Continuing this week with Allen's 1978 lectures on Meditation and Poetics
Student: Allen, when the thought comes, as I won't try to categorize it, to purport the possibility that one pushes poetry, or one actually receives it, but, like, they do pass.. it.. Now, (so), as it comes, they have a responsibility to, perhaps, the nature of the thought to..
AG: Who has…? Who (What) are you talking about?
Student: As, say, in a philosophical sense, the body as the receptacle for thought, does it ... its responsibility (then) is to project that (thought)
AG: Responsibility? No, I don't think there's anything ... no, we're just trying to practice! ... It's nothing complicated like that. It’s just.. We're breathing all the time and we're thinking all the time. I'm just trying to analyze it back into its basics. Relating it to meditation, which observes it in its basics, and then relate it to poetry, which, maybe, can take advantage of those basics, as a basis for poetry.
Student: I only based that thought on so many poets that I've known who are afraid ...
AG: To what?
Student: ... to speak what they think.
AG: Some moral we're talking about. It's nothing to do with morality. It's ...
Student: I don't agree.
AG: ... is this ... It's nothing to do with ... I'm just talking about common sense - common senses. We breathe and we think. We're not aware that we're breathing and we're not aware that we're thinking, most of the time.
AG: So the poet sort of gets it on that he is breathing and he is thinking, and both breath and thought are elements of poetry. I still want to stay with the breath. We get side-tracked so much. I'd rather not have side-tracks ...intellectual sidetracks.
Student: (Essential) simplicities.
AG: Go on, go on.
Student: I just wondered if ...
AG: Keep it simple, though.
Student: (so) basically, it's going to be simplicities that we're going to deal with in this course?
AG: I don't know what, but I just want to keep it simple right now so we all know what we're talking about.
Student: (We can’t get a little bit complicated?)
AG: Yeah, we might get complicated later, but if we can't get it simple now, if we can't establish some place together right now where we all know what we're talking about, we'll never know later on....
Student: (But we’re wasting) a lot of energies here..
AG: Come on! - Who cares? They're irrelevant. All the energies are irrelevant. All we're doing is breathing. Yes?
Student: I don't think this is a sidetrack, Allen, but it's like you were talking about small parallels between poetry and meditation, or slight parallels. Well, you talked about ...
AG: I take it back.
Student: ... it's too late now! It's too late now!
AG: No, it isn't too late. I take it back. It goes back into the air. Go on. Yeah?
Student: I'm right here. Do you think the ambitions of poetry and meditation have any valid parallels? Or, I mean....
AG: Gee, I thought we just, I thought I just talked to that point. That when you're writing poetry you're not writing poetry. I mean, really good - you're not writing poetry. To not even try - and when you're meditating, you're not "meditating" - you're just sitting there, breathing.
Student: But when you start off with poetry, Allen, you start, you know you start to read it and read the earlier and later works of (William Carlos) Williams ...
Student: ... and read (Charles) Reznikoff and read (Percy Bysshe) Shelley and read (John) Keats and there's an ambition that's grounded in that, just as in the same way when you're meditating ...
Student: ... you go into Trungpa's things and all that.
AG: Um-hmm. Well, see, when you actually follow the breath, you forget that you're trying to meditate, because you can't do both. You can't actually be out there on the breath, paying attention to the breath [and] at the same time thinking "I'm meditating. I'm going to get credit for meditating." Or, actually the process is that you do keep thinking that but that thought becomes more and more cartoonlike, and transparent, so after awhile you begin realizing you're still thinking that transparent thought that has no real relationship to anything because the actual thing is the breath going on.
In the question of poetry, when you become absorbed in the subject ...
AG: ... or the object, you're no longer aware, necessarily, of it as poetry, you're just working like you're working with (or) tinkering with an engine, trying to get the thing to work. And if it works you can call it poetry. Maybe. Or somebody else does later on. In other words, when you're actually writing, you're not really using that word in your head, necessarily. Or (it) isn't necessary. Self-consciousness about what you're doing or ambition isn't of the essence. And actually what this course is about is how to get rid of self-consciousness and get back to basics, how to get rid of ambition, to some extent, and get back to the actual work with the mind. So that actually the directions for sitting or further later directions for how to examine mind for evidences of what you could call poetry, things usable to make poetry, in a sense eliminate that problem of self-consciousness. In other words, attention to the work eliminates at least the most obvious part of the problem.
There's also a subtler egoism still there, but that just gets worn down by time. There's nothing much you can do about it. Worn down by time and by recognition of the subtlety. Simple recognition. There's nothing you have to do about it. You don't have to avoid it or go into it, you just simply notice it and then, by noticing the ambitiousness, it becomes transparent. Assuming you have some normal mind. Assuming you're not going to want to make a big deal out of it or don't want to fight about it.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at forty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at fifty-two-and-a-half minutes in ]