Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 229

[Spiderman and Allen Ginsberg cartoon - Tom Gauld]

From the current issue of Poetry magazine  – more Howl parodies – (we've featured several such before -  -  Amy Newman “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by wedding 
planners, dieting, in shapewear,/ dragging themselves in cute outfits through the freezer section for the semifreddo bender/blessed innovative cloister girl pin-ups burning to know the rabbi of electricity in poverty, obedience, in the dream stick of opium and the green Wi-Fi fuse.."

From the Paris Review - "Supplication to the Muses on A Trying Day" - quite a discovery!  - a hitherto unpublished Hart Crane poem - "Thou art no more than Chinese to me, O Moon! A simian chorus to you/and let your balls be nibbled by the flirtatious hauchinango…" 

Ai Weiwei being finally granted a passport – a not insignificant cultural moment. We send you back to 2011 and the Allen Ginsberg Project  here and here - and here

Auction news -  Christies First Open On-line auction this week (Post-War and Contemporary Art) featured three of Allen's Chinese photos (from his visit there in 1984). Here's one of them: 

[Caption: "Downtown Baoding, across from Department store, behind walled gate, this huge public garden's kept up - it was attached to some rich Merchant-official before Revolution - Photo snapped by student interpreter, everyone seemed interested. I liked the moon-bridge's mirror-mouth oval - November 1984.  Allen Ginsberg"]

The above photo went for an estimated selling-price of three-to-five-thousand-dollars 

The Kerouac letter from 1968 that we reported on earlier, in another auction (to Sterling Lord, detailing plans for his never-completed book, Spotlight), surprisingly, didn't sell, failing to meet its reserve price (ten-to-twelve-thousand-dollars). Another item, a 1953 photograph of him by Allen (with typically-detailed hand-written caption added), however, did sell (that one, for just over five-thousand-three-hundred-and-sixty dollars) 

On The Road mapped out and more. See more about Richard Kreitner and Steven Melendez's quaintly obsessive map-making here  

Sad news - the death this past weekend, aged 76, of the great English poet and translator, Lee Harwood. Robert Sheppard remembers him - here,  John Harvey - here.  Shearsman Books in 2004 published his Collected Poems (and his Selected Poems in 2008).  
Most recently, The Orchid Boat appeared from Enitharmon Press in 2014

Here's John Yau, from last November, on "Why I Am A Member of the Lee Harwood Fan Club"  -   Rest in peace, Lee.

                                                            [Lee Harwood (1939-2015)] 

Congratulations, Anne Waldman for the Lifetime Achievement Award  in this year's (Before Columbus Foundation's)  American Book Awards!

Congrats Levi Asher on twenty-one years of Literary Kicks!

Jonah Raskin on Peter Coyote

                                                                    [Peter Coyote]

Jed Birmingham on Carl Weissner

                                                                   [Carl Weissner (1940-2012]

& the new Beatdom - Beatdom #16 - is just out ( it's "the Money Issue").  Among the articles - Delilah Gardner - "Ginsberg in the Underground, Whitman, Rimbaud and Visions of Blake"; editor David S Wills on "The Burroughs Millions"; Hilary Holladay on Herbert Huncke, and essays on two key "Beat women", Hettie Jones and Bonnie Bremser, as well as a review of a book of Gregory Corso interviews (see our note on this tomorrow) 

Another of our film-recommendations - American Rimpoche - "exploring America's introduction to Tibetan Buddhism" (we've noted it before in the context of Gelek Rinpoche - but see further notes on it, a portrait of Allen's (and Philip Glass)'s teacher - here).

                                                          [Philip Glass, Gelek Rimpoche & Allen Ginsberg]

Thursday, July 30, 2015

William Burroughs' Proclamation - (Do Easy)

AG: Another proclamation -  from (William) Burroughs - this is somewhat a mindfulness proclamation - from  Exterminator! , page 57. (It features) his favorite character, Colonel Sutton Smith (he wrote another chapter of Colonel Sutton Smith this summer), sort of a parody of an English ex-military Zen man, so to speak, someone with perfect Western consciousness, or perfect Western mindfulness. But what's interesting in (that) Burroughs outline is a kind of precision and mindfulness very similar to, say, Zen gardening,or flower-arrangement, or archery. Burroughs' own system, which, with his usual humor, he even parodies - or he sets forth, and then parodies. You have here, also, Burroughs' accounting of returning to present consciousness and present space. So you could say this, to begin with….(is a) somewhat Vajrayana-stye parody of what he respects, which is total precision:

"A cold, dry, windy day. Clouds blowing through the sky sunshine and shadow. A dead leaf brushes my face. The streets remind me of St Louis… red brick houses, trees, vacant lots. Bright and windy back in a cab through empty streets. When I reach the fourth floor, it looks completely unfamiliar as if seen through someone else's eyes.  "I hope you find your way… red brick houses, trees...the address in empty streets.  Colonel Sutton Smith, 65, retired, not uncomfortablyon a supplementary private income...flat in Bury Street St. James's….cottage in Wales... could not resign himself to the discovery of Roman coins under the grounds of his cottage, interesting theory the Colonel has about those coins over two sherries - never a third, no matter how nakedly his guest may leer at the adamant decanter…"  - (Burroughs has a great sound, too) - "He can, of course, complete his memoirs…extensive notes over a period of years,  invitations, newspaper clippings, photographs, stretching into the past on yellowing dates. Objects go with the clippigs, the notes, the photos, the dates… A kris on the wall to remember Ali who ran amok in the marketplace of Lampiper thirty years ago, a crown of emerald quartz, a jade head representing a reptilian youth with opal eyes, a little white horse delicately carved in ivory, a Webly .455 automatic revolver….(Only automatic revolver ever made the cylinder turns on ratchets stabilizing like a gyroscope the heavy recall). Memories, objects stuck in an old calendar.  

The Colonel decides to make his own time. He opens a school notebook with lined papers and constructs a simple calendar consisting of ten months with twenty-six days in each month to begin on this day February 21, 1970, Raton Pass 14 in the new calendar. The months have names like old Pullman cars in America where the Colonel had lived until his eighteenth year… names like Beauacres, Bonneterre, Watford Junction, Sioux Falls, Pike's Peak, Yellowstone, Bellevue, Cold Springs, Lands End dated from the beginning Raton Pass 14 a mild grey day. Smell of soot and steam and iron and cigar smoke as the train jolts away into the past. The train is stopped now red brick buildings a deep blue canal outside the train window a mild grey day long ago.

The Colonel is jolted back to the now by a plate streaked with egg yoke, a bacon rind, toast crumbs on the table, a jumble of morning papers, cigarette butt floating in cold coffee right where you are sitting now. The Colonel decides on this mild grey day to bring his time into present time. He looks at the objects on the breakfast table, calculating, then moves to clear it. He measures the distance of his chair to the table, how to push the chair back and stand up without hitting the table with his legs. He pushes his chair back and stands up. With smooth precise movements he scrapes his plate into the Business News of the Times, folds the paper into a neat triangular packet, sweeos up plate, knif, fork, spoon and coffee cup out the kitchen with no fumbling or wasted movements, washed and put away. Before he made the first move he has planned a whole series of moves ahead. He had discovered the simple and basic discipline of D.E. - Do Easy. It's simple to do everything you do in the easiest and most relaxed manner you can achieve at the time you do it. He has become an assiduous student of D.E. Cleaning the flat is a problem in logistics. He knows every paper, every object, and many of them now have names. He has perfected the art of casting sheets and blankets so that they fall just so and the gentle silent sopoon or cup on a table. He practices for a year before he is ready to reveal the mysteries of D.E.   As the Colonel washes up and tidies his small kitchen, the television audience catches its breath in front of the little screen. Knives, forks and spoons flash through his fingers and tinkle into drawers, plates dance onto the shelf. He touches the water tap with gentle, precise fingers, and just enough pressure considering the rubber washers inside. Towels fold themselves and fall softly into place. As he moves he tosses crumpled papers and empty cigarette packages and crumpled papers land unerringly in the wastebasket as a Zen master can hit the target with his arrow in the dark. He moves to the sitting room, a puff of air from his cupped hand delicately lifts a cigarette ash from the table and wafts it into the wastebasket. Into the bedroom smooth movements cleaning the sink and arranging the toilet articles into a…..  "

AG: (So Burroughs) follows that little charade with a little essay. So this is like home-made American mindfulness:
"D.E. is a way of doing. It is a way of doing everything you do. D.E. simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest, most relaxed way you can imagine, which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance into D.E."

If you think this Buddhism is paranoid, listen to Burroughs:

"You can start right now tidying up your flat, moving furniture or books, washing dishes, making tea, sorting paper. Consider the weight of objects. Exactly how much force is needed to get the object from here to there? Consider its shape and texture and function. Where exactly does it belong? Use just the amount of force necessary to get the object from here to there. Don't fumble, jerk, grab an object. Drop cool possessive fingers onto it like a gentle old cop making a soft arrest. Guide the dustpan lightly to the floor as if you were landing a plane. When you touch an object, weigh it with your fingers. Feel your fingers on the object, the skin, blood, muscles, tendons of the hand and arm. Consider these extensions of yourself as precision instruments to perform every movement smoothly and well.
Handle objects with consideration and they will show you all their little tricks. Don't tug or pull at a zipper. Guide the little metal teeth smoothly along, feeling the sinuous ripples of cloth and flexible melt. Replacing the cap on the tube of toothpaste…(and this should always be done at once. Few things are worse than an uncapped tube maladroitly squeezed, twisting up out of the bathroom glass, drooling paste, unless it be a tube with the cap barbarously forced on all askew against the threads). Replacing the cap, let the very tips of your fingers protrude beyond the cap, contacting the end of the tube, guiding the cap into place. Using your fingertips as a landing gear will enable you to drop any light object silently and surely into place. 
Remember, every object has its place. If you don't find that place and put that thing there, it will jump out at you and trip you or rap you painfully across the knuckles. It will nudge you and clutch at you and get in your way. Often such objects belong in the wastebasket but often it's just that they are out of place. Learn to place an object firmly and quietly in its place and do not let your fingers move that object as they leave it there. When you put down a cup, separate your fingers cleanly from the cup. Do not let them catch in the handle and if they do repeat movement until fingers separate clean. If you don't catch that nervous finger that won't let go of the handle, you may twitch hot tea across the Duchess.
Never let a poorly executed sequence pass. If you throw a match at a wastebasket and miss, get right up and put that match in the wastebasket. If you have time repeat the cast that failed. There is always a reason for missing an easy toss. Repeat the toss and you will find it. If you rap your knuckles against a window jam or door, if you brush your leg against a desk or bed, if you catch your feet in the curled-up corner of a rug, or strike a toe against a desk or chair, go back and repeat the sequence. You will be surprised to find how far off course you were to hit that window jamb, that door, that chair. Get back on course and do it again. How can you pilot a spacecraft if you can't find your way around your own apartment. It's just like retaking a movie shot until you get it right. And you will begin to feel yourself in a film moving with ease and speed. But don't try for speed at first. Try for relaxed smoothness, taking as much time as you need to perform an action. If you drop an object, break an object, spill anything, knock painfully against anything, galvanically clutch an object, pay particular attention to the retake. You may find out why and forestall a repeat performance. If the object is broken, sweep up pieces and remove from the room at once. If the object is intact or you have a duplicate object, repeat sequence. You may experience a strange feeling, as if the objects are alive and hostile, trying to twist out of your fingers, slam noisily down on the table, jump out at you and stub your toe or trip you. Repeat sequence until objects are brought to order…"    

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jack Kerouac and Hart Crane's Proclamations

        [Hart Crane  (1899-1932) standing in fromt of The Brooklyn Bridge]

AG: So it's one assertion, or one, say, magisterial mind -  The (very) last chorus [Chorus 242] of Mexico City Blues. Now, recapping from (Jack) Kerouac's magisterial point-of-view - instructions for creating a liberated society - (what was the phrase used by (Chogyam) Trungpa last night (sic)?, the name of Naropa?) - the creation of an enlightened society):

"The sound in your mind/is the first sound/that you could sing/ If you were singing/at a cash register/with nothingon yr mind - / But when that grim reper/comes to lay you/look out my lady/ He will steal all you goy/ while you dingle with the dangle/and having robbed you/  Vanish/ Which will be your best reward/T'were better to get rid o'/ John O'Twill, then sit a-mortying/In this Half Eternity with nobody/To save the old man being hanged/In my closet for nothing/And everybody watches/When the act is done -/  Stop the murder and the suicide!/ All's well!/ I am the Guard" - (So that's like a bodhisattva proclamation. So it's proclamation. As Väinämöinen's proclamation, that's Kerouac's proclamation (We've had Whitman's proclamation)

Here's a proclamation by Hart Crane - Much more strange. Does anybody know Hart Crane's poetry at all here? (He was) an American who committed suicide jumping off the fantail of a boat coming up from Veracruz, 1931, great friend of all the intellectuals of the (19)20's, lived in Greenwich Village. Perhaps the greatest American poet of the century in the old manner (which is to say, the classical, but he took the classical pentameter of (Percy Bysshe) Shelley to its extreme. and also to the extreme of abstraction,  and yet with such solidity and intensity that it formed some kind of whirlwind of breath (like Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind", with which we began this class). So, having startted with gentle breath, I'm now returning to the big wind.

The poem is called "The Bridge", which is a sort of modern epic, in which he picks up various Americanist local particulars, pays homage to (Edgar Allan) Poe, to Walt Whitman, to the Dharma Bums of his time, to the railroad track, to the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge, to the American Indians, to the mythology of the Machine Age, attempting to find a bridge between the old America known at the end of the nineteenth-century and at the time of his birth and the more craven commercial materialistic (and yet iron-shod) futurity that was prophesied by (William Carlos) Williams, (Alfred) Stieglitz, Walt Whitman and the others - cities interlaced with iron on the Plains, the Modern Age, as we know it - his little kind of cut-up, collage, section about the old winos and hobos on the railroad, called "The River" - So I'll read that first, because it's just a little sort of Kerouac-ian style, or Americanist style, Thomas Wolfe-style, nostalgia - and then get on to his heroic stanzas at the end of the poem in "Atlantis" 

[Allen begins by reading from Hart Crane's "The River" - ("Stick your patent name on a signboard/brother - all over- going west - young man - Tintex -Japalac- Certain-teed Overalls ad/and lands sakes! under the new playbill ripped/in the guaranteed corner - see Bert Williams what?/Minstrels when you steal a chicken just/save me the wing for if it isn't/Erie it ain't for mils around a/Mazda - and the telegraphic night coming on Thomas/a Ediford…"…."So the 20th Century - so/whizzed the Limited - roared by and left/three men, still hungry on the tracks, ploddingly/watching the tail lights wizen and converge, slip-/ping gimleted and neatly out of sight.  The last bear, shot drinking in the Dakotas/Loped under wires that span the mountain stream./Keen instruments, strung to a vast precision/Bind town to town and dream to ticking dream./But some men take their liquor slow - and count/ - Though they'll confess no rosary nor clue - /The river's minute by the far brook's year/Under a world of whistles, wires and steam/Caboose-like they go ruminating through/Ohio, Indiana - blind baggage -/To Cheyenne tagging…Maybe Kalamazoo…"…."Youngsters with eyes like fjords, old reprobates/With racetrack jargon,- dotting immensity/They lurk across her, knowing her yonder breast/Snow-silvered, sumac-stained or smoky blue -/Is past the valley-sleepers, south or west/ - As I have trod the rumorous midnights, too…" 

And, from the "Atlantis" section - This is like a pure music, pure breath. The imagery sort of pounded and hammered, like hammered metal. One image condensed upon another, and linked in a series of vowels - very powerful, perfect for blowing on. Perfect for blowing through - like a clarion. But the interesting thing is that finally it verges on such pure desire, or proclamation of desire, but with what object, finally? A bridge between dirty modernity and ideal antiquity, but still almost a suicidally urgent prayer that has no focus except he pure breath of wind that flows through it. The image is of the Brooklyn Bridge - "Through the bound cable strands, the arching path/Upward, veering with light, the flight of string, -/ Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate/The whispered rush, telepathy of wires./Up the index of night, granite and steel -/Transparent meshes - flecklexs the gleaming staves -/Sibylline voices flicker, waveringly stream/As though a god were issue of the strings…."…."O Answerer of all, - Anenone, -/Now while thy petals spend the suns about us, hold -/ (O Thou whose radiance doth inhert me)/Atlantis, - hold thy floating singer late!/  So to thine Everpresence, beyond time,/Like spears ensanguined of one tolling star/That bleeds infinity - the orphic strings,/Sidereal phalanxes, leap and converge:/- One Song, one Bridge of Fire! Is it Cathay,/Now pity steeps the grass and rainbows ring/The serpent with the eagle in the leaves…?/Whispers antiphonal in azure swing."

Well, that's really (a) powerful piece of oratory, invoking a breath like (Percy Bysshe) Shelley's breath. Certain, sure, swift, almost inevitable sounding, grasping toward some infinity which probably resides in the infinite feeling of the poem itself, and the infinite oceanic feeling of the poem itself. He had to work on it a lot (in the sense of hammer it together,  revise and revise and revise) to get that total intellectual opacity, actually. Though if you analyze it, there's lots of symbolic hints and clues to piece it together into some kind of statement about modernity and desire and love and basically modern general ideas, or modern stereotypes, but set forth with such a chain of sound that you can simply use it almost as an orchestral or saxophone piece to blow on. And if you read it paying attention to the punctuation, you can approximate the exaltation ambitioned in the construction. [to Student] - You had (a question)?

Student; (What is the) name of this poem?

AG: Oh, this is (called), the "Atlantis" section of "The Bridge", by Hart Crane. A poem, "The Bridge" - section eight (VIII) - "Atlantis", (which has the epigraph: "Music is then the knowledge of that which relates to love in harmony and system" (Plato).  

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Kalevala

AG: Does anybody know the Finnish epic, “The Kalevala”. Has anybody ever read any of that? – I’d like to read a few pages of that. It’s an epic poem which was originally in oral form, and (was) written down in the nineteenth-century by a Swedish [sic] scholar, Elias Lönnrot, [Editorial note - Lönnrot was actually a Finn] and translated (fantastically) by Francis Peabody Magoun and published by (the) Harvard University Press. It’s called “(The) Kalevala” – K-A-L-E-V-A-L-A, and in the chapter, or poem, three, that I’m going to read from, this old bard, who has had lots of discipline and lots of experience and is an old dog, finally (old dog, incidentally, is one of the characteristics of tantric mind) – old dog, like an old dog that no longer jumps up (and) barks excitedly when it hears an egg drop.

So, Väinämöinen the old dog bard, meets Joukahainen, a young punk bard coming up the road, and their chariots pass (but) can’t pass each other in the road because there’s a too-narrow road, and so comes “a contest of bards” between the older and the younger. They’ve heard of each other, but finally they’re meeting (at least Joukahainen has heard of Väinämöinen

"..Steadfast old Väinämöinen   lives his days/ on those clearings of Väinämöinen's district,  on the heaths of Kalevala district./ He keeps singing these songs,  keeps singing, goes on practicing his art,/ Day after day he sang,  night after night, he recited/ recollections of ancient time   those profound origin songs/ which not all children sing   not all men understand/ in this dreadful time   in this fleeting age/ Far away the news is heard   the tidings spread quickly/ of Väinämöinen's singing,  of the man's skill./  The tidings spread quickly to the south,  the news reached the north country./  Joukahainen was a young,   a scrawny, Lappish lad./  Once he was gadding about;   he heard that remarkable charms,/ magic songs, were being rattled off,  better ones  intoned/  on those burned-over tracks of Väinämöinen's district on the heaths of Kalevala District/ - better than what he himself knew,   had learned from his father/. That he took greatly amiss,  constantly envied/ Väinämöinen being a singer  better than himself.." 

So there are a  few verses where he sets out to meet the older guy:

"..Steadfast old Väinämöinen,  eternal sage,/ was driving on his way,  covering ground/ on those clearings of Väinämöinen's district,  the heaths of Kalevala District./ Young   Joukahainen came along,  he was driving on the road in the opposite direction./ Shaft caught in shaft,  trace got tangled in trace,/ hames became fast in hames,  shaft-bow in butt of shaft-bow./ Therefore they then stop,   stop deliberate;/ water poured from shaft-bow,     vapor steamed from the shafts."

As you'll notice, the formulaic aspect of this is - you make a statement and you modify it, make a statement and you modify it - two halves, one line.

"..Old Väinämöinen asked:  "Of what clan are you/ to come along foolishly,  recklessly onward./ You break the bent-wood hames,  the sapling shaft-bows./ you splinter my sleigh to pieces, my poor sleigh to bits."/ Then young Joukahainen/   uttered a word, spoke thus: "I am young   Joukahainen/  but name your own clan;/ of what clan are you,  of what crew, miserable creature?"/ . Then steadfast old Väinämöinen   now told his name./ Then he managed to say:  If you are young Joukahainen,/ pull over to the side.  You are younger than I"

"Then young Joukahainen   uttered a word, spoke thus:/ "A man's youth is small matter,   his youth, his age./  Whichever of two men is better in knowledge,   the stronger in memory,/  let him indeed stay on the road,  let the other get off the road./  If you are old  Väinämöinen, eternal singer,/  let us begin to sing, start to recite magic./ one man to test the other, one to defeat the other"/. Steadfast old Väinämöinen uttered a word, spoke thus:/ - "What can I really do as a singer,  as an expert!/  I have always lived my life  just on these clearings,/ on the edges of the home field,  again and again have listened to the cuckoo by the house./ But, be this as it may, speak, so that I may hear with my ears:/ what do you know about most about,  understand beyond other people?"/  Young Joukahainen said:  "I indeed know something!/ This I know clearly,  understand precisely:  "A smoke hole is near a ceiling,  a flame is near a fireplace./ It is pleasant for a seal to live, for a pike, dog of the water, to roll about;/ it eats the salmon around it,  the whitefish beside it./ A whitefish has smooth fields,   the salmon a level ceiling./ A pike spawns in the chill of night, the slobberer in bitter cold weather./ Autumns the timid, obstinate perch,  swims deep./ summers it spawns on dry land,  flaps about on shores./ "If this may be not enough,  I have still another bit of knowledge,/ understand a certain thing:/  "The North ploughs with a reindeer,/  the South with a mare, remotest Lapland with an elk./ I know the trees of Pisa's Hill,  the tall evergreens on Goblin's Crag,/ tall are the trees on Pisa's Hill, the evergreens on Goblin's Crag/. There are three strong rapids,  three great lakes,/ three high mountains  under the vault of this sky./ In Hame is Halla-whirlpool,  in Karelia Loon Rapids./ none exceed the Vuoksi rapids  (which) surpass those of Imatra" . Old  Väinämöinen said:  "A child's knowledge, a woman's power of memory! / It is neither that of a bearded man  nor indeed of a married man./ Speak of profound origins,   of unique matters."/  Young Joukahainen   uttered a word, spoke thus:/ "I know the origin of the tomtit,  I know the tom-tit is a bird,/  the hissing adder a snake,  the roach a fish of the water/, I know iron is brittle,  black soil sour,/ boiling-hot water painful,  being burned by fire bad./ Water is the oldest of ointments,  foam of a rapids oldest of magic nostrums,/ the Creator himself is the oldest of magicians,  God the oldest of healers./ The source of water is from a mountain, the source of fire is from the heavens/, the origin of iron is from rust,  the basis of copper is a crag./ A wet tussock is the oldest land,  the willow the first tree,/ the foot of a tall evergreen the first habitation,  a flat stone the first wretched cooking vessel."/ Steadfast old Väinämöinen  uttered these words:/  "Do you remember anything more  or has your foolish talk now come to an end?"./ Young Joukahainen spoke: "I remember a little more. /I remember indeed that time when I was plowing the sea,/ hoeing out the hollows of the sea,  digging deep spots for fish,/ deepening the deep places in the water,  putting the lily ponds in place./ overturning hills,  heaping up blocks of stone./ I was already the sixth man,  seventh person/, when they were creating this Earth,  fashioning the sky/, erecting the pillars of the sky,  bringing the rainbow,/ guiding the moon, helping the  sun,/ arranging the Great Bear, studding the heavens with stars"./ Old  Väinämöinen said: "You are certainly lying about this./ No one saw you  when they were ploughing the sea,/ hoeing out the hollows of the sea,  digging deep spots for fish,/ deepening the deep places in the water,  putting the lily ponds in place./ overturning hills,  heaping up blocks of stone,/ Nor were you probably seen, /probably neither seen nor heard,/ when the earth was being created,  the sky fashioned,/ the pillars of the sky erected,  the rainbow brought,/ the moon guided,  the sun helped,/  the Great Bear arranged,  the heavens studded with stars."/ Young  Joukahainen then uttered these words: "If I do not happen to have intelligence,  I will ask for intelligence from my sword./  O old Väinämöinen, big-mouthed singer!/ Proceed to measure off our swords,  set out to fight a duel"./  Old Väinämöinen said:  "I don't think I'm very much afraid/ of those sword of yours, your intelligence,  your ice-picks, your thoughts./ But be that as it may,  I will not proceed to measure swords/ with you, wretch,/  with you, miserable fellow"./ Then young Joukahainen  screwed up his mouth, twisted his head around,/ clawed at his black beard.  He uttered these words:/ "Whoever does not proceed to measure swords   nor set out to fight a duel,/ him I will sing into a swine,  change into a pig with lowered snout./ Such men I enchant, one thus, the other so. /strike dead onto a dunghill,  jam into the corner of a cattle shed"./ Old Väinämöinen got angry,  then got angry and felt shamed./ He began to sing,  got to reciting,/ the magic songs are not children's songs,  not children's songs, women's jokes;/ they are a bearded man's  which not all children sing,/ nor half the boys indeed,  nor one bachelor in three/ in this dreadful time,  in this fleeting final age"./ Old Väinämöinen sang.  Lakes splashed over, Earth shook/, copper mountains trembled,  solid slabs of rock split,/ the crags flew apart,   stones on the shore cracked./ He bewitched young Joukahainen.  He sang sprouts onto his shaft-bow,/ a willow bush onto his hames,  sallows onto the ends of his traces./ He bewitched the lovely basket sleigh.  he sang it into a pond as fallen trees./ He sang the whip with the beaded lash  into shore reed of the sea./ He sang the horse with the blaze  to the bank of the rapid as a rock./ He sang the gold-hilted sword  to the sky as flashes of lightning;/ then he sang the ornamented shaft of the crossbow  into a rainbow over the waters/ then his feathered arrows into speeding hawks, / then the dog with the undershot jaw,  it he sang onto the ground as rocks./ He sang the cap off the man's head  into the peak of a cloudbank./ he sang the mittens off his hands  into pond lilies./then his blue broadcloth coat  to the heavens as a cloud patch/ the soft woolen belt from his waist  into stars throughou the heavens/ He bewitched  Joukahainen himself,/ sang him into a fen up to his loins,/ into a grassy meadow up to his groin,  into a heath up to his arm-pits./ Now young Joukahainen indeed  knew and realized./ he knew that he had got on the way,  got on the route to a contest,/ a contest in magic singing  with old Väinämöinen. /He keeps trying to get a foot free;  he could not lift his foot./ However, he tried the other;  here his shoe was of stone./ The young Joukahainen  indeed becomes anguished,/gets into a more precarious situation. He uttered a word, spoke thus:/  "O wise Väinämöinen, eternal sage!/ Reverse your magic charm,  revoke your enchantment,/ Free me from this predicament,  get me out of this situation./ I will indeed make the best payment,  pay the most substantial ransom"./ Old Väinämöinen said: "Well, what will you give me/ if  I reverse my magic charm, revoke my enchantment,/ free you from this predicament, get you out of this situation?"/  Joukahainen spoke, "I have two vessels,  two lovely boats. /One is swift in race the other transports much.  Take either of these. / Old Väinämöinen spoke, "I do not really care about your vessels.  I will not select any of your boats./ These I too have with every rower hauled up,  every cove piled full,/ one steady in a high wind,  the other that goes into a head wind".. He bewitched young Joukahainen,  bewitched him still deeper in./ Young Joukahainen said, "I have two stallions,  two lovely steeds./ One is better for racing, the other lively in the traces.  Take either of these"./ Old Väinämöinen said, "I don't care about your horses.  Don't bother me about white fetlocked horses./ These too I have, with every stall hitched full,  every stable full,/ with fat as clear as water on their backbones,  a pound of fat on their cruppers"./ He bewitched young Joukahainen,  bewitched him still deeper in./ Young Joukahainen said,  "Old Väinämöinen, reverse your magic words,  revoke your enchantment./ I'll give you a high-peaked hat full of gold pieces,  a felt hat full of silver pieces got by my father in the war, brought in from battle"./ Old Väinämöinen said, "I don't care about your silver pieces.  I have no need, wretch, for your gold pieces./ These  too I have with every storehouse crammed,  every little box fully stocked./ They are gold pieces as old as the moon,  silver pieces the age of the sun". /He bewitched young Joukahainen, bewitched him still deeper in. /Young Joukahainen said,  "O old Väinämöinen , free me from this predicament,  release me from this situation. /I'll give you my windrose back home,  surrender my fields of sandy soil to free my own head, to random myself". / Old Väinämöinen spoke, "I don't want your wind rose, useless person,  nor your fields of sandy soil./ These too I have, filled in every direction, windrose in every clearing./ My own are better fields,  my own windrose finer"./ He bewitched young Joukahainen, kept bewitching him further down./ The young Joukahainen at last, however, grew desperate  when he was up to his chin in the mud, up to his beard in a bad place./up to his mouth in a fen, in mossy places, up to his teeth behind a rotten tree-trunk. /Young Joukahainen said, "O wise Väinämöinen, eternal sage,  now sing your song backward./ Grant me yet my feeble life. Set me free from here./ The current is already dragging at my feet,  the sand scratching my eyes./ If you will reverse your magic words, leave off  your magic spell,  I'll give you my sister, Aino,  to rinse out the wooden firkins,  to wash the blankets,/ to weave fine stuff,  to bake sweet bread."/ Then Väinämöinen was exceedingly delighted  when he got Joukahainen's girl to provide for his old age./ He sits down on a song stone,  sits himself on a song rock./ He sang once, he sang twice,  he sang a third time too./  Young Joukahainen got free, got his chin free of the mud,/ his beard from a bad place, his horse from being a rock in the rapids,/ his sleigh on the shore from being a rotten tree-trunk in the water,  his whip from being a shore reed./ He climbed slowly into his basket sleigh,  He set out in a sorry state of mind with heavy heart  to his dear mother's, to his esteemed parents."

Student: When was that written?

AG: Well, the oral tradition is old, maybe two, three, four, centuries.. It was written down mid nineteenth-century, not long ago, (17), perhaps (18)47. Lönnrot went around to Lapland and other places on field trips collecting these tales and has composed them into an epic. Here's Lönnrot out on his field trip looking for epics (from an 1847 illustration). 

(A) great book - Harvard University Press

So it's one assertion, or one, say, magisterial mind. 

[Some sections of the above (Allen reading from the Kalevala) can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding approximately four-and-three-quarter minutes in]

Monday, July 27, 2015

Meditation Advice

                        [Kobun Chino Roshi, sitting Sesshin at Naropa, July 1989. photo.c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]

August 14 1978, Allen Ginsberg’s class on Meditation and Poetics continues. [Editorial note (via Randy Roark) – “The class begins with taking class roll and discussing credit requirements and other business. About mid-way through, the tape-machine begins malfunctioning and an indeterminate amount of the presentation (has been consequently) lost, as a result]

AG: Just to cover a little bit of meditation technicalities, which I may have said at one time or other. The purpose of having the eyes open is that you’re not checking out another universe, you’re just sitting normally in the middle of this one. So if the purpose of meditation is purposeless, settling into where you are already, in this particular case, (particularly related to poetry), eyes open is preferable.

One trick related to the eyeballs is (to) relax them and not stare, and that means looking, as it were, through the window of the eyes, even perhaps aware of the surface of the eyeball, rather than fixing on an external universe. Not staring at the surface of your eyeball, but at least looking through it. If you’re at all experienced with peripheral vision, sitting of that nature might wind up relaxing sufficiently. So, not focusing on a center, there would be some even spread, including peripheral vision, if you’re wondering what to do with your eyeballs (to get technical about it).

The reason for straight back is that when you’re sitting up straight there is alertness and wakefulness, whereas when you’re leaning against a chair there’s a tendency to daydream. A formula oft-repeated is – twenty-five-percent attention to breath (in other words, you don’t get hung up on that like another thought). And twenty-five-percent attention to posture (As I sit, you may have noticed that, occasionally, I straighten up. That means I’ve been daydreaming. The daydreaming and the absence, the travel out of your body, so to speak, comes, generally, when you begin to lose attention and you begin to droop. When you wake up, there’s that straightness again). Twenty-five-percent attention to thoughts (in the sense of recognition or acknowledgement) and twenty-five-percent nothing (open attitude – blank).

(It’s) not a question of fighting off thought-forms, it’s a question of acknowledging them, recognizing them, taking a friendly attitude, and passing on out through the breath again. The old formula back from Gampopa’s time, was making breath with space, mixing mind with breath, thus mixing mind with space. Basically, just sitting. Shikantaza is the Japanese – just sitting. There’s a little bit more than just sitting because you’re making a little bit of effort to wake up occasionally and go back out on the breath.

So far, we’ve dealt with definition and focus and some extension of awareness into space, and ) (this is) a good reminder of that spaciousness (because this sort of sitting, or this kind of awareness, which is both poetic and meditative, does tend to lead to what has been called “panoramic” perspective. You do become aware of yourself after a while, just as this (moment now), sitting in the center of the room all around you, and above the room, the sky, and all around, Boulder, and all around, (the) Rocky Mountain region, and Colorado, America, North America, Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Solar System,  (the) Galaxy… In other words, you’re just sitting in the middle of an infinite space. And I’ve heard it suggested that, occasionally, you can remind yourself (of) that.. that you can say, “I, Allen Ginsberg, am sitting in the middle of (the) Casey High School cafeteria, up in the hill(s) in Boulder (Colorado)…” .And just go on out until you hit the end of space. Just, simply, to come back to awareness of where you are, actually, (which is an old poetry trick as well). In the "Plutonian Ode", I used that simply as a poetic image – “this Ode completed on the fourteenth day of the sixth month revolving on Planet Earth, revolving around the Solar System year after the Dominion of the last God, nineteen hundred and seventy eight, on Planet Earth, in a galaxy, in a solar system in a galaxy, in the middle of space”.

This leads out to a sort of infinite emptiness, or empty infinity, occasionally, or a sense of spaciousness so vast that there’s no roof to the mind. And that does tend toward some kind of glimpse of such great spaciousness, that there is nobody there, or at least it’s space through which we’re passing. As (Chogyam Trungpa) pointed out, that’s somewhat of a Boy Scout notion (that is, there’s a certain amount of effort involved there to realize the emptiness), and, after a great deal of experience with that, it’s no longer (necessary) to try to practice it consciously, because it becomes somewhat second-nature. Then the human practice becomes actually being in your body, aware of what you are and doing what you’re doing – looking at what you look, hearing what you hear, tasting what you taste here, smelling what you smell, touching what you touch mindfully, and thinking what you think. So it’s just returning to yourself and doing what you are to begin with, which is the Vajrayana sphere, (or, as in the haiku, the personal comment) Your own somewhat-cleaned-up ego. Your self, actually,intervening in the world, living in the world and intervening in it. So the poetry we’ll deal with touches on that mood, of the Vajra indestructible self.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Ginsberg-Ferlinghetti Letters

The phrase is, of course, Emerson's, writing to congratulate Walt Whitman

" I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely of fortifying and encouraging.."

This greeting was echoed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti after hearing Allen's legendary Gallery Six reading of "Howl" in October of 1955 -  "I GREET YOU AT THE BEGINNING OF A GREAT CAREER [stop] WHEN DO I GET MANUSCRIPT OF "HOWL" [stop] LAWRENCE (FERLINGHETTI) CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE.  His telegram (itself, a classic encomium in American Literature), opens this intimate, revealing, "fortifying and encouraging",
collection - the (selected) Ginsberg-Ferlinghetti correspondence, edited by Bill Morgan and just published recently by City Lights   

From the back-cover blurb:
"In 1969, Allen Ginsberg wrote to his friend, fellow poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Alas, telephone destroys letters!". Fortunately, however, by then, the two had already exchanged a treasure trove of personal correspondence, and more than any other documents, their letters - intimate, opinionated, and action-packed  - reveal the true nature of their lifelong friendship and creative relationship. Collected here for the first time, they offer an intimate view into the range of artistic vision and complementary sensibilities that fueled the genius of their literary collaborations. Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were two of the twentieth century's most influential literary rebels, and their correspondence documents a time when both were rising in the peak of their notoriety and international fame, traveling, writing, publishing and performing their poetry during a period of unprecedented social and cultural experimentation and upheaval. The majority of the letters collected here  have never before been published, and they span the period from 1955 until Ginsberg's death in 1997, offering an evocative portrait of an inspiring and enduring relationship."

"Dear Allen - Back from Nica + 10th Anniversaro of Sandanist Rev…. You should have been there. Great stuff going on. Love Lawrence"

Ah Sandinistas! - We would do well to look back on that pivotal time in Latin American political and cultural history (and U.S. political and cultural history!). Allen did indeed go down there (making an important visit (captured here in photos by Ilka Hartman) three years earlier, in 1986, and maintaining a consistent and prescient understanding and following of the situation; forthright and outspokenly critical of U.S. hypocrisy and manipulation (this, long before the revelations occured regarding the so-called "Iran-Contra affair"). 

[Allen Ginsberg with Ernesto Cardenal in Managua, Nicaragua, 1986 - Photograph by Ilka Hartman]

In an early visit (in 1982, at the Managua Poetry Festival), he had penned, alongside Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and the Sandinista's Minister of Culture, Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardenala joint-manifesto (the "Declaration of Three")  - "to (the) World's Writers", an appeal "for (the) Liberty of Nicaragua" - "We are three poets of very different countries...We don't want to see Nicaragua become a puppet in anyone's hands. At this moment we are witnesses that here in Nicaragua, which suffered so much under tyranny, misery and ignorance, there is an intent on the part of the people to defend their economic and intellectual independence. Nicaragua is a big experimental workshop for new forms of get-together wherein art plays a primordial role…." 

and in "Little Fish Devours The Big Fish", he expressed his deep and understandable concerns -  "When the troops/get their poop/at Fort Bragg/how to frag/ Sandinistas/ Leftist Nicas/or go bomb/Guatemalan/Indians.."  

Here's another one - from the late 60's - "Dear Allen, Dreamt last night you handed me a copy of the VILLAGE VOICE with complete POEM ON THESE STATES in it, about fifty pages of Voice pages. Not a bad idea for a first complete printing of it, I'm even dreaming genius publishing ideas, and it reminds me to tell you that I am ready to do it in Pocket Poets Series whenever you are…"
"The Fall of America: Poems of  These States 1965-1971" finally appeared in 1973, and garnered for Allen that year the U.S. National Book Award 

Also in that letter - " I am also wondering, what with your new singing career (sic), wouldn't you like to do a little (William) Blake edition with your music for the poems you have done. It would be lovely; but maybe you want to give the idea to some bigger publisher…"

[Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Unfinished Flag o fthe United States, 1988,  oil on canvas  51 1/2"" x 28]

And a postcard from 1990 -  "Dear Allen, I sent the original of the enclosed to you at Naropa  Anne (Waldman) to hold for you there. Curious what happened on stage that day of the sumi-brush event….After I asked you how to spell bodhi, "elephants fucking" flashed upon my brainpan…then you said it! - Love L"

                         [Allen Ginsberg & Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Photograph courtesy The City Lights Archves]

And a couple of postcards from Allen - from 24th August, 1976 :

"Returned home tonite & found your Aug 8 note in Pile of letters - I'll stay here [New York] till (I) go to Berlin with W.S.Burroughs  Sept 20 - Oct 5. Then w/ Peter (Orlovsky) Oct - Dec  4 [sic] retreat N(orth) Wisconsin sitting on breath all day & technical Void studies - Then open spare time Next Summer at Naropa  I will Teach one course "Literary History of the Beat Generation") Apprentices retyped most of Mind Breaths - ready  soon I hope - note to you - Louis died peaceful & Philosophic little Pain - Love -in haste - Allen 
[Yes, I have some nice conclusions]

and from November 18 1985: 

"Dear Larry, Arrived in Moscow with Arthur Miller & Inge (Photographer Wife) and haphazard delegation of scribblers. Frieda Lurie of Writers Union & Yevtushenko at airport hellos - going on to old ghetto city of VILNA for "Discussions" then back to Moscow where I'll stay two weeks & goof with translators. How was your long Paris summer? Write any poems too?) I've been seeing Alex Katz, N.Y.painter, sitting last month for his portrait, also F(rancesco) Clemente. I brought lots of books here from Subterraneans,[distribution company] lots of City Lites [sic] & Grey Fox includimg yr Poetry, Don't know where I'll visit but hope to settle down in Moscow and teach & work till December 15 - Love to Nancy (Peters), Philip Lamantia, Folks at store & God - As ever Allen Ginsberg

[William H Gass, Allen Ginsberg & Arthur Miller in an elevator in St Petersburg in the apartment building where Fyodor Dostoevsky once lived (part of the US delegation to the Soviet Union, 1985] 

The scattered materials featured above are only a random sampling from an extraordinary trove, expertly edited and shaped by Bill Morgan, in fact summoned into being by him

From his introduction:

"Ferlinghetti has always been reluctant to publish his own correspondence, so this volume marks a departure from that previous silence. It was only after repeated coaxing on the part of the editor that he agreed to allow their publication.." 

Beat scholars will be forever grateful.

Jake Marmer's early review of the book in the Chicago Tribune may be read here  
Katherine Duckworth on the City Lights blog - here 
The Poetry Foundation has further excerpts and photos - here

More reviews to follow