AG: You had your hand up – Yeah?
Student: I was reading (Ezra) Pound yesterday
AG: What were you reading?
AG: What were you reading?
Student: Uh, what were the ones he did right before the Cantos?
AG: Selected poems
Student: Yeah, and anyway, all of a sudden four or five lines from (Bob) Dylan came into my head – from “Desolation Row”
Student: “T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound fighting in the captain’s tower while gypsy singers laugh at them and fishermen wave flowers”
Student: So I just got real frustrated with Pound. I couldn’t understand it. I just wanted to go wave flowers because it was easier.
AG: You just what?
Student: I got real frustrated with Pound because I wasn’t understanding it.
AG: You know, that’s one of Dylan’s fucked-up lines, I’m afraid.
Student: You think so?
AG: Alas – Because I love him as a poet. But, see, Eliot and Pound were friends, they weren’t “fighting in the captain’s tower” – “T.S.Eliot and Ezra Pound are fighting in the captain’s tower..” – What was it? How does it continue?
Student: “While calypso singers laugh at them”
AG: Well, that might be. Because, calypso singers, literally, in the early part of the 19th century, were practicing an art of improvisation, using actual diction, street diction, and using spontaneous mind practices, which really were the ultimate goal of Pound’s study of the minstrels and minnesingers. But Pound didn’t actually pick up on the fact that there were living minstrels and minnesingers and troubadors in America among the blacks. He didn’t quite understand that as an art form. (Pablo) Picasso was smarter when he went back to African statuary directly for his spirit, for his modern spirit.
But then Dylan goes on and fucks it all up with a real dull image (like [the example he gives in his “A Retrospect”] “the dim vales (dim lands) of peace“)
AG: What’s the next line? “While calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers”?
Student: Hold flowers? Wave flowers.
[tape ends – continues on reverse side]
Student: No, just…
AG: What was the line? You just quoted it
Student: “Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow”
AG: Yeah, so Dylan has to bring in his old tired “lovely mermaids” there. I mean, Dylan finally falls into exactly the same trap that Pound was warning against. Where did he get those “lovely mermaids” at “the windows of the sea”?, “fishermen holding flowers”? – that’s all out of his head, out of his head from reading Ezra Pound or something. No, I mean it’s all out of his head from reading (Alfred Lord) Tennyson, probably, in high school – “Mermaids of the sea”! – My ass! – I mean, he doesn’t know anything about mermaids of the sea! Dylan had not read, really, Pound. He’d read Eliot but he hadn’t really read Pound and, at that time, understood Pound. And so later he told me that he’s ashamed of that line (he’s not ashamed, but he’s a little.. he can’t sing it with the conviction that he wrote it, because, actually, Pound was warning against that kind of dopey sentimentality).
Student: Wasn’t he referring.. I always thought that by this line he was referring to this fascist state..
AG: Yeah, The tower.
Student: Of Pound.. The fascist.. Fascists. And this as the fascist Ship of State coming down – and Anti-Semitism as well..
AG: I don’t think so. I don’t think (that) he had that in mind
Student: That’s what I got out of it.
AG: He thought they were too arty – “While calypso singers laugh at them” – Maybe. Of course, unconsciously, he may have had “lovely mermaids” there. Dylan finally falls into exactly the trap that Pound was warning against. Where did he get those “lovely mermaids”? It’s ignorance of Pound’s beauty. At that time he had not yet read (Arthur) Rimbaud even, much less Pound.
Student: Maybe he was sort-of doing it then. It seems throughout all that song, he’s comparing, like, ideology with literature in certain..in one heavy way
AG: In a kind of heavy way
AG: In a too heavy way
AG: And..so I’m saying I think there’s a.. Well, I mean, that’s the main thrust – his ideology and literature. I mean the main thrust..
Student: But that’s (just) one vein..
Student: .. that seems to run through it.
AG: I don’t think it’s the major thing. The major thing is about.. ego-fascism, sort of – “Dr.Filth” and his nurse (he’s talking about an amphetamine scene) – amphetamine fascism, actually.
Student: I’d say the major thing is “Howl”
AG: I don’t know how much of an influence..
Student: I really…
AG: …precisely, that was
AG: Probably some
A little after that time I started bringing Dylan books to read and I brought him an (Emily) Dickinson…
Student: Educated him
AG: …Pound, (Walt) Whitman, (Percy Bysshe) Shelley, (Arthur) Rimbaud, Emily Bronte, (Antonin) Artaud, (William Carlos) Williams
Student: He hadn’t read these people?
AG: Yeah, a little, in an anthology – (Christopher) Smart – he read him in anthology like everybody does. But he hadn’t looked at the body of the work. His reaction to Rimbaud was really great. He loved Rimbaud, and said, “how can anyone write after Rimbaud”?