A Night With Allen Ginsberg - Allen Ginsberg's reading at Loyola University, New Orleans, 1990. An eye-witness recalls: “The overflow crowd filled up the aisles and the outside lobby, so he (Allen) invited audience members to sit on the stage with him. (we see them on the stage there)/ He also (that same visit) did a meditation workshop, and his Collected Poems had just appeared so he spent a whole afternoon signing copies and illustrating each with a drawing".
AG: So, I’ll begin with music in honor of the President and the great phony war on dope. This is a calypso song which gives you from before you were born, some of you, a history of American government involvement with the transport and spread of opium (and it continues in the Reagan and the Bush years with the American government involvement with cocaine – C.I.A.Dope Calypso. It’s a little long because the history’s pretty long. [Allen begins singing (a detailed version of his) "C.I.A Dope Calypso" – “In nineteen-hundred-and-forty-nine/China was won by Mao Tse Tung…”…..”…read the Times Picayune or the New York Times” (in this extended version, he shapes the piece to its present location) –
Now, Lower East Side New York is where I live – a little short poem ["Lower East Side" from "After Whitman and Reznikoff"] – “That round-faced woman/She owns the street with her three big dogs/ Screeches at me…”…” You Big Jerk ...you think you’re famous...reminds me of my mother.”
This is a little poem, a nice poem, which I put in a rock ‘n roll form but is now banned on the radio – as you may know the…Senator Jesse Helms, who is preoccupied by homosexuality due to some flaw of character of his own (also preoccupied with miscegenation, homosexual miscegenation, apparently – his objection to the (Robert) Mapplethorpe show, according to the New York Times was, as they quoted him, that it showed “men of mixed race making love on a marble table top!” (it was the “mixed race” he objected to!) – Anyway, as you know, he’s the..the tobacco-cult Senator, legal narcotics (I think, the reason that he’s making so much noise, and Joe Coors who produces lots of alcohol and funds Jesse Helms’ research. And so between the alcohol lobby, or alcohol-pushers, and the tobacco-pushers, we have a lot of loud-mouths trying to cover their own..(sins, as you might call it at Loyala). So that’s the reason for all their vehemence.
Anyway, this is a poem that I put in rock n roll form, which was pretty good 45 record – but, Jesse Helms introduced a law, in 1988, banning, twenty-four hours-day, all so-called quote “indecent” unquote language from the airwaves, so for the first time, all of my poetry (which is being broadcast for the first time behind the Iron Curtain) is being banned here in America!
There’ll be a hearing before the FCC on the twentieth of this month, followed by a court case. (We already won one court case on the subject when the FCC banned “indecency” between six a.m. and midnight – we won that, so Helms introduced a law covering that, saying, ban it twenty-four-hours a day, directing the FCC to do that).
It’s now being challenged. It means (William) Burroughs, Henry Miller, myself, lots of stuff can’t get on the air. So this can’t get on the air (tho’ it played for quite a while as a 45) – “Birdbrain” – [Allen reads his poem “Birdbrain” in its entirety …”..he wrote this poem to be immortal"] (and) follows it with "Kiss Ass" (“Kiss Ass is…") - Let me say, since this is a religious college. I also teach in a religious college, Naropa Institute, in Boulder, Colorado, where I’ve taught for fifteen years, which is the first contemplative Buddhist college in the Western world that’s been accredited, and so the first Buddhist college in the West, and it was, since (19)86, it was accredited, for an interchange of credits. And this is like a little Manifesto, (from) 1974, “Let me say (at the) beginning, I don’t believe in Soul…"..." Cause and Effects Nightmare” – Figure that out.
My father was a poet, Louis Ginsberg (who) was quite a good poet and was in all the old anthologies that I used to study in high-school – Louis Untermeyer’s “Modern American and British Poetry” . He died in 1976, philosophic-minded, not in great pain (tho’ he had the cancer – he was quite old, he was eighty). So there were a few poems I wrote on taking care of him at the end of his life – helping him bathe or helping him get around the house and working with the problem of somebody very old, bidding farewell to life. So I’ll read a few of those, and a song, written on his death, called “Father Death Blues” (and the general title is “Don’t Grow Old”) – “Wasted arms, feeble knees..” - My father died and flying back from Boulder to Naropa I wrote a threnody and death lament – Father Death Blues – [Allen performs this ("Father Death Blues", with harmonium accompaniment] - “Near the scrapyard, my father will be buried....”
Next, to introduce a classical note (tho’ calypso is also a classical way of spreading the news, in a village, or oral cultures, where the network is not so closely associated with the powers-that-be and the government – General Electric, or whoever owns the (tv) networks). There’s also the “tyger” of revolution and mental effort and wrath (which we’ve seen in Romania recently , and we haven’t seen..well, we saw yesterday in Russia, overthrowing the old government).
We still haven’t had glasnost to make some change here. I hope that happens pretty soon. It should spread. So, in honor of that, by William Blake, who used to sing his songs, "The Tyger " - [you all know the Tyger, Blake’s Tyger - how many here heard of that? yeah, heart-beat - boom-boom, boom-boom. boom-boom - “Tyger, tyger” trochee – trochaic meter - Allen sings (a rousing versionof) William Blake’s “Tyger”..
So now what I’ll do is read poetry for about three-quarters-of-an-hour from where I began, beginning with earlier work, and then I’ll move forward chronologically, and to the extent that we have time, read poems from the mid- (19)50’s, mid (19)60’s, mid (19)70’s,mid (19)80’s up to this last year. I’ll take a break in about fifteen , or ten minutes or so, those of you who have had enough, can go out and get high or go home, and I’ll continue for another half hour or so, So we’ll have a break in the middle, (so) relax. Beginning with “Sunflower Sutra”....
If you’re on can you see if you’re blocking the view of anybody. No, just be aware of the space behind you. I think you are. So it might be possible for everybody to move up just a little, make a little room so that those that are on the edge there an over there are not discommoded by your presence, just be aware of the space around you – like a space-awareness exercise, so.. panoramic awareness, what is going on around you, an old Buddhist trick
So, beginning 1955, Sunflower Sutra - [Allen reads “Sunflower Sutra” in its entirety - “I walked on the banks..]
Start again, with music, as before. I talked about meditation so I’d like to sing a song which,.. [part two begins here] - the style would be classic samatha or vipassana, or classic Buddhist empty.. empty sitting, paying attention to the breath. It's the form that I practice and have for a long time. It's the standard, basic "oldie-but-goldie". So “Do The Meditation Rock” ("…generosity, generosity.."). And maybe a little Blake, another (William) Blake, tiny Blake, a country ‘n western Blake – “A flower was offer'd to me/Such a flower as May never bore.." [...My pretty rose tree”] - “ But my Rose turned away with jealousy/And her thorns were my only delight”
So some short poems – “Irritable Vegetable” (Don’t send me letters, don’t send me poems, too busy to write poems..” “You’re a hypocrite who eats hot-dogs!’ – Some one-line single.. one-line single simple declarative sentences ["136 Syllables at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center"] – "Put on my shirt and took it off in the sun walking the path to lunch” – “A dandelion seed floats above the marsh grass with the mosquitos” – “At four a.m, the two middle-aged men sleeping together holding hands” – “In the half light of dawn a few birds warble under the Pleiades” – “Four skinheads stand in the street light rain talking under an umbrella” “Caught! shop-lifting ran out of the department store at sunrise and woke up” – These Two (“That tree - "I don’t like that car under me, it smells of gasoline". The other tree next to it, “Ah, you’re always complaining, you’re a neurotic, you can see by the way you’re bent over!"...) – Why I Mediate (“I sit because..”... ".. I sit for personal world revolution”) – “Arguments” (“I’m sick of arguments – “You threw the butter in the pan” – “I did not” – “You let it melt on the stove”…”Why don’t we turn off all the loudspeakers?)” – “Prophecy” (“As I’m no longer young in life and there seem not so many pleasures to look forward to, how fortunate to be free to write of cars and wars..".. "….throw away all useless ties and pants that don’t fit”) – “Moral Majority” ("Something evil about you..."... “I’ve seen God as much as any man on earth and he doesn’t look like you alone, he looks like me too.."... “Big mouth full of good cheer, not money, honey”)
The last poem..I was thinking one longish poem and one song and I’ll be done. This poem is called “White Shroud” which is also the title of the book White Shroud. The big red book I was reading from is Collected Poems 1947-1980 and there’s overed 1980-(19)85 here [in White Shroud] and then there’s a whole bunch of stuff here that’s new, including that little Bush-Noriega calypso. Here, a more serious, interesting,poem. In 1960, I wrote a long poem called “Kaddish”, (a) Jewish funeral word, elegy for my mother who died in 1956 in Central.. in Pilgrim State Hospital, mental hospital in New York (which was one of the largest in the world at the time, I think, twenty-five or thirty thousand people, and “Kaddish” was a narrative story of my difficulties as a kid with my mother who was having nervous breakdowns, creating a chaotic situation that I wasn’t able to handle, except in the poem, (I) tried to recreate that – and I had it typed up by an old girlfriend [Elise Cowen] who said, “You’re not done with your mother yet”. So.. in (19)83, when I was in Boulder, October 5th, I had a dream, at about six a.m., and woke.. (it was sort of like a dream-vision)..and woke, and immediately wrote it down, and this is the dream (like the William Carlos Williams dream). more or less exactly as first scribed in a notebook, called “White Shroud” – Let’s see, I’ll read.. well, I won’t explain further, but, reflecting on the sort of grief, or guilt, I felt about my mother dying alone in a mad-house – White Shroud – [Allen proceeds to read the poem in is entirety] (I am summoned from my bed to the great city of the dead..”..”I went downstairs to the shady living room where Peter Orlovsky/ sat with long hair lit by television glow to watch/ the sunrise weather news, I kissed him and filled my pen and wept”