AG: There’s a film actually…
Student (CC): Wholly Communion. Yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s around town
AG: In fact, we might try and get (it).. because the (Ernst) Jandl is on it, the Jandl (collaborative) piece is on it. Nineteen sixty-five..
Student (CC): It is..
AG: … (a) poetry reading in (London’s) Albert Hall. Then…
Student (CC): Wholly Communion – W-H-O-L-L-Y Communion
Student: (There’s another one)
AG: Pardon me?
Student: They had another one, “Poets Against the Bomb”, at the Albert Hall…
AG: Yes, that poetry reading in (the) Albert Hall was started in (19)65, on this occasion. It was a big deal.
Student: Oh, it’s an annual (event) now?
AG: No, they have an annual.. they have a big.. actually the British Government… (this) was something that was organized by local friends of.. John Lennon‘s, and bookstores, and little Beatniks in London, and it was Alex Trocchi who was one of the readers, myself, Gregory Corso (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti – we were all in Europe then. Then we got European poets. Andrei Voznesensky was there. Indira Gandhi sat in the balcony and listened for the whole evening (which was three-and-a-half hours!). (Bob) Dylan had just been there and played (the) Albert Hall, actually. So it was a great, great moment in England, of the Renaissance, of the Beatles (the Beatles were around and The Beatles provided some of the money to get (the) Albert Hall for us. Who else among the poets? – Harry Fainlight (who was an English-American poet), Simon Vinkenoog (of Amsterdam). ..
So all of this continues. Same. Ever since then the British Government [Arts Council] (has) had an annual poetry festival in Queen Elizabeth Hall, (but) much more formal. And then they dropped it a couple of years ago, and then Michael Horovitz, (who was originally from the Albert Hall thing) had a.. what was that that Gregory Corso went to last year, in Westminster Abbey, that got a write up, I think, in the International (Herald) Tribune? [editorial note – “Poetry Olympics” was the name of the event, launched in September 1980 by Horovitz from the “Poets Corner” at Westminster Abbey with a reading featuring, alongside Corso, Stephen Spender, Derek Walcott, Anne Stevenson, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and others. Subsequent “Poetry Olympics” have taken place in the intervening years].
And this October [Allen is speaking in 1981] there’s supposed to be, sponsored by UNESCO in Paris, a poetry reading called “War Against War”, organized by Jean-Jacques Lebel, who’s a French activist hippie (he was involved in 1968 rock-throwing against the cops in the Paris uprising, he translated “Howl” and is a friend of (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti) . So he’s organizing, with UNESCO, an international poetry-reading – but mostly African poets (they invited me and they invited (Andrei) Voznesensky and one Englishman, I think, but it’ll be mostly Asian and African poets, as a “war against war”, poetry against war. So there’s always been that tradition of big international… [editorial note – Allen omits (unintentionally, for sure) the pioneering work of Benn Posset in Amsterdam and his One World Poetry]
Student: How many people would attend?
AG: At Albert Hall? There were seven thousand people, the place was packed, they had to turn people away, as many as could get in. It was a sell-out. (Bob) Dylan was astounded. He said “You sold out Albert Hall? I don’t believe it”. Because he (previously) had done it.
Student: Was he there?
AG: No, he wasn’t there. He had just left. But he had just played Albert Hall and was following what was going on. About two years later, he was laying that trip – “Poetry was able to sell-out the Albert Hall? You got something there. You got good business there”. Impressed him, anyway.
And there were larger readings, actually, I think in Hyde Park, there had been larger readings [editorial note – Allen is, perhaps, confused here]. That led to a whole series of free readings, like, a few months later, I think, or just around that time, [editorial note: Allen is referring here to the Rolling Stones free Hyde Park concert that, in fact, took place three years later] Mick Jagger gave a giant free concert and recited (Percy Bysshe) Shelley’s “Adonais”, in memorial to Brian Jones who died, yes, yeah, dressed in a skirt or something.. Odd days, those days…
So back to.. but what’s interesting [in Schwitters, Jandl, etc] is the sound poem and this kind of Dada approach – humor as well as common sense (as you’ll [also] find in (Velimir) Khlebnikov, lots of common sense, like that poem, “I opened my shirt and gave air to the multitudes. And that was my revolution”. There’s a lot of strange common sense in Khlebnikov).
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-three-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in]