Monday, June 9, 2014

"I'm Going To Vote For Ronald Reagan Because…" (Naropa Classroom Improvisation 1981)



Every so often, as part of his teaching practice in his classes at Naropa, Allen would instigate a class poem, a group poem, typically insisting that everyone take a hand at spontaneously completing the words of a given sentence. We've already featured a number of these experiments here and here and here. Here's another one    

AG: Everyone knows what a list poem is? Anybody not know that phrase? When you say, "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I like the electric wires outside", "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because the light bulbs are still beaming in the conference room",  "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because that guy who's up in the morning wears a tiny beard", "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because the electric wires snake into the wall", "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because confusion or the truth of love or revolution of the lust of confusion is not known to the peace between us", "I'm going to write a revolution - I mean, I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan - because my eyeglasses are sitting correctly on my nose"," I'm going to vote for Ronald Reason [sic] because the...

Peter Orlovsky: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I don't know anything about him..

AG: … and because the sunshine reflects in the glass windows". "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because.. .

Peter Orlovsky: … he's new and I don't know anything about him" [editorial note: Ronald Reagan had been elected into his second term in the Winter of 1980, the previous November]

AG: [to Student]:  You're going to vote for Ronald Reagan because…?

Student: …because I never liked America anyway.

AG: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because…

Student: …because there's a…

AG: Speak!

Student: ...skull hanging over there.

AG: I can't see, I'm blind. Speak!

Student: Because there's a yellow.. a yellow thing, with white lines with numbers on it, hanging on the wall across from me.

AG (to Student): You're going to vote for Ronald Reagan because…

Student:  ...a squirrel came in my room yesterday.

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because my pen is running out of ink."

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I haven't bought a gallon of gas in over a month." 

AG: Because I haven't bought a gallon of…?

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I never liked Italians anyway".

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because we need more "Death Valley Days"…."

AG: What was the last?

Student: We need "Death Valley Days" in the White House.

AG: Yes.

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because he wears coal grey suits."

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I'm too young to know any better!"

AG: Randy?

Student (Randy Roark): "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because it's already been decided."

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because the lights are on."

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because Tibetans kiss yellow frogs."

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because trees have ears."

AG: Umm..

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because he just ran out of gas."

AG: Pointed.

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I'm going to vote for John Anderson [editorial note - GOP politician, John B Anderson was another Republican Party nominee in the 1980 Presidential Elections]

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I've got nothing to lose."

Student: "I didn't vote for Ronald Reagan because I'm not a fool."

AG: Uh-oh

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because he's white."

AG: Sam?

Student (Sam Kashner): "I voted for Ronald Reagan because Bonzo is eternal"  [editorial note - "Bedtime for Bonzo" was one of Ronald Reagan's films, where he c0-starred with a chimpanzee]

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because we all need to drink more wine."

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because we need more jerks like him in the White House."

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because the cactus stay neutral through all the years."

Student (Helen Luster): "I'm going to vote for Robert Reagan because he's going to bring on the revolution."

AG: Hm-umm. Pat (Donegan)?

Student: …because peyote is illegal.

AG [to Student]: David?
Student (D): Because because.
AG: The full sentence please.
Student (D): I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because.
AG: Because? Because?
Student (D): Because.

AG [to Student]: Ida?

Student: 'I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because my vote doesn't count anyway."
Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I love boring films."
Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because I'm underage and (I need) to buy a gallon of gas."
Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because my undershirt's on backwards."
Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because  I like James Watt.[editorial note - James Watt was Reagan's highly controversial (pro-industry) Secretary of the Interior, who was eventually forced to resign]

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because no one else will."

Student: "I'm not going to vote for Ronald Reagan because that's the truth because I'm not American."

AG: That's alright. You can vote anyway in this classroom. So why are you going to vote for Ronald Reagan? You got to make something paradoxical, opposite, Surrealist. The list poem is an opportunity to release your imagination from reality and even if you're not going to vote for Ronald Reagan to say "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because the trees have ears", or " because I like the way his shit smells", or "because…  You can not vote for Ronald Reagan by the paradoxical way of voting for him in such a way as it will not vote for him in eternity. In other words, you don't have to be so literalistic in poetry, you can use a little bit of (imagination).  So..

Student: Well

AG:  Now that you're a citizen, a world controller of the planet like (Velimir) Khlebnikov, why would Khlebnikov vote for Ronald Reagan?  (Just) make up something.

Student: (Try to mention) Khlebnikov?

AG: Yes. Maybe you can vote for Ronald Reagan because Khlebnikov didn't vote for him, didn't live to…

Student:  Didn't have his chance.

AG: Just make up a line that's not literal.

Student: "..because there won't be Khlebnikov's laughter any more. 

AG: Ah, that's nice - "Khlebnikov's laughter".

Student: "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because he's a monkey sodomist."

AG: A monkey sodomist?  Is that the best you can do?

Student: Is all you can think of sex?

AG: You're always thinking about sex all the time. "The hippopotamus sodomist"  - You got to take into account the sound - "The hippopotamus sodomist" would be better.

Student: Hippopotamus sodomist

AG: Hippopotamus sodomist would be…

Student: Okay?

AG: ..If  you're  going to be a sodomist, you might as well get..  yes? - Nina?

Student (Nina Zivancevic): "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan because he killed Tristan Tzara."

AG: Oh.  He killed Tristan Tzara?

Student: I realize everybody's being very…

AG: Poem

Student: …Surrealist..

AG: Poem

Student:  ..I was..

AG: Poem

Student (RP):  ..I'm still not going to vote for the sonuvabitch!

AG: Ah, come on, then you're not going to write a poem, if you can't imaginatively figure a reason… if you can't get through that little koan, Richard, come on.

Student: No, you…

tape ends here - continues on second side

AG: …in some poetic.  If you're not going to vote for him, if you want to include that as part of the text…  

Student (RP): I'm a short emphatic line in the poem. I'm saying, I'm not going to vote for the sonuvabitch anyway.

AG: Okay, okay.

Student (RP): It's a break in the rhythm.

AG: Okay. It sounds a little bit like (Charles) Bukowski, or Nelson Algren, if that's the level to reach. Why (don't) you try, like Apollinaire..?

Student 2 : It sounds like the Communist..

Student (Richard): What does?

Student 2: Your line.

Student (Richard): Oh it does, huh?

Student 2: Yeah, violent revolution.

AG: Yeah, it's a party line. You can't imagine it. See, you can't write poetry if you can't imagine. If you cannot imagine a situation where you'd vote for Ronald Reagan, then you can't imagine. Why stop with the negative? Why not do a positive? Or, if you're going to say, "I'm not going to vote for him", still the opportunity in the list poem is to go really far out, beyond immediately logical limits and create an image that will destroy Ronald Reagan by voting for him, or by not voting for him, if you want to do that, if you feel that's absolutely necessary, though I think that the most interesting thing was the most neutral - "because trees have ears", because that's mind-blowing and everybody who either voted for him or against him would think twice before voting ever again, after a line like that. But I think you've got to get beyond ideology to create images, because if you're limited by ideology only and by just the surface ideology so you can't even take a joke, or make a joke - so you can't even make a joke - then what'll happen when fascism comes? 

Student: It's already here. That's why it's so.. look at us, we had to (vote)..

AG: It's not here like it was here for Khlebnikov, yet. Or if it's here for a Salvadorean - but even Salvadoreans write poetry of joy. Even they could write a poem, "I will vote for Ronald Reagan because…" Even they could figure that one out.

Student: Yeah. Some of them.

AG: I mean anti-Reagan Salvadoreans could. That's a really important point. We did get to that before, last term in discussing the notion of Negative Capability, which is (John) Keats' phrase - The ability to hold contrary ideas in the mind simultaneously without, as Keats said, "an irritable reaching out after fact" - "without an irritable reaching out after fact". Meaning, you might want to reach for fact and you might want to get it really clear and be sane about it, but you wouldn't necessarily insist and demand on having a rational structure instantly, but might accept the offerings of the unconscious and of hour and of the nature of electric wires in your brain anyway by accepting the phrasing that comes to your head first before you edit it - or by working with it - with whatever material rises from your unconscious - rather than selecting only that which you approve of, because if you only write about that which you approve of, well, then you'll hardly write about anything, because I don't approve of myself - even. So if I had to say I want to be perfect and have the perfect party line before I wrote down what I think, what comes through my head, I'd never write anything. Nor would anybody. What we really have to do is represent our whole intelligence rather than just a portion of our insistences. Or, in writing, you have to represent your whole body, which is to say all the body, all the participants in the body, which include the unconscious and the contradictory emotions and encompass them in a poem. I deliberately started "I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan" - I didn't vote for Ronald Reagan. I started out on a paradox - that was the whole point - to see what we could do with the paradox. Because, actually, it's kind of liberating - to take something you are sure you don't like and try and say you like it and find reasons to like it. That liberates the imagination.  It's easier saying "I like.."  who? - (John) Anderson? [Republican] Jimmy Carter [Democrat] ? Earl Browder? [head of the Communist Party], whoever.. Who ran for President that anybody liked?

Student: Pat Paulsen (editorial note - Pat Paulsen, a comedian, who was once a member of the cast of the popular Smothers Brothers Show, ran for President for several years in something of a satiric gesture) 

AG: Paulsen. "I like Paulsen because.."

Student:    ...who likes Democracy?

AG: Well, I like Democracy. See, but what if everybody had to write a poem, "I like Democracy, because…"

Student: Oh, no 

AG: It would be boring.

Student: Boring.

AG: Everybody learned how they like it in grammar school and they have all these reasons. But to write "I don't like Democracy because…" - it'd be a challenge to everybody's imagination. Because most people don't like.. I mean most people..like (it).. It definitely would be a challenge to everybody's imagination because most people.. like it. And if they didn't accept their slip-of-the-tongue, they'd never write a poem.

Student (RP):" I'm going to vote for Ronald Reagan and never will - period"

AG: Well, now that he's made his point. I think this is.. yes, okay, all you humorists…

[Audio for the above is vailable here, starting at approximately twenty-six-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in]   

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