Thursday, April 30, 2015

Do The Meditation

We've been serializing these past few months (and will be continuing a little longer with) Allen's 1978 (Naropa) lectures on Meditation and Poetics. As an amalgam of the two, what more fitting (and instructive) than his 1981 composition "Do The Meditation Rock"

Allen, in his sleeve-notes to Holy Soul, Jelly Roll, offers the genesis:

"I'd had meditation teacher training in the late '70s, when (Chogyam) Trungpa Rinpoche OK'd me to show basic meditation in his tradition to classrooms or groups at poetry readings. I tried to codify meditation instructions in pop form, inspired by the annual New Year's Day Marathon at St. Mark's Poetry Project, knock all the poets out with sugar-coated dharma. Christmas Eve, I stopped in the middle of the block at a stoop and wrote the words down, notebook on my knee. I figured that if anyone listened to the words, they'd find complete instructions for classical sitting practice, Samatha-Vipassana ("Quieting the mind and clear seeing"). Some humor in the form, it doesn't have to be taken over-seriously, yet it's precise. It's the first time I got around to putting a chorus in a song, a take-off on "I Fought The Law": "I fought the dharma and the dharma won."… 

The version here, free-wheeling, differing from the published version. Allen even gets to sneak in a reference to the location (the Ukranian National Home, a bar and restaurant on 2nd Avenue in New York City).  Guitar accompaniment is by Tom Rogers

If you want to learn how to meditate 
I’ll tell you now ’cause it’s never too late 
I’ll tell you now ’cause it's never too late,

never too late and I can't wait.  

(Can you hear the words or is it muddy?
I will continue and sing to you, buddy
Can you hear me now over the guitar? 
I will try if ever you are.)

If you are an old fraud like me 
or a lama who lives in the Himalaya-i 

a lama who lives in Eternity,
in the Himalya-i, in Eternity.  

Do the meditation Do the meditation 
Recreate the nation,  
Play a little Patience and Generosity

Generosity, generosity
and generosity!

The first thing you do when you meditate 
is keep your spine your backbone straight 
(The stage is too weak  to jump around,
so stay there, Tom, on your firm firm ground) 

Sit yourself down on a pillow on the ground 
or sit in a chair if the ground isn’t there 

if the ground isn't there, if the ground isn't there 
Sit in a chair if the ground isn't there

Sit yourself down on a pillow on the ground 
or sit in a chair if the ground isn’t there 

Follow your breath but don’t hang on 
to the thought of your death in old Saigon 

in old Saigon, in old Saigon,
in old Saigon, in old Saigon

Follow your breath right outta your nose 
follow it out where ever it goes,

where ever it goes, where ever it goes,
where ever it goes, where ever it goes.  

Follow your breath when thought forms rise 
whatever you think it’s a big surprise 
big surprise, big surprise,

big surprise, big surprise,

Follow your breath out open your eyes 
sit there steady & sit there wise
sit there wise, sit there wise
sit there wise, sit there wise

All you gotta do is imitate
You're sitting meditating and it's never too late
You're never too late, your never too late,
The older you are, the better you'll relate    

The thoughts catch up when your breath goes on
You forget what you thought about Uncle Don.
Uncle Don, Uncle Don,
Charlie Chaplin, Uncle Don
Uncle Don, Uncle Don,
Charlie Chaplin, Uncle Don

If you see a vision come say hello goodbye,
Play it dumb with an empty eye,
with an empty eye, empty eye.
empty eye, empty eye.

If you see a holocaust, just pay no mind
It just went past with the Western wind

If you see Apocalypse in a long red car
or a flying saucer sit where you are, 
Do the meditation Do the meditation,
sit where you are, sit where you are,
Pacify the nation, sit with the Creation, like a movie-star
like a movie-star, movie-star, like a rock star or a movie star.

If you feel a little bliss, don't worry about that
Give your wife a little kiss when your tire goes flat
tire goes flat, tire goes flat,
Keep your hard-on under your hat 
Keep your hard-on under your hat 

If you can't think straight and don't know who to call
It's never too late,  do nothing at all,
nothing at all, nothing at all,
nothing at all, do nothing at all  

Do the meditation, follow your breath
So your body and mind get together for a rest
get together for a rest, get together for a rest,
Relax your mind and get together for a rest

If you sit for an hour or a minute every day 
you can tell the Superpower, sit the same way 
you can tell the Superpower,  watch and to wait 
to stop & meditate ’cause it’s never too late
never too late, never too late,
never too late to stop and meditate

(In the Ukranian Home (sic)), it's never too late,
It's never too late to sit and meditate

Here, by way of contrast, is the version that he performed (with Steven Taylor, Arthur Russell and Peter Orlovsky) on January 1 1984, as part of Nam June Paik's global event, "Good Morning, Mr Orwell"  

here's the version (recorded at the William Burroughs River City Reunion in Lawrence, Kansas in 1989) that appears on Volume 4 (Ashes & Blues) of Holy Soul Jelly Roll

There's also a version of it here - and here - and...  

Here's the published lyrics (from White Shroud):

If you want to learn       how to meditate 
I’ll tell you now             ’cause it’s never too late

I'll tell you how              'cause I can't wait
it's just that great          that it's never too late
If you are an old            fraud like me
or a lama who lives       in Eternity
The first thing you do  when you meditate
is keep your spine         your backbone straight
Sit yourself down          on a pillow on the ground
or sit in a chair              if the ground isn't there
 Do the meditation     Do the meditation
 Learn a little Patience and Generosity

Follow your breath out       open your eyes
and sit there steady              & sit there wise
Follow your breath right     outta your nose
follow it out                           as far as it goes
Follow your breath               but don't hang on
to the thought of yr death    in old Saigon
Follow your breath               when thought forms rise
whatever you think               it's a big surprise 
 Do the meditation   Do the meditation
Learn a little Patience and Generosity
Generosity   Generosity       Generosity & Generosity

All you got to do                   is to imitate
you're sitting meditating     and you're never too late
when thoughts catch up       but your breath goes on
forget what you thought      about Uncle Don
Laurel Hardy Uncle Don     Charlie Chaplin Uncle Don
you don't have to drop         your nuclear bomb
If you see a vision come       say Hello Goodbye
play it dumb                           with an empty eye
if you want a holocaust        you can recall your mind
it just went past                    with the Western wind
 Do the meditation   Do the meditation
 Learn a little Patience &  Generosity

If you see Apocalypse              in a long red car
or a flying saucer                     sit where you are
If you feel a little bliss           don't worry about that
give your wife a kiss               when your tire goes flat
If you can't think straight      & you don't know who to call
it's never too late                    to do nothing at all
Do the meditation                  follow your breath
so your body & mind     get together for a rest
 Do the meditation             Do the meditation
Learn a little Patience       and Generosity

If you sit for an hour                         or a minute every day
you call tell the Superpower            to sit the same way
you can tell the Superpower            to watch and wait
& to stop & meditate      'cause it's never too late
   Do the meditation           Do the meditation
  Get yourself together         lots of Energy
  & Generosity Generosity   Generosity & Generosity!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Meditation and Poetics - 83 (Poetry Is Lamb Dust - Kerouac in Desolation Angels)

Allen Ginsberg’s Meditation and Poetics class from August (August 4, 1978, in this particular segment) continues

AG: Does anybody have any trouble with this preliminary sitting? – when I come here and start (and for the first ten minutes) sit?....Does anybody have any trouble with the sitting in terms of it as an annoyance? – or a relief? – For me, when I get in here and I don’t have to immediately plunge into whatever is going on , it’s a relief to be able to do nothing. But I’m wondering if there’s anybody here for whom it’s an irritation or some kind of stumbling block or a drag or an anxiety producer? Because, if so, maybe see me after class? We can readjust the situation somewhat. I sort of really like it. It seems silly sometimes to do a ten minute meditation, but on the other had, it’s a respite from work.

…Someone brought this up (I forget whose insight this was into (Jack Kerouac’s) Desolation Angels) – this is a description by Kerouac of literary society in 1958, Washington  (DC). Gregory Corso (here named “Raphael Urso”) was living with the Library of Congress Poetry Consultant, Randall Jarrell, and Kerouac visited – [Allen reads from Kerouac’s novel] – “Insane Raphael with a huge nail and a huge hammer actually banging into the smartly decorated wall so he could hang his oil-on-wood painting of Michelangelo’s “David”. I see the housewife wince. Raphael apparently thinks that the painting will be held and revered there on the wall for ever, right by the Baldwin grand piano and the Tang tapestry. Furthermore, he then asks for breakfast. I figure I’d better get going” – [Gregory was staying in Jarrell’s basement in Washington, in his house, and Kerouac visited] [Allen continues] – “I figured I’d better get going. But Varnum Random..” – [that’s Jack’s name for Randall Jarrell] – “But Varnum Random actually asked me to stay one more day, so I spend the whole afternoon writing poems high on bennie in the parlor, and I call them “Washington DC Blues” – [which I don’t think have been published yet – [Editorial up-date: they are, of course, included in the recent 2013 Collected Poems and were also set to music by the David Amram Ensemble - see here] – “Random and Urso argue with me about my theory of absolute spontaneity. In the kitchen, Random takes out the Jack Daniel's and says, “How can you get any refined or well-gestated thoughts into a spontaneous flow, as you call it. It can all end up in gibberish”. And that was no Harvard lie. But I said, ”If it’s gibberish, it’s gibberish. There’s a certain amount of control going on, like a man telling a story in a bar without interruptions or even one pause.” – “Well, it’ll probably become a popular gimmick, but I prefer to look on my poetry as a craft.” – “Craft is craft” – “Yes, meaning?” – “Meaning crafty. How can you confess your crafty soul in craft? – Raphael took Random’s side and yelled, “Shelley didn’t care about theories about how he was to write “(To) A Skylark” . Duluoz (Kerouac), you’re full of theories like an old college professor. You think you know everything.” “You think you’re the only one”, he added, to himself. Triumphantly he swept off with Random in the Mercedes Benz to meet Carl Sandburg or somebody. This was the great “making it” scene (Irwin Garden)  (Ginsberg) had crowed about. I yelled after them, “If I had a poetry university, you know what’d be written over the entrance arch?” – “No, what?” – “Here learn that learning is ignorance”. Gentlemen. don’t burn my ears. Poetry is lamb dust. I prophesy it. I’ll lead schools in exile. I don’t care” (they weren’t bringing me to Carl Sandburg…"

Student: I will lead what in exile?

AG: “I’ll lead schools in exile” – which he did, actually [Naropa]. With a capital “C” – it’s funny, I’d forgotten that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Meditation and Poetics - 82 (Philip Whalen and Abstraction)

                                                       [Philip Whalen (1923-2002)]

Student: Allen, (I just wanted to read to you) from Philip Whalen’s  Small Tantric Sermon”)

  “To say concisely/That the man in the picture. Really made it out through the roof/ Or clear through the floor, the ground itself/ Into free space beyond direction - /  Impossible gibberish no one/ Can understand, let alone believe/"

AG: Yeah

“Still, I try, I insist I can/Say it and persuade you/That the knowledge is there that the revelation/is yours.”
AG: Um-hmm. But you see, he has made this large generalized statement in such a funny (way). He’s made a very funny statement, that a man, (Philip Whalen, the man went up to the picture…I forgot.. went out to the roof into space, and then he qualified it, realizing he’s talking on a level that’s really incomprehensible, literally, and to say that this is gibberish, And then he says, “But anyway I’m going to try and say it”

Student: All he does is that?

AG: Yeah, So he goes and comes back. So he touches some kind of common home-base constantly, going and coming back. There the thing would be somewhat logopoeia, because in the common situation of trying to say something about empty space, suntaya, in this case, open mind, non-conceptual, he’s tried to say it abstractly, then he realizes that the abstraction doesn’t make any sense to others, probably, says it’s gibberish, then he has this lyric moment of saying, “But I’m still going to try and say it”. So the definiteness there is in the wavering and coming back, back and forth, between those levels of mind, or poetry. The definiteness is him showing his struggle, not in asserting “I have said it”. The definiteness is in him saying, “I didn’t say it” – Dig? – In other words, it’s the definiteness of him showing how his mind operated there. So there, in a sense, the mind and the attempt to write the poem is the subject, rather than the sunyata. Does that make sense?. It’s the drama of his trying to say it and wavering back and forth, sort of the Romantic drama, of his trying to say it and wavering back and forth, that’s what makes it definite. Or - the definiteness is in the drama going back and forth.

Abstraction is possible as lyric. I think I mentioned that the other day - Lyric Abstraction – i.e. the line in (Shakespeare’s) King Lear, which is a dramatic moment, when he yells out, “..never,never, never, never, never!”. It’s a guy talking and that’s the insistency, so that it’s actually a concrete line, or an objective line, in the sense that the object is this guy yelling, the emotion of this guy yelling “..never,never, never, never, never!”. A scream is also an object, on the stage, is definite in the form that I was trying to suggest that we try, (since I think the problem is excessive abstraction and lack of focus and lack of definiteness) as a beginning. So I’ve been going over and over again the first grounding of vipassana-style poetry - insight into definite objects, because, I think, unless you have that under you, you wouldn’t be able to have the humor that Whalen has in his poem (Whalen, who was brought up on Williams, and who also specializes in very definite, clearly-defined poems) and so that little outrageous outburst is sort of a little definite outrageous outburst in the midst of a definite world. Or doesn’t that make sense?  - Yes?

Student: (And Bob Dylan has that grounding)

AG: Yeah. I don’t think it would be possible for him to do (those) abstract things unless he was first grounded though. Because then the grounding comes into logopoeia. I mean, say, “To live outside the law you must be honest”, there’s no definite thing there, true, but there is certainly a definite…

Student:  (It's the end of class)
AG: Pardon me?
Student: (End of class)
AG: Oh, I’m sorry. Okay.Out, out damned spot”.  Well, let’s continue on this point..

tape and class end here

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-six-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-minutes in]

Monday, April 27, 2015

Meditation and Poetics - 81 (Student Poetry & Abstraction - Debating with Francine)

[A jar of hot air]

AG: So the question is, has twentieth-century poetry, in its attempt to define itself in space and time and locate itself and become down-to-earth and renew the language and renew the mind and occupy the place where it is, become too materialistic and single-leveled, monotonous, pictorial? Well, what I would say is (that) this Hinayana-Mahayana-Vajrayana poetry that we’re supposed to go into (the recombination of details of reality, or the weird arrangement of them) might come, in Surrealistic or Vajrayana or something other – wilder – poetry, but, without some sensory base, without some original contact with earth in poetry, (as in meditation), you can’t proceed to the other because you have no matter to work with, generally. There might be some individual genius who has got it born in him to do it, to do something, but, judging from the poetry I’ve seen around here [Naropa], I would say everybody ought to go back to home-base, to begin with. Judging from the quality of thought-forms around, I would say everybody’s got to go back to home-base in order to escape from abstraction, which leads nowhere, to get to some kind of communication and common area that other people can read, at least. Because the plain fact is that most abstract writing is self-ultimate and does not carry sufficient information or reference for other people to understand what’s being talked about.

There’s this insistency that.. well, can you read your abstract poem that I was screaming about, please, Francine (sic) – Do you have it here?

Student (Francine): Which one?

AG: That abstract one. The one I began going mad over

Student (Francine): Well you went mad over a lot of them. I (wrote several and…)

Peter Orlovsky:  (The one about) what I don’t know..

AG: It can’t be said, it can’t be seen..

Student (Francine):  How about I..

AG: No, no, please, that poem.
Student (Francine): What?
AG: You don’t have that poem?
Student (Francine): Yes I do…
AG: Please read it
Student (Francine):  (But..)
AG: Please read it
Student (Home-based..)
AG: Pardon me?
Student: Home-based for sitting meditation?
AG: Well, home-based for practical reality, at the same time, home-based, the breath, something you can contact.
Student (Francine) Objectively read it?
AG: You read it.
Student (Francine) Oh no, (not) here
AG: No, you read it. Come on, I’ll read it after you read it
Student (Francine): Well, it’s actually meant to be read (to oneself). It’s not a read-aloud poem
Student (Francine) finally succumbs – reading her poem – “There is no telling, even showing/is missed, and being best to worst, best/ to worst leaves me alone with wild/thoughts.”
AG: Okay, now there’s a poem that depends completely on the logopoeia, so to speak, on “best to worst”.
Student: One more time
Student (Francine): Sure  (she reads the poem again) - “There is no telling, even showing/is missed, and being best to worst, best/ to worst leaves me alone with wild/thoughts.”

AG: Well, now where is that in space and time? It’s a common thought. Everybody knows  "there is no showing, there is no telling", whatever it is we are talking about

Student (Francine): I think there (are) some people who would understand that.

AG: No I’m saying, let us say, everybody understands it. But I say, I don’t understand it. In the sense that, “There is no telling, even showing/is missed, and being best to worst, best/ to worst leaves me alone with wild/thoughts.”. Best to worst”, I would say, has the logopoeia part. But there is no content, in the sense of nothing you can contact.

Student: "leaves me alone with wild/thoughts"

AG: Well, that’s the part I objected to most. Because I would have said that you would have to have an example of a wild thought in there to bring it back home somewhere that other people could contact, really, rather than guess at. This way it’s like an equation which has no.. apples, it’s like mathematics, so anybody can interpret it any way they want. But in a sense, that’s ultimate nebulousness, ultimate vaporousness, in the sense that there is no way of relating to it except by building whatever guess-work you want (perhaps using it as a mirror for your own secrets, or for your un-tell-able experiences). But, finally, there’s no dimension of meaning that’s connected to the earth.

Student :  (or universe)
AG: Yeah, definitely. I know. Definitely.

Student (Francine): I mean, you can see, you can take the poem apart, critically, and find that maybe it’s not a very good poem.. but..

AG: That’s not…. okay..

Student (Francine): ..but what I really did question, after much thought, is whether you see a preference. You have a preference, right now it’s to particulars..

AG; Right

Student (Francine): ..and very specific, tangible, practical.. things.. (like) the glass on the table..

AG: Uh-hmm

Student (Francine):  I enjoy them. I like being (around things), (but) I like being in all that space, I like being offered a seed to let my own imagination respond. I like unbound, spacious, undefined things. I like rain, I like fog, I like gas. It’s a preference. Maybe someone else is..

AG: Ah, let's see, who else likes gas?

Student: (I'm thinking about) ...Gertrude Stein  (and) that reminded me a little bit of that poem (of hers)...

AG: Uh-hmm

Student: … ((which is) also an example of logopoeia) -  "When I sleep, I sleep, and do not dream because it is as well that I am as I seem when I am in my bed and dream" [from "Before The Flowers of Friendship Faded, Friendship Faded"]

AG: Yes.

Student: That's wild.

AG: Yeah, But here…she has a sort of technical...

Student: (and maybe Francine too..)

AG: No, but she has a.. let us say Francine has a.. more definite, practical..  Though she claims she wants nothing but space, I’ll bet she projects that other people have had exactly the same mystical experience that she has and know(s) exactly what she thinks.

Student (Francine)  Let's say..

AG: I’ll bet! -  Now, how could you win a bet like that or lose it? How could you prove it?  You can’t prove nothing in this world. It’s so indefinite.

Student (Francine)  ( I think that other people have had mystical experiences and I think I know it?) 

AG: I think you think that other people have had some sort of mystical experience of so similar a quality as yours that yours refers to them, to their mystical experience, and they will recognize yours in it, in this formulation of it.

Student (Francine); I think what? 

AG: Do you? I don’t know. I assume so.

Student (Francine): In a sense. But not quite as confined. I’d never say it the way you said it, but there are certain similarities in various kinds of experiences, as well as the…

AG: Well, yes, experience is experience, so that naturally they’re similar.

Student: The objection of Allen is, I think, (that) there’s no experience in the poem, it’s about experience.

AG: It’s referential to experience, but no experience is articulated in the poem. Yes.

Student (Francine): Right. That’s what you didn’t like about most (of my poems). I had several other poems..about that, and you didn’t like that.

AG: It was only when you got down to [referring to another of Francine's poems] the "I-got -to-fix-the.. I-got-to-keep-the-water-running-in-the-faucet-so-the-pipes-won’t-freeze-for- winter", that I got back to…

There is very definite logopoeia and there’s also a flash-picture brilliancy. There is abstraction possible, but the abstraction would have to be so precise and definite in relation to a certain specific experience (Actually, a lot of the Zen poetry is referring to the experience of sunyata, which is a sort of definite codified experience which you check out with your Zen master, and people sit for years, and go in for their koan, check out everyday – it’s too indefinite, it’s rejected, until, finally, there does seem to be that transmission and it’s a very definite thing. It’s not an indefinite thing – that’s the thing – the brilliancy there. And it also depends (up)on a whole tradition of working with that language in a specific situation of sitting and Zen masters. So there’s a cultural background that supplies what’s missing of definiteness. How much indefiniteness you can get away with, (in the sense of (still being) socially communicable?),  (that) you can have, without that specific cultural background.. in our situation - to write indefinite poetry, (say, like Kahlil Gibran) - there are no fixed mental reference points (except maybe in the acid world!) for people to interpret from. That’s the reason that (Ezra) Pound, (William Carlos) Williams and the others at the turn of the century tried to return to definite form. And I think (it was) partly in response to (Alexander) Pope’s generalizations (that) (William) Blake wanted to return to “minute particulars

The other example was “leave the water trickle, so the pipes don’t freeze”. This is after a list of things on her floor, a list of objects on her shelves, bone, shell-bone, crystal..

Peter Orlovsky:   Prism

AG: Prism

Student (Francine) ..rock

AG: ..rock -and then a list of books on the floor, scattered, Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching, (Tibetan) Book of The Dead  Magical Mystery Tour, cluttered on the floor. Then, “leave the water trickle so the pipes don’t freeze”. So there was a shift to something that was so definite that I thought that was interesting. Then a description of the s cene in which this (takes) place  - “a rickety old house, swinging through the trees, returns in the wind to hold this hill-top down.”

Student: To what?

AG:”.. returns in the wind to hold this hill-top down.”, “..rickety old house, swinging through the trees, returns in the wind to hold this hill-top down.” – Well, there was a gale and the house, as if swinging in the wind.. there was the idea that the house itself was what held the hill-top down from blowing away. “Returns in the wind”, I didn’t quite get, but “swinging through the trees returns in the wind”  (so there’s some idea of it returning in the wind). So there’s an actual situation of power and force and plenty of detail, but here it’s sort of the expression, or the description, of it (that is) so abstracted that it sounds more sentimentalized and generalized than need be and doesn’t carry the force of impression of the gale, (that) was my complaint.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-five-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-six-and-three-quarter minutes in]