Monday, April 27, 2015

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]

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Plutonian Ode, 1978, (The Robert Creeley Recording)


                                       [Robert Creeley (1926-2005) - Photograph by Michael Romanos]

Last weekend, we featured Allen reading (from "Kaddish" and other poems) as part of the Robert Creeley audiotape collection, (now lovingly engineered and digitalized and made available on the incomparable PennSound site).  

This weekend, we spotlight another one, a reading, some years later, from 1978, (in the Kiva Room at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where Creeley was then teaching, the first recipient of the chair of David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters - he would later be promoted to the position of Samuel P Capen Professor of Poetry and the Humanities - In 1991, along with Charles Bernstein, he co-founded the on-going and lively Buffalo Poetics Program

This reading, from October 5, 1978, features (and concludes with) a reading of his then recently-completed long-poem of nuclear protest, Plutonian Ode 
(this may be compared with alternative readings made available on the Allen Ginsberg Project here and here)



                                       [Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) - Photograph by Michael Romanos



Allen Ginsberg at State University of Buffalo, 1978, a vintage audio, may be heard in its entirety here

Allen begins with a brief song (accompanying himself on the harmonium) by William Blake  - "I've been working on (William) Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience and put music to most of the songs, and this year (1978), working with "The Tyger", and a song that I had never understood before, "My Pretty Rose Tree", a little, slight two-stanza lyric (the music I'm sort of improvising)"…."What interested me is, "Such a flower as May never bore" (meaning an unearthly flower, such as William Carlos Williams mentions in "Asphodel..") - "A flower was offered to me/Such a flower as May never bore/But I said I've a Pretty Rose-tree" - So he's.. he wants his earthly flower, his mortal, transitory, vegetable flower, but then, when he gets his transitory vegetable flower - "(the) thorns were my only delight"



Allen continues:  "I'll read poems written since I was here in Buffalo last, (in 1975).
In September (19)75, I went on a three-week meditation hermitage, alone, with the idea of not writing anything (also), that is, just do(ing) Buddhist-type sitting meditation, and, because I wasn't trying to convert my experience into language, wound up seeing more precisely than I had before, with a writing habit, and a few perceptions remained stuck in my mind. So when I got out (on September 16) I wrote down a few fast poems. So these are haiku, written after several.. after a couple of weeks of sitting alone in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains  - 

"Sitting on a tree-stump with half cup of tea,/ sun down behind mountains -/ Nothing to do." - "Not a word! Not a word!/ Flies do all my talking for me -/ and the wind says something else." - "Fly on my nose/ I'm not the Buddha/ There's no enlightenment here." - "Against red bark truck/ A fly's shadow/ lights on the shadow of a pine bough." - "An hour after dawn/ I haven't thought of Buddha once yet!/ - walking back into the retreat house." - " - and "Walking into King Sooper after Two-Week Retreat" ("an instant karma shot") - A thin red-faced pimpled boy/ stands alone minutes/looking into the ice cream bin." - (There was a similar haiku I'd written on an earlier retreat which was "Snow mountain fields/ seen thru transparent wings/ of a fly on the windowpane." - that is to say, the perception becomes clearer after clearing the mind - you can even see a snowfield on a mountain through a fly's wing on the window-pane, or you might notice it, with an attentive eye)."

"And in October that year, Gospel Noble Truths, which is a gospel style blues featuring the Three marks of existence - suffering, change and ego-lessness (that is, no.. empty of ego, (as) the universe itself), the Four Noble Truths - the Eightfold Path, instructions for sitting, and a review of the six senses."

             [Allen Ginsberg and Louis Ginsberg, 1975 teaching a class at Naropa - Photograph by Rachel Homer]

"Don't Grow Old" is a series of poems written in January to July 1976, with several additions done last night and into today, on the death of my father, Louis (Ginsberg), who was a poet - in seven parts… (no) nine parts - so nine seperate sections.." 

"and my Father died while I was in Naropa Institute teaching, after being away for several weeks and so I flew home to the funeral and wrote a song - "Father Death Blues."  


"There is a Buddhist slogan (the notion of slogan precedes Mao Tse Tung, it's a traditional Chinese form, (the) slogan) which says "Drive All Blames Into One",  which is to say, take the great stinky ball of blame that nobody wants, put it all in one, and take it, because it's empty, so what difference does it make?, then you can get on with trying to figure out what to do with the situation , beside blaming something, or somebody else, for it."

"From a longer poem ["Contest of Bards"], a song called "The Rune". The.. I was reading a lot of (Thomas) Campion (and (Bob) Dylan, actually) - with Dylan and Campion and (I) tried to write a (sort of) silver lyric." (It's part of a longer poem called "The Contest of Bards" and it's a sort of a riddle poem in the middle of the longer epic work)"
(Allen is accompanied on vocals here by Peter Orlovsky)

Allen continues with "I Lay Love on My Knee", "Lack Love", "Punk Rock Your (sic) My Big Cry Baby", "What's Dead?", "Father Guru", and "Manhattan Mayday Midnight" (" - "ur" - the syllable "ur" is not "er" but "Ur", that is to say, of  Sumer? of the city in Sumer? If you hear the phrase "ur", it's the ancient city..") 


"I'll finish with a Plutonian Ode , a longish poem (it'll take about ten minutes), written this summer (1978). Peter (Orlovsky) and I were involved with Rocky Flats nuclear facility Rockwell war-plant anti-nuclear protests near Boulder, Colorado, and one.. I got more involved thinking about it, and wrote a long poem, and the next morning one of the Rocky Flats Truth Force workers came and said that there was a train coming through with fissile materials and some of the Rocky Flats Truth Force people were going to sit on the tracks in front of the train to stop the train, (as was their want - about seventy people had been arrested doing that, including Daniel Ellsberg, earlier)  (and) did we want to come out and join them? - and I'd just finished this long poem, and I said, "Yes, my script is written, so I'm all ready". And then, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote notes to it because there's confusing mythology involved, so I'll read you the notes."

(Allen's annotations to "Plutonian Ode"):

"Dr Glenn Seaborg was officially, is officially, the discoverer of plutonium (in the third line, "Doctor Seaborg" is mentioned).  I'm talking about planets, Uranus (like "uranium" - plutonium is uranium-enriched)..so, among the planets, there's Uranus, and then there's Neptune (ocean), and then there's Pluto.  I mention "Fish", "Crab", "Bull", "Ram", "Lion" - those are the astrologic constellations (we just left the age of Pisces, theoretically, according to the astrology columns in the newspapers, and are going into the age of Aquarius - two-thousand years each. Each age is considered to be two thousand years, and of the twelve signs, twenty-four-thousand years, and that was known by William Butler Yeats and Plato as "the Great Year" (of twenty-four-thousand years), the Babylonian Great Year, or Platonic Great Year, (meaning the time it takes for us to pass through..for our solar system, I guess, to enter and pass through, each of the major constellations). The center of our galaxy, actually, is in the direction of Sagittarius. Twenty-four-thousand years, this "Great Year" is also, amazingly, the half-life of plutonium (so this is a way of getting poetic scale to the political fact that we have created a new element, the heaviest element, (heavier than uranium, next to plutonium - there are new elements, since then, heavier - caesium - but the heaviest element created at that time - plutonium, and its half-life is twenty-four-thousand years, exactly the same as the Great Year) (and) so..  
That gives you some idea how long we're going to have to take care of West Valley, New York [sic] 's old nuclear plant, (that's sort of half-sunk in the earth and closed up and nobody knows how to deal with the nuclear waste and get rid of it).  So… the full-life is two-hundred-and-forty-thousand years, two-hundred and forty-thousand millennia, before it becomes physically inert and un-dangerous. If the "Great Year" is twenty-four-thousand years and Earth is four-billion years old, that means we've gone through the "Great Year" a-hundred-and-sixty-seven-thousand times (a little) piece of information…"

"And did I mention  "Hanford, Savannah River, Rocky Flats, Pantex, Burlington, Albuquerque"? - those are towns where there are plutonium factories, where the plutonium is made (in the first two cities), where it's fabricated into bomb.. three-pound bomb-triggers at Rocky Flats (each bomb-trigger is the size of a Nagasaki-size explosion, and that's the trigger for a hydrogen bomb ten thousand times that strength…  And then the old bombs are stored at Manzano Mountain, outside Albuquerque, So I'm mentioning the towns and the states."

"One single pound of plutonium scattered throughout the Earth is supposed to be sufficient to wreck all human life, if it is scattered equally. One atom to one lung is enough to cause cancer.  And (then) there is the mention of "the Six Worlds", (which is a Buddhist notion of  six psychological states - world of bliss, (world of) gods, human world, world of angry warriors, world of hungry ghosts, hell-world, and animal world. And there are now three-hundred tons of plutonium, (estimated, 1978, amount) produced for bombs (the United States has thirty-thousand such bombs and Russia twenty thousand). There's mentioned also the temple, the single temple, at Eleusis, which is the temple to Demeter, where Pluto and Hades ((the) god of Hades) was also worshipped. Pluto's always bad news (as in Chaucer [ in "The Merchant's Tale"]), wherever he appears, god of the underworld, he stole Spring-time, Persephone, from Earth-Mother, Demeter, took her underground for half (of) the year. Libations to Pluto were honey and water poured on the floor of the temple and black sheep throats were cut (but the priest's face was generally turned away from underground, he wasn't supposed to look)."

"And the estimated world military budget 1978 is five-hundred-billion dollars (just Russia and America and China and everyone)…. two-hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars a minute - or five-hundred billion a year. 
And I mention the word (s) "pacify", "enrich", "magnetize" and "destroy", (which appears earlier in twentieth-century American Literature in "Give, sympathize, control" ("Datta, dayadhvam, damyata"), (at) the end of (T.S.) Eliot's (The) Waste Land . ("Magnetize this howl with heartless compassion, destroy this mountain of Plutonium with ordinary mind and body speech"). They are aspects of, or characteristics of, Buddha-nature - that it pacifies, enriches (pacifies where it can, enriches what's lacking), magnetizes and draws together, attracts, and what it can't deal with, destroys, (what ignorance is dissolvable, destroys).    

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 218



                    [Ming Hui - translation of the opening lines of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" into Mandarin]

from a recent interview (Q & A) in the New York Times with poet and translator, Willis Barnstone, (provocatively titled "Willis Barnstone on Translating Mao and Touring Beijing With Allen Ginsberg"):


NYT: During your stay in 1984-85, Allen Ginsberg came.

WB: Yes, he came on a visit with leading American authors. He gave a talk about [fellatio]. - [n.b. New York Times' square-brackets and Latin terminology, not ours!] - That was the end of his tour! Everyone was stone-faced. But being Allen Ginsberg and finding marvels in China, and boyfriends, he stayed on until Christmas.

To reduce Allen's historic - and productive - trip to this one salacious anecdote seems, well.. hardly fair (not to say, frankly, inaccurate). The Times doesn't go quite that far: 

NYT: [So] What happened at the White Cloud Temple [in Beijing]?
WB: I went there with Allen. We walked in there, and the abbot was wise, as Taoists should be, and generous. We were interested in everything, and although I’m not religious, religion is something I know well, so we had a lot to talk about. We were walking around, and we saw a room. Allen said, “What’s in this room?” and the abbot said, “Look inside.” Allen opened the door, and there was a young man wearing a loincloth, but otherwise completely naked. He was in a posture where his hands touched his feet, like a circle, but his eyes were open. Allen said, “Oh, oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb him.” And the abbot said, “Don’t worry. No one will disturb him for twenty-four hours.” Allen said he had been in India for three years, (and) but this is the real thing.

The opening lines from Allen's "One Morning I Took A Walk in China":

"Students danced with wooden silvered swords, twirling on hard packed muddy earth
as I walked out Hebei University's concerete North Gate
across the road a blue capped man sold fried sweet dough sticks, brown as new boiled doughnuts.
in the gray light of sky, past poplar tree trunks, white washed cylinders topped
with red band the height of a boy - Children with school satchels sang & walked past me
Donkeys in the road, one big one dwarf pulling ahead of his brother, hauled a cart of white stones
another donkey dragged a load of bricks, other baskets of dirt -
Under trees at the crossing, vendors set out carts and tables of cigarettes, mandarin Tangerines, yellow round pears taste crunchy lemony strange…"

and,

 "Reading Bai Juyi" (written in Shaghai, a couple of weeks later)"

"I'm a traveler in a strange country
China and I've been to many cities
Now I'm back in Shanghai, days
under warm covers in a room with electric heat  - 
a rare commodity in this country - 
hundreds of millions shiver in the north
students rise at dawn and run around the soccer field
Workmen sing songs in the dark to keep themselves warm…" 

These and several other "China poems" can be found in his collection, White Shroud


Here's the beginnings of another one (actually, Section V of  the previous poem):

"I sat up in bed and pondered what I'd learned
while I lay sick almost a month: 
That monks who could convert Waste to Treasure
were no longer to be found among the millions
in the provinces of Hebei. That The Secret of the Golden Lotus
has been replaced by the Literature of the Scar, nor's hardly
anybody heard of the Meditation Cushion of the Flesh
That smoking Chinese or American cigarettes makes me cough;
Old men had got white haired and bald before
my beard showed the signs of its fifty-eight snows.
That of Three Gorges on the Yangtze the last one downstream 
is a hairpin turn between thousand-foot-high rock mountain gates.
I heard that the Great Leap Forward caused millions
of families to starve, that the Anti-Rightist Campaign
against bourgeois "Stinkers" sent revolutionary poets
to shovel shit in Xinjiang Province a decade before
the Cultural Revolution drove countless millions of readers
to cold huts and starvation in the countryside Northwest…"



                                                               [Gary Snyder]

Gary Snyder, another erstwhile "Beat" not unfamiliar (to say the least) with China (and most particularly classical Chinese literature) has his eighty-fifth birthday coming up in a couple of weeks time.  In advance of it and on the occasion of a new book, he's been giving a couple of interviews.  Here's his interview with NPR's Linda Wertheimer 

and here's his interview, (or a section of his interview) with KRCC (Colorado College) (he quotes his friend Peter Coyote's sage advice, "don't buy your own poster!") 

from the interview:
Interviewer - "I think your style as a poet, at least at first, it seems very observational, there's a lot of very concrete imagery, of things that you seem to be witnessing, and in a way kind of bearing witness to, whether it's in the natural world or human culture, or looking at ancient myth or older traditions. So is that for you, as a poet, is that part of that "being unprepared", in terms of just allowing yourself to observe in some way?
GS: Well, that's, you know, that's a kindergarten step is what that is. You can't even be a bird-watcher without having good and accurate observations. You need to be an observer, which translates into, (on a slightly larger scale), something that has become very popular in the United States recently (and I completely welcome it) which is the whole idea of the practice of mindfulness. Now the term "mindfulness" is a very meaningful term. It means thinking clearly and observing correctly - both. And it means keeping calm. And it means knowing who you are and what your steps are, and so I certainly welcome that.."


                                                                                [David Olio]
A follow-up from last week, (sadly not a positive one) - the David Olio -"Please Master" case.  Olio's lawyer writes:

"It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write to tell you we were unable to save David's job but hopefully we saved his career. After ten hours of mediation we negotiated a separation agreement [with the South Windsor, Connecticut School Board]. The district feels the community is divided on David's actions and there is no way other than to release him to bridge that divide. I am heartsick and forever changed by this experience.."

"Please master, can I touch your cheek/please master can I kneel at your feet"
Censorship is alive and well and living in America.

Regarding some thrilling news on poetry digitalization, our good friend Rob Melton at the University of San Diego's Mandeville Library Archive For New Poetry writes us:
"Shortly after the death of the poet Paul Blackburn in 1971, ANP (Archive For New Poetry) acquired his personal papers, library, and audiotape collection, which has been called “the most comprehensive oral history of the New York poetry scene between the late 1950s and 1970.” But the roughly four hundred tapes, the majority of which are in the reel-to-reel format, are in danger of deteriorating and being heard only on almost obsolete equipment. In February, we began to digitize the tapes and we will soon begin to obtain permission from copyright holders to make the tapes as widely available on the Internet as possible. Although the digitization will not be complete by May 7th, we are hosting a virtual reading during which selected readings will be played from the new digital files, with a focus on poets whose papers are also held in ANP."


                                                         [Paul Blackburn 1926-1971]

So -  "..on Thursday, May 7th, from 4:00-6:00 (at the Seuss Room of the Geisel Library). It’s a double-barreled celebration: first, to celebrate, publicize, and listen to selections from a digitization project that we have recently undertaken and second, to honor (esteemed poet and teacher at UCSD, and an important figure in the development of the collection), Michael Davidson."

Speaking of San Diego, we note (belatedly) the passing of another local teacher and poet, Steve Kowit. 
Here's Ted Burke's loving recollections of him.  Here are more tributes 

and, speaking of recordings of poetry readings, it being National Poetry Month, the US Library of Congress has decided to go all out. (Allen's reading (from 1988), incidentally, can be accessed here)


The Beats-via-vinyl note - The Vinyl Factory recently put up a story by Chris May on "Radical Poets - The Story of the Beat Generation in Ten Rare Records" - Rarities indeed. Perhaps you're familiar with this one:


 but what about this?




The other eight and May's comments on the records can be read here.

Upcoming, in London, on May 30, plans are afoot for an Albert Hall anniversary updated Poetry Incarnation -   Stay tuned 

and more on the Beat Museum's upcoming Beat Shindig in June












Closer to the moment, Fred W. McDarrah, fabled Greenwich Village photographer, is having a  photo-opening, tonight!, at  New York's Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea. (515 W. 26th.) from 6 pm to 8 pm. The show will be based on his classic 1961 book  The Artists's World in Pictures.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Meditation and Poetics - 80 (Penfield's Homunculus)




AG: Has anyone seen Penfield’s Homunculus? – the homunculoid picture drawn on the surface of the brain according to the areas of the brain that relate to the different senses? I think (the) mouth is enormous, actually. The mouth area is enormous. (The) forehead (is) very low, because there’s not much sensation up there. The visual? - I’ve forgotten how much area the visual takes up..

Student: It’s only for touch that he did that.

AG: For touch? – Ah..

Student: There’s also motor homunculus.

AG: That’s right. The thumbs were enormous.

Student: Yeah. Thumbs and the face. As a matter of fact…

AG: Thumbs and (the) mouth. It was a homunculus made up of giant thumbs and (a) big mouth, and then….

Student: There’s a book in the library called The Mechanics of the Mind ( Editorial note: The Mystery of the Mind - A Critical Study of Consciousness and the Human Brain), where   (they) made clay models..

AG: Uh-huh

Student: … (and) came up with something looking exactly like the homunculus…
AG:Yeah

Student: …that Penfield drew

AG: Yeah. It’s a terrific picture, if you ever get (to see) it. Wilder Penfield. What’s the name of it?.. The Living Brain.. or something like that. (William) Burroughs laid the book on me once - [Editorial note - Allen is confusing two pioneering books in neuroscience here -  W.Grey Walter's seminal 1963 text and  the aforementioned text,Wilder Penfield's 
1975 The Mystery of the Mind]

So my reference is wrong on that as far as sight. But I think sight is generally the most common, largest sensation of consciousness. Sound is supposed to be the first and last - the first to arrive and the last to go. If you’re vanishing in the dentist’s chair, I think sound is the last sense to depart, when you go under on laughing gas.

Anyway, I propose, generally, what can be seen, and most other poets do, or modern poets ((Ezra) Pound, (William Carlos) Williams, (Louis) Zukofsky) propose that area that you can see (sight (is) where the eye hits”) as being the commonest place that people can find each other, (that is, in poetry), where they can communicate, where they can find matter that does communicate.

Student: How would you answer the ancient objection that it’s nothing but imitation, nature's just a type of mirror, an imitation of nature, (that) you have to have something extra.

AG: Yes. That’s a…  (after borrowing a cigarette) : Actually, there’s a long essay in the recent Arsenal [magazine] by Philip Lamantia, the Surrealist, precisely attacking me and (William Carlos) Williams and the whole development of twentieth-century poetry for having suppressed the Imagination in favor of the gross material sight. And particularly suppressed the inner voice, and his very precisely defined area of what is “inner voice”. So we’re going to try to have Philip Lamantia here next summer (1979 – [Editorial note - he didn’t come]) to teach Surrealism and to teach that area.

William Burroughs’ writing, incidentally, (in this context) is interesting. I think his writing.. he says (or has always said, since, at least the (19)50’s when I began enquiring)..Having been (at that time) working with (William Carlos) Williams, I began getting curious about the mechanics of Burroughs’ mind (and) I asked him how does he think? – And he insisted, from the very beginning, early (19)40’s, that he does not think in words. He thinks in pictures. Now, I find myself thinking in words (though, since doing a lot of meditation, there’s a little more pictorial element flashing on the mind’s eye). And then in Tangier, when we were spending a lot of time (together) in the early (19)60’s, (when he was writing certain chapters of Naked Lunch), I saw him at a typewriter and he was sitting there staring into space, as if in meditation, or he was just. His hand was on the typewriter keys as if waiting for inspiration, waiting for the next thought, looking at the wall. And so I said, “What are you thinking about, Bill?”. And he said, “Hands pulling in nets from the sea” – “Hands pulling in nets from the sea in the darkness”. And I thought, “Gee, what a cosmic image! – like the cosmic hands of God bringing up the souls from the ocean of…”. And I said,” Where did you get that?”(thinking it was an idea  - that is, a cosmic idea, a conceptual idea, from theosophy or something). And he said, “Oh, every morning before dawn the fishermen down at the beach are pulling in the nets from the sea ,on the Tangier beach”. And he was just seeing their hands pulling in nets from the sea - Totally literal.

So, in that sense, he thinks in pictures, and if you read his cut-up stuff (The Soft Machine, (The) Ticket that Exploded, (which we’ll go into), and Nova Express), you’ll see that his prose is a succession of visual imagery, generally. He has (a) good ear (as (Jack) Kerouac noticed). For Burroughs’ ear, Kerouac’s favorite line was “Motel motel motel loneliness moans along still oily tidal waters of East Texas bayou roads”- “Motel motel motel loneliness moans along still oily tidal waters …” – Kerouac picked that line out and said, “Bill’s a great poet. Like (John) Milton or something. He has this fantastic ear” – Which he does. That would be melopoeia for that one. 

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately nineteen-and-a-half ninutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-five-and-a-quarter minutes in]