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