Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Patti Smith's Birthday

                                                      [Patti Smith - Photograph by Jesse Ditmar]

Patti Smith gets to celebrate her 69th birthday tonight with her band at San Francisco's Fillmore, ending up a year that saw the 40th anniversary of her landmark recording, "Horses" and the release of her latest memoir, M Train

For more of Patti on M Train, see here

And here's her conversation with 
Paul Holdengräber at the New York Public Library

And here she is, speaking on Just Kids and M Train on Democracy Now!

Here's Penelope Green's October 2015  New York Times profile -  "Patti Smith, Survivor 

And here's a little vintage Patti - ("Jesus died for somebody's sins/But not mine")

and here's Patti, from back in 1972, reading twelve poems from her first collection, Seventh Heaven, at the Poetry Project at St Marks Church

HarperCollins just released, this year, Patti Smith - Collected Lyrics 1970-2015

 & not forgetting Patti's work with a camera.

Her polaroids, her recent "Camera Solo" sacred objects collection

Here's Patti speaking on photography at a recent showing (2013) in Canada at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto 

and here she is on her photographic, (indeed art-life, life-life), mentor (and the subject of her National Book Award-winning memoir), Robert Mapplethorpe 

Here's one more vintage Patti posting  (Live in Stockholm in 1976!)

Earlier birthday postings on the Allen Ginsberg Project - here and here and here

Other Patti postings - here and here

Many happy returns of the day,  Happy Birthday, Patti!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Eileen Myles

        [Eileen Myles, 1978 - Photograph ny Robert Mapplethorpe, 2015 - Photograph by Catherine Opie]

Eileen Myles has had quite a year - publication these few months back of, not one but, two new books - I Must Be Living Twice - New and Selected Poems 1975-2014 and the re-publication of her 1994 novel (now so-called, as against "short stories"), Chelsea Girls (both from Ecco Press, an imprint of HarperCollins). The meme was (perhaps) set with this - Rachel Monroe's September 21 article in New York magazine - "After 19 Books and A Presidential Bid Eileen Myles Gets Her Due" - "Four decades into a writing career spent decidedly and defiantly in the underground scene", Monroe writes, "Myles is having an unexpected bout of mainstream success". "Lately…people have started using the word "legend" when talking about her life and work. Isn't it weird for her to find herself installed in this 21st-century version of a canon after spending her whole life outside it?" - Eileen's response is then quoted - "I always aimed at being a legend", she tell me, grinning. "In the (19)70's in New York, Allen (Ginsberg) was treated like a legend. But he was still engaged - and it was always a thrill when he would show up at your reading, like a kind of validation. So it's, like, there are people whose work you respect, and you want to succeed them."
I Must Be Living Twice, Monroe notes, is "a 368-page bid for that legendary status".
Michelle Dean in The Guardian, a week or so later, takes up the theme - Eileen's "ascension into the mainstream" - "The New York poet has been writing since the mid-70's but with new fans - like Lena Dunham [sic] - she's become one of 2015's most celebrated literary stars" - Vice, in its interview with her ups the ante (Cool For You was one of Myles' earlier titles) - "Eileen Myles Has Always Been Cooler Than You")

If a Paris Review interview is still a "cool" literary marker (it is, isn't it?) then Eileen's conversation for this past Fall's issue (with Ben Lerner) solidifies/defines things. 

And here's another recent interview (with Jake Blumgart) for The New Republic.

- & with Adam Fitzgerald for Interview - (opening with the observation, "Eileen Myles isn't interested in being your fucking legend..") 

Eileen's ubiquity is not simply confined to the printed page. Paul Weitz's recent (2015) movie, Grandma (starring Lily Tomlin as an irascible lesbian poet in her mid-60's) opens with a quotation from her writing ("Time passes. That's for sure"). And the current series of the Emmy-award-winning tv show, Transparent, features a character (played by Cherry Jones) loosely based on her (two poems used for the show were actually written by Myles and she also has a cameo).

The "rock star poet" (but is that a flattering or limiting soubriquet, inviting irrelevant comparisons with poets like Patti Smith, Bob Dylan?). Whatever it means, she's been that for some time now.    Hear this illuminating  radio interview from almost five years back  

Here (there's plenty) is another interview -  and another interview   

and in response to a more focused questioning -  on poetry and politics: 
"I think I learned from observing when I was young, the impact of my friend Allen Ginsberg that poetry both propelled a poet to a unique kind of prominence by virally changing the culture around him/her by the skill of their assertion of -not even necessarily "the political" but - by describing in their work (and their life) what was urgent to him or her and through that finding out pretty quickly how supremely political that action was and is."

In Chelsea Girls, the narrator (who shares a name with the author) ponders how to inscribe her book:
"Allen Ginsberg asked me to sign his book.I must have stood there for five minutes drawing a complete blank - "Hi Allen, from one howl to another". "Dear Allen, I'm glad you think I'm a poet. Love Eileen". "I'm the only woman you like, right Allen?"

Bob Rosenthal, Allen's long-time secretary verifies Allen's respect for her - "(H)e liked Eileen's poetry, actually, I think because she was gritty and earthy and direct"  

From an audio interview (from  2002) with Paul E Nelson:
"Yeah, and I met Allen when I was 25. I went to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and at that time it was sort of.. there was a little gay connection between Burroughs and Ginsberg and whoever else liked the young Puerto Rican boys who hung out at the Nuyorican Cafe. So they were, right... We...We all assumed that they were there to hear us, you know, but, in fact, it was the boys!  But, nonetheless, Allen heard me read a poem and he just came running up to me and was like, "Who are you?" and stuff, and connected. And in a weird way, Allen, of course, he didn't know what to do with me. It was clear that this girl was sort of boyish maybe, and I think he figured out that I was queer but that didn't stop him from trying to fix me up with his boyfriend, you know, because Allen was just a tribal sort, you know, and sort of like "Here's a girl. I don't know what to do with her, so I'll fix her up with Peter (Orlovsky)"
And he even walked up to me at a reading at St Mark's Church a week or two later and I was standing there with a circle of poets (but we were all young, you know, people in their twenties, me and the guys, basically) and Allen walked up very politely and said, "Peter Orlovsky would like to take you on a date. May he call you?" - It was like, it was so Old World, it was like he was inviting me out on a date, it was like an arranged date with me and his boyfriend. And I  actually would have gone, but I didn't know, I just didn't know, what to do with a date with…Peter..with Allen's boyfriend, except to go on it. And then, you know, but, in fact, it never happened. But Allen was very quick, you know, to.. He liked me and was very open and was trying to do what he knew to do with me - although, he did, he hooked me up with (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti too and got me published in City Lights, which I just thought was the beginning of everything, you know. And it kind of was - it kind of was and kind of wasn't". 

Here's  Eileen on Allen.
  (her contribution to Jason Shinder's 2006 anthology, The Poem That Changed America - "Howl" Fifty Years Later)

EM: "'...who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night". Whenever I teach "Howl" I jump on this line. It's my favorite because the thingness of the word ("boxcars, boxcars, boxcars") is exactly what you see at a light while a train is passing- all throughout this poem Allen wrote cinematically but never more succinctly as he did in this line. Boxcars, boxcars, boxcars.It was what you saw, is all. "Howl" is remarkable because Allen did the complete thing - he wrote both a poem and a culture to put it in. Poetry went to the movies here and it never came out. I think the poetry world (something that probably shouldn't exist) is ever more cursed with public events that ask is poetry political, relevant, over, commercial, popular, etc. because in this poem it was all those things at once.  Many of us write poems that are some of those things for some people we write for "a" culture, not for "the" culture. Allen  wrote "Howl", that's who he was, and "Howl" changed things. How? And I'm looking in the poem not out and around it, because the poem is the theater of "Howl", the movie theater, I mean. It's replete with trailers - "who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic"
Somebody knows how many "who"'s there are in "Howl" (and someone even knows who all those whos are). I considered calling Bob Rosenthal, Allen's longtime secretary, or Bill Morgan, the archivist-painter who sold Allen's papers to Stanford, to find out who was that guy "who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge" - and lived! [Editorial note - It was allegedly Tuli Kupferberg, but he jumped from the Manhattan not the Brooklyn, Bridge, and it was not an act he wished to be remembered for, or regarded as an act of courage or even as something to be laughed at] - I remember the story and people laughing that there acually was such a guy, like he was even pointed out one night in the bar - That's him.  But my point actually just is that the poem functions so often literally like a trailer. The announcer voice of the poem keeps folding all those lives in as preview of the spectacle the poem will produce, meanwhile it's producing it now, and so much of the excitement of "Howl" isits capacity to produce those to effects at once. You're rubbing your hands as you read - ooh, this is going to be really good - but the experience is already happening.
And were all those whos poets, or poetlike people. It seems to me that Allen actually pluralized the identity of each poet by means of these wavelike lines, announcing the poet's arrival again and again. He (or she) wasn't exactly a poet, didn't need to be. The poet came in this cascade of people. Allen made the poet's identity something vague and postmodern. He was one of them, not which one. They were more like the barnacles on the poet's boat as he surged forward carrying them, because they "who drove cross country seventy-two hours to find out if I had a vision or you had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity…"
Well, it's a little Pete Seeger, isn't it, the singer in a broad room inviting us to join in 'cause whose vision is this after all?. Or maybe Mitch Miller: "America, sing along!" Authorship (or poetness) seems really secondary in the poem-spectacle that everyone seems to be writing here (in "Howl") . It's Allen's identification, bringing all those lives in close, that works, and it also occurs to me (and Allen I think said this often) that it works a little bit like it did for Christopher Smart, Ginsberg's other great literary predecessor besides (William) Blake (and William Carlos Williams). And I'm thinking of the Smart of "Rejoice in the Lamb", (part of) which begins, "For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry..". "Rejoice in the Lamb" is a long (about eight hundred lines) and obsessive poem, which goes on, in a stiff but attentive evocation of  catness: "For he rolls upon prank to work it in./For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself/For this he performs in ten degrees./For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean/For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there./For thirdly he works it upon strech with the forepaws extended./Four forth he  sharpens his nails by wood/For fifthly he washes himself." The poem ends like this - "For by stroking of him I have found out electricity./For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire/For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast./For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements//For, tho' he cannot fly, he's an excellent clamberer/For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped /For he can tread to all the measures upon the music/For he can swim for/For he can creep".  Christopher Smart was living in a madhouse in restraints  when  he wrote this poem, never published in his lifetime. I mention it because it's entirely structured in repetitions, a poem in chant form, much like "Howl" and thr cumulative  effect of the slightly-recoiled paw of the first line is the cat practically moves. A poem that uses repetitons throughout, a standard of religious verse (which both Smart's and Ginsberg's poems are), ultimately has the effect of being a flipbook, a kimd of low-tech predecessor of film (as Ginsberg knew it and increasingly not as we know it now - since film's gone digital), and an equally good producer of altered states, and bliss.Like when you jumped up and down in childhood saying "taxicabs, toxicabs. taxicabs", the words started to sound strange, but you also got "high".

I turn to Kenneth Anger too in search of this mode, a euphoric one, considering Scorpio Rising (1964) to be another epoch-changing work of art. Anger's method was refered to in one description as "semiotic layering" which works just as well for "Howl". Kenneth Anger was relentlessly cultish, andthough his accomplishment and influence weren't any smaller than Allen's, maybe the scope of who he was aiming the work for, audience-wise, was more precise. But his film employed the same biker boy references, and fanatical love for a number of American subcultures of the 'Fifties, was homoerotic, and, in the context of the film, the effect of its culture was totalizing in the extreme. The building repetition of belt buckles, motors, flashing signs, and flags finally produced a world that triumphed by its end - the case was made. Allen's ambitions were messier and planted more wildly."Howl", like a Brian de Palma film, ends again and again. And even in the mostly nonspecific and linear-feeling Moloch section - "Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch!  Cocksucker in Moloch!" -  And, later - "Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch!" - then, finally "Light streaming out of the sky" - Where did that last one come from? Allen was such a diligent student of ecstasy and vision that he knew that as the swastikas and belt buckles flicker, something happens, the road opens, and a space opens up as well inside the poem, the cat creeps, or perhaps you just stayed up all night, praying to Moloch, and dawn is its mystical reply.
"Howl" is a poem full of miracles and events, not the least of which is its own machinery. Because you are in it, witness, and you watch the poem grow. The only promise in this poem is more, and it makes good, not in some other world but in this one that you read in.
Yet aren't these all photographs - or stills?
"with mother finally ******…" What do those asterisks mean? Fucked? Fried? What? Such a place to begin a stanza, which then turns into a passage of endings - "and the last fantastic book flung out of the tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 A.M, and the last telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet".
All those "last's" feel like the sort of things you'd see in, say, the Holocaust Museum or a museum of the American Indian, or even in an anonymous family album that turns up in a thrift (store). Tragic or no, after each of these "last's" I hear a click of the shutter  - it needs to preserve. (William Carlos) Williams, in his Introduction to the City Lights version of "Howl" makes passing reference to the resemblance between the poem's hell and that of Jews in th last was.
I never thought about "Howl" as a Holocaust poem, though I've been aware rereading it that it has Holocaust phrasing, the trauma of the Holocaust is all over it. So why not allow the overt thought to surface, that maybe this poem forced America to experience, in an indirect fashion, something it otherwise felt compelled to refuse?  The sheer madness, the total horror of the Holocaust. Pictures of emaciated corpses, the same pictures again and again is one version, but what is the invisible horror of "Howl" that all the "angelheaded hipsters" are running from? Is it the world we now know? Allen drops the loving leash of friendship around his own neck when he repeatedly promises his institutional war buddy, "(Solomon, I'm with you) in Rockland/where we hug and kiss the United States under our bedsheets the United States that coughs all night and won't let us sleep"
Carl Solomon is a Jew and he sounds more and more like Allen's mother ("you imitate the shade of my mother"), whom Allen may have needed to affirm his attachment to, and her own stay in a mental hospital. Through Solomon, he did.
I haven't touched the especially poignant and relentless flavor of Allen Ginsberg's misogyny . There are so many instances of it here - "the one-eyed shrew of the hetrosexual dollar, the one-eyed shrew that winks out of the womb" - actually all three fates are pretty bad. And elsewhere in the poem, women provide opportunity for male bravado - "you've murdered your twelve secretaries" - or holy self-abasement - "you drink the tea of the breasts of the spinsters of Utica". Yuck, right? And he must have been singing the hipster virility of Neal Cassady when he referred to someone "who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset". I guess male = sugar. No sweet pussy on its own? Not in this man's howl. In the Beat canon in general ( see Kerouac) thanks to birth, we're blamed for life. It's a belief that might be as old as Buddhism, or Judaism. At best, we (females) are occasions of reflected light, practically the walls of the womb itself, the home and the office. You light up my life, we sing.
All of this somehow brings me to the boxcars line again. If women at best reflect male light, what is the entire concept of America doing in "Howl"? Isn't it some big moon too? An imaginary space? In a poem or country where female energy is repressed or erased, doesn't it return as structure itself? The poem is a woman we're gathering in? What is this dream? - "'who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night" - I keep wondering about that "grandfather night". The "lonesome farms", of course, are a case of attributing how you feel sitting in the car to the farms and they're out there. But "grandfather night" seems very old. Older than America. I wondered if this poem's train isn't speeding through a night in which people are being yanked out of their beds never to be seen again. Are on the train being carried to an unspecified destination. America? A country of incarcerated black men and smiling blond women. Is the pederast the new Jew? Ask Nancy Grace. For Ginsberg, pederasty was just another of his happy crimes. Yet look at the Michael Jackson trial. Right now [2006] it's the only one, pinned mostly on homosexuals, for Christ's sake, though statistically most pederasts are heterosexual dads. The train is traveling through time, the effluvia of "Howl", taking pictures as it goes. It's a gift to look at this American poem at this moment in time,  to wonder where it was really coming from and where it went."

More Eileen on Allen - here.
More Eileen on Eileen (Eileen interviewed) here, here and here 

 here's Eileen, in a promo,  singing the praises of the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa

Here's some vintage (1993) poetry

Here's a lecture at California College of the Arts in 2010

Here's a more recent reading/performance by Eileen at the Gloucester Writers Center, Spring of last year

 [Boulder Creek, Swimming Party, July 1991 - Photograph by Allen Ginsberg - © The Estate of Allen Ginsberg]

[Eileen Myles, Los Angeles, 2015 - Photograph by Aldo Rossi & Eileen Myles, New York . 1981 - Photograph by Irene Young]

"one of the essential voices in American poetry" -  I Must Be Living Twice, reviewed by Jeff Gordinier this past Sunday in the New York Times

Monday, December 28, 2015

December 28 - A 15-year-old Ginsberg declares….

December 28

December 28, 1941 - A young precocious (fifteen-year-old) Allen Ginsberg writes from Paterson, New Jersey to the Editors of the New York Times - about unconscionable delays with regard to U.S. involvement in the continuing conflicts of the Second World War -  ("mental impotence and political infirmity on the part of a handful of U.S. Congressmen")

(This is the first, and earliest, letter in the 2008 (Bill Morgan-edited) Da Capo edition of  The Letters of Allen Ginsberg


Dear Editor,
I have long believed,  in principle, the ideals of Woodrow Wilson and regretted that we did not choose to live with the world when the time came to 'resolve that our dead shall not have died in vain'' by joining the League of Nations.
I am normally a more or less passive individual. However, I think I am growing cynical. I chuckle and feel a bit of grim humor when I read of our growing regret for the world's biggest blunder, our refusal to join the League. One can almost see a pained and astonished expression growing on the faces of America as the people now realize, under a reflowering of Wilson's vision, what they did to themselves and the world in 1920.
So now finally we have a reflowering of Wilson's vision, witness Winston Churchill's speech before Congress, another fine speech on the 28th by  Senator Guffey, and a passionate appeal for a new league by Edward I James in last Sunday's Times. However, it seems that our futile regret is too little and too late. Our stupidity has reaped its harvest and we have a bumper crop, since we sowed the world's biggest blunder. The death toll in this war has been at least four million (including Spanish, Chinese, and Abyssininan wars). There is no preventable catastrophe in recorded history paralleling this.
That is a grim joke on ourselves, four million dead as the result of mental impotence and political infirmity on the part of a handful of U.S. Congressmen.But in the middle of all this tribulation one can gather infinite consolation by speculation as to what will happen to those Congressmen when they get to hell.
We will know better this time, but in any case, the devil has prepared a nice hot bath ready for many more Senators.

Allen Ginsberg

[June 1943 - two years on - Allen Ginsberg's highschool yearbook page with classmates inscriptions] 

                                          [Soap-bubbles? Wilson's idealism? - Contemporary cynicism]

Postscript [2015] re Woodrow Wilson 

                                                          [Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)]

- from The New York Times, November 29, 2015 -

"Woodrow Wilson's Legacy Gets Complicated"

 - "Was Woodrow Wilson a key founder of modern liberalism, a visionary whose belief in an activist presidency laid the groundwork for the New Deal and the civil rights legislation of the 1960's. Or was he a virulent and unrepentant racist, a man who not only segregated the federal work force but nationalized the Southern view of politics, turning the federal government itself ino an instrument of white supremacy for decades to come?.."

Friday, December 25, 2015


Scribbled Christmas comics from Allen Ginsberg from twenty-three years ago.

Remember "Put on my tie in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to meditate" 

 (from American Sentences)?

It's ok, Allen. You can rest now.

Our 2013 posting of Jack Kerouac's Christmas memories of Lowell can be accessed here

Not forgetting William Burroughs'  The Junky's Christmas  (Christmas 2014 posting)

and, keeping up the theme of Beat Kitsch we've been looking at recently, Here's Patsy Raye & The Beatniks  

- Merry Christmas everyone!

back next week

(hey, it may be a bit retro', but we love our "Google Friend Connect" Members - join this site - see button on the top right-hand corner) 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve (Scrooge)

Seasonal fare on the Ginsberg Project today - Charles Dickens'  "Scrooge", first and foremost re-interpreted by the great Lord Buckley (see our previous celebration of Lord Buckley here). 


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Beatnik Exploitation - 2

So yesterday's focus was on Beat sociology, Beat exploitation, Beat demonization (with a little bit of Beat co-option and shameless marketing thrown in.) Here's (those glorious lurid paperback book covers!)  just a little bit more.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Beatnik Exploitation -1

A while back, we ran a number of posts on Beat sociology - "Beatniks" - and Beat Exploitation

Beat Kitsch -  see here and here and here and here

This recent post, from the indefatigable catalogers/bloggers at Houghton Library, Harvard - "Beelzebub Books" (sic) (promising "an uncensored, unexpurgated expose of the Beat Generation") -  got us to pondering the subject again  - 
"More daring than any fiction"? - (Ah, but it is a fiction!)

Sex and Violence. Hypocritical Thrill-Seeking. Tabloid Sensationalism.

The second item, the New York Mirror's  April 10, 1961 edition and its unforgettable headline, "3000 Beatniks Riot In Village" (Greenwich Village, that is), 

but of course, has a back-story.

For years, weekend folksinging had been a tradition in Washington Square Park. But in the spring of 1961, the City, under pressure,  rescinded its customary permit for singing. This triggered a protest demonstration, which was put down with excessive force by the NYPD (hence the "riot") but (which) eventually resulted in the city backing down and reinstating the permits.

The Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation gives a short account of the events, fifty years on, here 

John Strausbaugh's account in The Village - 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues may be read here  

Here's Joel Rose's piece for NPR (also on the 50th anniversary), "How The Beatnik Riot Helped Kick Off The '60's"

and Dan Drasin's classic documentary, "Sunday" shows existing documentary footage. Drasin was, astonishingly, only 18 years old when he made this film.

The third tabloid spread  (more "tales of horror") is from across the water and refers to something else entirely, the 1960 riot at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival - "The bucolic peace of Hampshire is shattered when fighting mars a set from Acker Bilk's band" (reads The Observer's, measured, contemporary account). "Trad jazz" versus "Modern Jazz" (not to mention overcrowding and youthful exuberance).  Not so measured, the Sunday People (source of this two-page spread), a couple of weeks later, blaming it all on the Beats - 
"These four Beatnik "prophets" do not themselves preach violence" - (Well, at least, they acknowledge that!) -  "But they do infect their followers with indifference or outright hostility to established codes of condict. Nothing matters to the beatnik except the "kicks" or thrills to be enjoyed by throwing off inhibitions. If you feel any urge, no matter how outrageous, indulge in it. If the beat of jazz whips up violent emotions, why not give way to them?" 

Er..and didn't they do some crude doctoring there on the face of Allen?, "Allen, the hate merchant" (!) ? 


 [Police struggle with youth on the grounds of Beaulieu Palace, Hampshire, England, July 30, 1960, on the occasion of the 3rd Beaulieu Jazz Festival]

Two final clippings turn the tables. Why not  "break the social chains that chafe"? - Diploma ("Beatnik University"), Membership Card, Beret, all for just $3.98 (not even 5!) - that seems like a true bargain! 
- And for just a little bit more, an entire "Do-It-Yourself Beatnik kit"! - including, most mysteriously, "six authentic Beatnik poems" (!) and "Beatnik instructions" (what could they be?)
In a post about cliche's, how about a(nother) cliche, "The Beat Goes On"

More Beatnik exploitation tomorrow  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Auden's "The Age of Anxiety"

                      [W.H.Auden (1907-1973]

Allen, continuing with his "Basic Poetics" class at Naropa - January 7, 1980

AG: So Auden - W.H.Auden, the… who, incidentally, it was his anthology that I was reading from originally - the... it's the first thing in his five-volume anthology of English poetry, poetry of the English language (which we've talked about before) also, in the (19)40's, during World War II, wrote a very great poem called "Age of Anxiety" in old Germanic and Anglo-Saxon alliterative meters. So I thought I would read some of that (and there's one copy that I got out of the Boulder library which I'll put in our own (Naropa) library for a couple of weeks, and then I have my own copy here, so if anybody wants to take a look at this at leisure, do so). It's called "Age of Anxiety". I think it came out in… wait a minute, let's see..(19)44 maybe?.. [Editorial note - it was 1947] - It was a big deal. Auden around about that time was a really great poet and is, remains, a great poet. I remember, at the time, I was living with (Jack) Kerouac and with (William) Burroughs near Columbia University on 115th Street. Burroughs had known..Bill Gilmore, who was a.. stayed with Auden in a house in Brooklyn Heights in (19)39 when Auden first came over from England, and there was a brilliant, eccentric, strange guy named Alan Ansen, who, at the time.. was a big queer, who lived out in Woodmere, New York, and had huge learned correspondence with Thomas Mann about the prosody in Wagner's Ring operas (because Wagner was into prosody, as was Auden, as was Stravinsky, as was Chester Kallman, as was Alan Ansen), prosody, like the measurement of word and music together, or the music of the language or the measure of the language, the measure of the line. And Alan Ansen, who was a friend of (Jack) Kerouac's and mine,  and Neal Cassady, was Auden's secretary when he wrote this huge epic poem. "Age of Anxiety" in alliterative meters. And I was.. So we were all very familiar with it, back in the (19)40's -  mid-'Forties and late-'Forties and some early (19)50's - and I haven't looked at it since, until today  - again - (I) went over to the Boulder Library and picked up a copy (because I remembered it was written in the alliterative meter) and it really is great. So I picked out some passages that I remember from the (19)40's - to the (19)80's [present], that almost thirty-five years have stuck in my mind, so I guess they still are good.

                        [William Burroughs and Alan Ansen - Photograph by Allen Ginsberg]

The scene is.. It's during the war, and "Age of Anxiety", a really prophetic poem. "A Baroque Eclogue" (sic)  - ("Baroque", because he's using a great many fancy complicated meters). It's Auden at the height of his energy and power, and also his scholarship, also his crankiness - that he went back.. So, eccentric crankiness. There was a struggle at that time between various schools of poetics. One, to go to a more open form like (William Carlos) Williams, who was just breaking through then and writing his best work, beginning "Paterson" then, an American meter.  Auden, who was living in New York on Seventh Avenue and… I guess Seventh Avenue and Twenty-third Street, near the Chelsea Hotel.  

Later, I think, Williams sent me to see Auden. The discussion was over prosody and meter between us, open-form prosody, and.. despite the fact that Auden was using older English forms and strict counted meter, he thought, every single line of Auden was different at least, it wasn't as if they were metronomic and repetitive and boring. There was a real ear at work. So, he gave me a little note to go visit Auden, and I went to see him. Also I'd known Chester Kallman, his boyfriend, and Alan Ansen, his secretary. So Ansen typed up "Age of Anxiety" - and one of the people we're going to be trying to get here [Naropa} teaching sooner or later is Alan Ansen, because Peter saw him… [to Peter Orlovsky] - You saw him this summer?

PO: Yes, I spent (five days…)

AG: What's he doing? What's he doing now?

PO: He's teaching at the American Center college in Athens. He brings about forty books to class. It meets about two hours, once a week - makes fifty dollars, and he's teaching (Ezra) Pound(T.S.) Eliot..

AG: Auden

PO: Auden too

AG: Any language? 

PO: Well, I only went to one class, but..

AG: He's been studying Hebrew and Arabic and Persian and Sanskrit. He knew German well in those days (and) French well enough to do… he did.. his big thesis was a thesis on the prosody, the metrical schemes and the prosody, related to music in theWagner Ring cycle. So, maybe we'll get him here sooner or later. Anyway, this ["Age of Anxiety"] is what he typed up

It is a situation during the war, late at night,  in a bar on Second Avenue, New York City. A young soldier on leave, a navy intelligence man of some sort (maybe gay but in the closet),  a Jewish woman, not-so-young anymore, but on the town, looking for someone to sleep with or talk to, and a sort of straight middle-aged man, who is, actually, sort of the hero, at the end of the evening goes home alone and has a long soliloquy which I'll read

So it's Malin, Emble, Quant and  Rosetta various people. So they're all sitting along by the bar, thinking their own thoughts. War news on the radio. They happen to get together and start talking. They have a good time together, get a little drunk, kind of a little paradise between them that night, a "moment in eternity". They all go to Rosetta's house to have a drink. She falls in.. she has a crush on the young soldier (so has one of the guys) but she makes out with him (or thinks she's going to). They all drink to their delightful night. The two other older guys go home and leave them together. She sees them to the door, comes back and finds the young soldier drunk and asleep on her bed, (he) can't do anything! (She) has a long soliloquy over his.. corpse! (which I'll read also) - All done in this alliterative meter.

So, Emble was thinking.. (they haven't met yet - it's just, what are they thinking about, sitting alone) - Emble was thinking.. "Estranged.."  (this is the young soldier) - "Estranged, aloof,/They brood over being till the bars close,/The malcontented who might have been/The creative odd ones the average need/To suggest new goals. Self-judged they sit,/Sad haunters of Perhaps who after years/To grasp and gaze in get no further/Than their first beholding, phantoms who try/Through much drink by magic to restore/The primitive pact with pure feeling,/Their flesh as it flt before sex was /(The archaic calm without cultural sin/Which her Adam is till her Eve does),/Eyeing the door, for ever expecting/Night after night the Nameless One, the/Smiling sea-god who shall safely land/Shy and broad-shouldered on the shore at last,/Enthusiastic, of their convenient/Abd dangerous dream; while days away in/Prairie places where no person asks/What is suffered in ships, small tradesmen,/Wry relatives in rocking-chairs in/Moss-grown mansions, mothers whose causes/For right and wrong are unreal to them,/ Grieve vaguely over theirs: their vision shrinks/As their dreams darken; with dulling voice/Each calls across a colder water,/Tense, optative, interrogating/Some sighing several who sadly fades."

"But now the radio, suddenly breaking in with its banal noises upon their separate senses of themselves, by compelling them to pay attention to a common world of great slaughter and much sorrow, began, without their knowledge, to draw these four strangers closer to each other. For in response to its official doctored message:

"Now the news. Night raids on/Five cities. Fires started/Pressure applied by pincer movement/In threatening thrust. Third Division/Enlarges beachhead. Lucky charm/Saves sniper. Sabotage hinted/In steel-mill stoppage. Strong point held/By fanatical Nazis. Canal crossed/By heroic marines.Rochester barber/Fools foe. Finns ignore/Peace feeler. Pope condems/Axis excesses. Underground/Blows up bridge. Thibetan prayer wheels/Revolve for victory. Vital crossroads/Taken by tanks. Trend to the left/Forecast by Congressman. Cruiser sunk/In Valdivian Deep. Doomed sailors/Play poker.Reporter killed." -
 [ "Reporter killed" - That's pretty good, using that old Anglo-Saxon thing for the news broadcast -  You can see how it... you know, you can get a funny staccato power.

Then Rosetta muses on politics:

 "… I think too of/ The conquered condition, countries where/ Arrogant oficers, armed in cars -   [Well you get the.. you get the basic alliterative scheme - "Arrogant officers, armed in cars" - so "ah", "ah" - caesura - then the first accented consonant word begins with the same sound - "Arrogant officers, armed in cars". And there's some kind of cross-reference sound - "armed in cars" - "arrogant", "cars" - "Arrogant officers, armed in cars". So the sort of "arrogant, cars" rhyme is what is called.. the what? - assonance, I believe. Assonance. Asymmetrical sound. Asymmetrical sound - Assonance. You know  the phrase? - It's like "Him the Almighty Power/ Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky" - [Allen quotes  John Milton from the opening of his Paradise Lost here] - Assonance is like the vowelic, vowelic flow, the mirror reflection of the vowels, one to another, or the leading from vowel to vowel, aiou (A-I-O-U), but using it, and then you've got the consonants cutting it through - "Arrogant officers, armed in cars". Anyway.. See, alliteration and assonance here, right? - Assonance - the inward-rhyming of the vowels, or the correlation between the vowels, the hollowness of the vowels, the howl of the vowels ("howl of the vowels - assonance) and Alliteration - the pattern of repetition of the consonants. Yeah, actually assonance and alliteration are the two big wheels of poetic power, because, you know, one deals with the consonants ("constant consonants, clanging curiously") - and the other is - ("open vowels, howling horrificly") -You got it? - So one's the vowels and one's the consonants. So this is… Of course, you've got lots of assonantial vowels in here but you've got mainly consonants - pom pom pom-pa-ta - Bom bom bom-pa-di  - Cut-cut-cat-wap - Hic-hac-haec-hoc - You got it?  Is that clear? - Hic-hac-haec- the oak? -  Hic-hac-haec- the oak? - "Arrogant officers, armed in cars,/ Go roaring down roads on the wrong side" - It's really funny -  if it wasn't so smart] 

 "Arrogant officers, armed in cars Go roaring down roads on the wrong side/Courts martial meet at midnight with drums,/ And pudgy persons pace unsmiling/The quays and stations or cruise the nights/In vans for victims, to investigate/In sound-proof cells the Sense of Honor./While in turkish baths with towels round them/Imperilled plotters plan in outline/Definitions and norms for new lives,/Half-truths for their times. As tense as these,/Four who are famous confer in a schloss/At night on nations. They are not equal:/Three stand thoughtful on a thick carpet/Awaiting the Fourth who wills they shall/Till suddenly entering through a side-door/Quick, quiet, unquestionable as death,/Grief or guilt, he greets them  and sits down./Lord of this life. He looks natural,/Hr smiles well, he smells of the future/Odorless ages, an ordered world/Of planned pleasures and passport control,/Sentry-go, sedatives, soft drinks and/Managed money, a moral planet/Tamed by terror: his telegram sets/Grey masses moving as the mud dries./Many have perished. More will." - [ So he gets really serious, prophetic - 1944. Of course, he was then talking about the image of Roosevelt-Churchill… Roosevelt, Churchill - Yalta, Roosevelt and Stalin, De Gaulle.

[Audio from the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-seven-and-a-half minutes in]


Class concludes with brief outline of future classes, re-iteration of assignments
and brief further announcement
AG: (We) got any more time? - No, not very much but maybe..I think, maybe I'll continue with this, reading next time, read some more of the Auden . Then we'll go on to (William) Dunbar,  (John) Skelton - Skelton, Dunbar, okay, just great sound, but Skelton - Skeltonics. That is to say, Skelton is the guy who wrote a certain kind of short-line poetry that jiggles, that jiggles and rhymes and it is imitatable - Skeltonics. So that's worth checking out too. 
So we'll have Dunbar, Skelton, and then go on to.whatever ballads you might look through in the Norton Anthology -  and I'll bring in some books of ballads to supplement the ballads we have here. So, okay, our assignments so far - one litttle poem "that falleth as the dew", like "I Sing of A Mayden", one little poem, one imitation - [turns to Student - You were not here for.. okay..well, when you get the anthology, "I Sing of A  Mayden", what's the title of that poem?
Student: : "I Sing of A Mayden" , page fifty-seven
AG: Page fifty-seven - "I Sing of A Mayden"  - We've still got half a minute - Don't move - Fifty-seven. Well, she wasn't here when we did it, so why don't we do that again (because Peter (Orlovsky) didn't hear that (either)) - Get your fifty-seven out -"I Sing of A Mayden" - Before we go -Page fifty-seven -  One more song before we leave - To imitate this poem, m'am, is the assignment  [Allen concludes the class by leading a group reading of the poem, the entire poem] - still sounds good - maybe next time, we ought to do a reading of  "This Ae Night.." (Lyke Wake Dirge). (Perhaps) we'll get that going next time. Yeah, look it over again, we'll do that, and then we'll get on to the alliterative…and one copy of the Auden will be in the library….