of coffee and a pipe, by the fire-side, retired from the ocean - [Allen proceeds to read "To Ned Bunn"] - "Where is the world we rovd, Ned Bunn?/Hollows thereof lay rich in shade/By voyages old inviolate thrown/Ere Paul Pry cruised with Pelf and Trade"..."But ere, in anchor-watches calm,/The Indian Psyche's langour won/And, musing, breathed primeval balm/From Edens ere yet overrun;/Marvelling mild if mortal twice,/Here and hereafter, touch a Paradise." - So, could you follow the sense of that? The thing I liked was "Enamoring of what years and years - /Ah Ned, what years and years ago!" - that's so sentimental! (just repeating the "years" over) - "But, tell" (the thythm is very delicate too) - "But tell, shall he, the tourist find/Our isles the same in violet-glow/Enamoring of what years and years -/ Ah, Ned, what years and years ago!". There, the traditional rhetoric of this kind of poem is just like somebody really talking for real - just sighing and talking - "Ah Ned, what years and years ago!" - it's nice to be old enough to feel that, actually.  

[South Sea Islands Schooner]

Peter Orlovsky: What year of shipping is that?

AG: Well, let's see, he mentions Typee, which is a South Sea island novel he wrote when he was shipping out with Ned Bunn. And when was Melville shipping out to the South Seas?

Peter Orlovsky: Eighteen twenty something

AG: Anybody know? Well, let's see, Melville is what? - I'll find out [ Allen consults his book] - "born  1819, died 1891, and he was on the sea when he was twenty, so 1840-1845, I guess. So there's Melville.

Peter Orlovsky: It's always the way that things.. actually, when they sailed 1840

AG: "Authentic Edens.." - what is it? - "Authentic Edens in a Pagan sea." - "The Typee-truants under stars/Unknown to Shakespeare's Midsummer-Night" -  "...Adam advances, smart in pace" - I like the line "Adam advances" - mankind - "smart in pace" - if you're nineteenth-century - or mankind is getting smart -  his step forward - "But scarce by violets that advance you trace" - You can't trace the advance of manind by the strewn violet flowers. It's more "Pelf and pride" ("Pelf and Trade")

Peter Orlovsky: What does "Pelf" mean? [ editorial note - "Pelf" means wealth or riches]

AG:  What is "Pelf"? It's a biblical word. People were looking for their own "pelf and pride", or something  - their own skin and pride? - Pelf?  Who knows that? It's a common phrase.

Student: Money

AG: Money?

Student: Um-hmm

AG: I don't know.. 

Student: Uh-huh.

AG; It's a phrase I used to hear in sermons all the time - Man's only interested in his own pelf and pride!

["There are some spirits nobly just, unwarp'd by pelf or pride/Great in the calm but greater still when dashed by adverse tide" (Eliza Cook (1818-1889)]     

[Audio for the above can be found here, beginning at approximately forty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-seven minutes in