[John Ashbery – The Little Tower of Babel, (2010) – collage 15.2 cms x 20.3 cms – courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery]
(Weird juxtapositions) – Gregory Corso is a master of this. He actually took this method beyond the Surrealists and beyond any others that I know, in his book Happy Birthday of Death, and had a series of brilliant single-word poems – “Bomb” (which we have in here (in our anthology)), “Marriage“ – taking a concept or an idea (an idea-word, not just the word but the idea-word) – and then writing down, wittily, all the archetypal associations and turns and gifts, jumps of association, ordinary literal clunky reality takes, as well as fantastic mythological takes (like, if you had “shoes”, he’d wind up talking about Hermes’ sandals, as well as well as the shoe-shop, and the old shoe-man, and the shoe peddler, and the man without shoes, and the barefoot Hottentot, and the..) – or “Hair” – (has anybody read that?) – he’s got a poem, “Hair”, in which he talks about Yul Brynner, Ish Kabibble, Harpo Marx..
Student: “Stained-glass hair”
AG: “Stained-glass hair”, hair sticky with chewing gum, short hair, military hair, hippie hair, any variation. So it’s variations on the theme, and, actually, it’s like a musical fugue, or just like any jazz musician blowing ideas on a theme. Whatever extravagance comes into mind, (and the bigger the jump the better). Because, what it does (is) it illustrates the mind actually at work. It illustrates the nature of the human mind. So there could be no greater subject, or no greater method of writing poetry, in a certain way – (It’s) more naked. It’s the most naked method of writing, because you see (the) pure mind, (and) see the mind in it’s own quixotic element, (William) Shakespeare does it in some of his Sonnets – “Tired for all these for restful death I cry..”, and then it’s a list of all the fatiguing, disappointing, bitter, aspects of life.
Student: Do you think it’s letting your subconscious flow?
AG: Well, it’s mixed, it’s very mixed. Sometimes, the lines are totally subconscious and sometimes, they are calculated. It depends. If you’re sitting with a paper, writing, my experience is, if you’re doing this form (I’m talking about this particular form we’ve been talking about, which is a catalogue, or list, poem, or litany, where you have a repeated fixed word concept and then you make variations on it and let your mind go anywhere it wants), during the time of composition, probably, you’ll encounter every possible function of the mind – completely calculated conscious, completely unconscious accidental – you start to write one word and you’ll type out the beginning of another by mistake. So you do tap whatever you could call “unconscious”, if there is such a thing.
(William) Burroughs gave a good definition before (sic) when he said, “Art reminds us of what we already (know)”, “makes us recognize what we already knew”. You can’t tell anybody anything he didn’t know already,
Student: (but) what we didn’t know we know.
AG: Oh, what was the phrasing?
Student: Isn’t it, something that you know but that you don’t know that you know.
AG: Yeah. So there’s no unconscious, in the sense that we know it. But then there is an unconscious in the sense that we don’t know we know it sometimes. That’s why we make slips of the tongue, or that’s how we write, actually. My writing is really an attempt to discover what I think. The process of creation is (as) a revelation of what you were thinking all along that you didn’t notice, that you didn’t know you know.
to be continued
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at sixty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in and continuing to approximately sixty-nine-and-three-quarter minutes in]