AG: So how many people here have read D.H.Lawrence
? Raise your hands if you have. Read his poetry. Raise your hands. How many have not.? Okay. Do most of you know the poem about the snake
? How many have read that? Yeah..,,
(So). We got to (William Carlos) Williams
, up to the point (of the) late (19)20’s. The last line I read from Williams was “More, the particular flower is blossoming..
” Then I started thinking, now where else can we go beside Marsden Hartley
, to look historically at who else was working beside Williams at this time in an open form, working with particular details. When I first started working imitating Williams, or working out of Williams, around 1948 to 1955, I started beginning to check out all the other poets I could find that wrote in an open form, that wrote boken lines, that wrote long-line poems, that wrote short-line poems, all the people who were Williams’ friends, all the precursors, like Whitman
. One of the people I got into was D.H.Lawrence. One of the people I got into was Marsden Hartley. Another one I looked up was (Charles) Reznikoff.
Another one I looked up was Mina Loy
. And then I went to the Activist and Objectivist anthologies (different ones, edited by (Ezra) Pound
or edited by Louis Zukofsky
). – The Objectivist Anthology,
edited by Louis Zukofsky, the Activist, or Active, Anthology – who edited that? – maybe Ezra Pound. Check them out. I checked them out in the Museum of Modern Art
in New York, which is a good place for that kind of material. (I discovered also) a girl named Lorine Niedecker
who was writing very precise observational poetry.. Whitman, (and) friends of Whitman, like Edward Carpenter
, a name you’ve probably not heard but who is also a very interesting poet – Edward Carpenter – with a long book of poems called “Towards Democracy”
. He was an elegant Britisher, who came to see Whitman to learn from him, to sleep with him, actually (who later slept with Gavin Arthur
, who later slept with Neal Cassady
, who later slept with me, so there was a transmission
involved). Edward Carpenter, a name to remember, a really great poet. “Toward Democracy” is the name of his book. Rare to find. (It’ll) probably be reissued in the next ten years as appreciation of this kind of poetry grows. One major poem of his is called “The Secret of Time and Satan”
. There are other poems describing the details of train trips, just like Whitman, between Paris and Italy. So like a Whitman wandering around, observing passengers in trains in Europe, instead of just the United States.
Lawrence wasn’t a member of that hard-working Carpenter group that was actually trying to reduce verse to its bare essentials, but he was friendly with people who were friends in England, he knew people in the Bloomsbury
circle (which means he knew Virginia Woolf,
or Richard Aldington
, who was a friend of Pound and a fellow-Imagist
with Pound). So he knew what the current poetic movements were. He was more of an exuberant prose-writer, and so he wasn’t so tight-assed, worrying about how to measure the line, as the Americans were, which was partkly their virtue and partly their dryness. But if you want to compare a natural talent, just looking at the outside universe and writing down details, a natural talent doing it, as compared to Williams, he’s raw, crude and natural, but he’s still hard-working. He’s studying it, Williams is studying it. Lawrence is really smart and deep and he doesn’t have to study it, he just sort of lets it flow, so to speak. It’s still details, but his way of approaching details is more like (Jack) Kerouac,
in a way, more like a novelist. His details, which are buried in the subjective babblng, like…[Allen, as illustration, reads, in its entirety, D.H.Lawrence’s poem. “The Mosquito
”] – “When did you start your tricks/ Monsieur?”… “Queer, what a dim dark smudge you have disappeared into”.
Student: Can you hold it up?
AG: Pardon me?
Student: Hold the book up
AG: Yeah, The lines are very variable. He’s not measuring the lines as Williams (does). It’s like he’s taking down his thoughts. He’s taking down his prose thoughts. But the his prose thoughts are so exact as observation of his prose thought. See, the subject is the mosquito, somewhat, but also the subject is, with Lawrence, his reaction to the mosquito, in which he gets all sorts of archetypal human reactions. Like that business of how much he hates it, and the way he reacts to it, and how much he hates himself, and all the double thoughts he might have about putting himself as a mosquito and fighting the mosquito – the two of them as mosquitos in the universe, sort of battling it out, who’s going to make it? – “Come then, let us play at unawares,/ And see who wins in this sly game of bluff./ Man or mosquito.” – But there’s (also) an awful lot of observation of mosquito here (from “high legs”, “shredded shank”, “weigh no more than air as you alight upon me”, “turn your head towards your tail”, “translucent phantom shred”, “thin wings”,”stalk and prowl the air/ In circles and evasions”, “Settle, and stand on long thin shanks/ Eyeing me sideways”, “lurch off sideways into air/ Having read my thoughts against you”. Because everyone knows that relation with a mosquito – just when you’re going to get him, he knows too! – “(Y)our small high hateful bugle in my ear” – that’s a funny, beautiful way of putting that mosquito-whine, calling it a bugle.
Student: What kind of bugle?
AG: Hateful bugle. He’s got the “hateful” in there. Great, because one remembers that. So it’s almost objective, in that he’s including his hatred of the bugle. It’s almost, you could say.. Objectivist…
And then the really accurate observation of the infinitesimal . The “Big stain my sucked blood makes / Beside the infinitesimal faint smear of you!/ Queer, what a dim dark smudge you have disappeared into!” – So there’s a lot of detail there. It isn’t just a big vague rhapsody about mosquitos. With all of his takes on mosquitos, he’s actually probably sitting there in a room writing, observing and watching the mosquito move around, and then writing another line – likely enough. But anyway, it’s obvious what he’s doing is obvious. What he’s doing is so obvious that anyone can do that if they would just sit down and focus their mind on something real. Here he’s chosen as his subject the mosquito, which, in a sense, is beyond the imagination of most people to do – to accept that as his central theme there, for the moment. Everybody else wanted to write about God instead, or something.
[Allen continues] – “The Bat” –“Man and Bat”
– What I’m reading is a series of poems – “Bat”, “Snake”, “Baby Tortoise”
and “Tortoise Shout”
– a series of poems in which D.H.Lawrence has a definite subject, so we can see how he handles his definite subject with all its pictures and all its details. Do you know these poems, by the way?
Student: I know some of them
AG: Yeah. [Allen then reads, in its entirety, Lawrence’s “Man and Bat”
] – “When I went into my room, at mid-morning/ Say ten o’clock…”…. “There he sits, the long loud one!/ But I am greater than he…/ I escaped him…” – It’s a great thing he did there. Yeah. He’s got a lot of amazing poems in which there’s not only that empathy but that jousting back and forth and the struggle, in which he’s really taking the fellow-creature seriously, and getting it on with him, and having an emotional relationship, and expressing it. What’s interesting (is) he’s able, in here, to get all the little subtleties of his own changes. He’s not afraid to face his own creepy thoughts, just as Williams was not afraid to remember that when he saw his children on his stoop his heart sank in his breast and he felt crushed, so Lawrence is able to face the details of his own feelings. In other words, he doesn’t reduce all his feelings to one big hate, or one big gawp, or one big love-schmove – it’s a total variety of feeling that anybody, actually, does have. As well as very precise observations of the detail of the fur, the details of the kind of wing-flight flicker – the flicker of the wings. So, actually, if you go through this, as (William) Burroughs
goes through his cut-ups, sifting and panning for little nuggets, if you go through this sifting and panning for the Imagist-ic, Activist-ic, Objectivist nuggets, there are a great many. Accurate sounds – The “twitchy…lunge”, “(opening) The venetian shutters I push wide”, “Loop back the curtains..”, “flicking with my white handkerchief”,”round and round..touching the walls, the bell-wires/ About my room”, “crash gulf”, “Via de’ Bardi” – It sounds like Kerouac – somewhat.
Student: Which one of those phrases are you saying sounds like Kerouac?
AG: “Above that crash-gulf”..”above the Via de’ Bardi”.. It sounds like a Kerouac line, or a modern mind-transcription line, when somebody’s high on tea, sitting at the window of an Italian hotel, maybe three flights up, and the “crash-gulf” of the street outside. That whole spaced, spaced-out, thing, with trolley-cars rattling. It’s a very strange perception that reminds me of my own writing or of Kerouac’s. Then the funny thing of his observation of how the bat kept going, almost magnetically, toward the window, and kept getting pushed back by the light. It’s something that’s direct observation, rather than symbolic, so to speak (though here it’s sort of beautifully symbolic – but it’s “a natural object which is an adequate symbol”). Somebody had a question?
Student: You answered it. I was going to ask why he didn’t go into bats being a sort of prototype gargoyle and a symbol of everything that’s dark and evil and mysterious, but he just keeps presenting you with bats.
Student: It sort of freaks you out (or it freaked me out!) – (an invasion of bats!)
AG: Well, there’s only one specific bat, you can tell. There’s (just the) one time.
Student: He doesn’t need to introduce…
AG: He doesn’t need to introduce anything symbolic, because all he has to introduce is his own actual feelings.. and his own direct reaction, and his own yellow electric light, the brown of the room when the light’s put on, a really accurate description of the slow tiring of the bat (“flicker-heavy,/…wings heavy”), then, a really good observation there with “a clot, he squatted…sticking-out, bead-berry eyes, black…shut wings,/ And brown” – nut fur, fine fur body – “But it might as well have been hair on a spider” (which is really good, as far as creepy-crawly (evocation) – Also, there’s a great observation of his own mind-thoughts – “Ah death, death, you are no solution!/…Only life has a way out” (that sounds like Gregory Corso, that little part). “And the human soul is fated to wide-eyed responsibility/in life/ So I picked him up in a flannel jacket” (It’s great that he put that word “flannel” in there. How many here would have the presence of mind to remember that word? that it was a flannel jacket – which immediately snaps everything back to the place, the actuality). And “shook him out of the window” – It’s all there – A flannel jacket, and he’s shaking the jacket out of the window with a bat in it – So there’s actually enough raw detail in here to sustain such a long flight. It’s like a short story, really. And, as novelists know, the details are the life of the stories like that.
(We’ll) move on to a couple more. The most famous is the “Snake”
, which some of you have already read, which is maybe his most anthologized poem (except for the later “Ship of Death”
). But this, as far as dealing with detail, (is) a great triumph, because it’s real observation. [Allen reads D.H.Lawrence’s “Snake”, in its entirety] – “A snake came to my water-trough/ On a hot, hot day..”…”And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords/ Of life/ And I have something to expiate:/ A pettiness” – That’s totally straight, both in recording the observed cinematic movie-like details of the snake, as well as the archetypal self-thoughts, the, almost traditional, changes that Lawrence, the author, went through. He was able to register them, and register them very accurately, so that the changes he went through became facts or natural objects to describe, and don’t need any further symbolism. But it takes a real honesty and frankness and objectivity to describe your changes as objectively as you describe the flickering of the snake’s tongue, including the “Was it humility, to feel so honoured?/ I felt so honoured”, And, actually, that’s archetypal. Anybody who’s been out in a forest and actually seen some wild creature nearby, and there’s been a mutual acknowledgment, knows that feeling of being honored, of self-respect, that comes from being able to be still with this completely other form, another life. So he’s able to capture all the little subjective details. So part of the poetics is in recording subjective details, as well as with Williams, objective details. But the problem with recording subjective details is you’ve got to be really accurate, you can’t make them up, you have to observe the ones that really happened. You have to remember or recollect what you were actually thinking and recollect it in a naked and unembarrassed way. And here he’s even recollecting his own pettiness (which is what’s so good about it -which is that he and you – we – can learn a lesson from that – but most people don’t want to recollect their own pettiness, they want to recollect their nobility, or their great love, or their rainbow-like appreciation of the empty sky). So the problem then is, if you’re going to include personal detail, really, are you going to be personal enough and specific enough, or are you going to bullshit? – So, he’s a great honest man. Lawrence is famous for his honesty in this realm.