AG: “(H)igh school French spoken in a loud voice?/Parsley in a glass,/still and shining,/brings me back.”
– He’s spaced out, spaced in, spaced out, come back. “I take a drink/and yawn deliciously/I am ready for bed”
– “Yawn(ed) deliciously” – He appreciated it all.
Well, I would categorize that, classify that in Buddhist terms, (as) the extension of samatha – concentration, calming, tranquilization of mind, emptying of mind, then the extension of awareness, at that point, out into noticing, or insight into detail. And the noticing of the luminosity and precision of forms, sounds, and smells existent Traditionally, that’s supposed to be the progression, that if you do calm your mind and focus and concentrate it, and get it stabilized in one spot, there is slowly a kind of creeping awareness that rises as things from the outside present themselves to your inattention. You’re not attending to something outside, (you’re not attending to “the murmurous background of the crowded opera”, you’re just there in the room. And so that anything that happens in the room, or anything you see, will have its own, will present its own, form, will speak for itself to you (you won’t have to speak for it – it’ll speak for itself or present itself to you). I think there’s a phrase in (Franz) Kafka – “come rolling like a little dog to your feet” – the entire universe – if you shut up
[Editorial note: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstacy at your feet.” (“Es ist nicht notwendig, daß Du aus dem Haus gehst. Bleib bei Deinem Tisch und horche. Horche nicht einmal, warte nur. Warte nicht einmal, sei völlig still und allein. Anbieten wird sich Dir die Welt zur Entlarvung, sie kann nicht anders, verzückt wird sie sich vor Dir winden.”) – Kafka – Aphorismen (1918)]
So I find in (William Carlos) Williams a really great extension of that awareness – that basic grounded awareness to external detail. So I’ll read a couple of those poems.
But then.. He even tries to do it. Maybe tries too hard. He tries too hard to keep his attention on facts, because he’s got this slogan that goes with it – “No ideas.. no ideas but in things.” “Crisped green (the) parsley”. But here’s he’s actually trying to push it. So I’m reading this to show how he’s actually trying to get.. working maybe too hard, but this is his direction.
“Spring Strains” – [Allen proceeds to read William Carlos Williams’ poem “Spring Strains”] – ” In a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds/crowded erect with desire against the sky/tense blue-grey twigs/slenderly anchoring them down, drawing/them in-/ two blue-grey birds chasing/ a third struggle in circles, angles,/ swift convergings to a point that bursts/ instantly!”….”On a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds/two blue-grey birds, chasing a third,/at full cry! Now they are/flung outward and up – disappearing suddenly!” – He was influenced by painting of the day. Actually, the first abstractions coming through Europe. I like the language in that, actually. I always liked that “tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey”. But it’s very arty. He was really striving, So it’s not as simple as (for example) “January Morning”, where he’s actually just there sketching what’s in front of him. It’s a “suite”, as he calls it – so, it’s a series of little poems focusing on his local neighborhood – [Allen begins reading from Williams’ “January Morning – the first two sections] – “I’ve discovered that most of/the beauties of travel are due to/the strange hours we keep to see them..”…”Though the operation was postponed/I saw the tall probationers/in their tan uniforms/ hurrying to breakfast.” – This is page 162, “January Morning”, a little series of notes, sketch-notes – [Allen continues with sections five and six] – “and a young horse with a green bed-quilt/on his withers shaking his head/bared teeth and nozzle high in the air!/ – and a semicircle of dirt-colored men/about a fire bursting from an old/ash can..” – So, a fast sketch – [section seven] – “- and the worn,/blue car rails (like the sky!)/gleaming among the cobbles!” – Those are trolley-tracks. Before your time. Cobbled streets, trolley-tracks on them – “- and the worn,/blue car rails (like the sky!)/gleaming among the cobbles!” – [he continues with sections eight (“- and the rickety ferry-boat “Arden”) and ten (“The young doctor is dancing with happiness..”)] – “The young doctor is dancing with happiness.in the sparkling wind, alone/at the prow of the ferry! He notices/the curdy barnacles and the brooken ice crusts/left at the slip’s base by the low tide/and thinks of summer and green/shell-crusted ledges among/ the emerald eel-grass!” – Absolutely perfect, for a description of what went on in the Hudson, what went on in 1930 in the Hudson River, at the point where the piers and the water against the piers met , where there’s crusted barnacles (and) green moss growing. But he knew the name – “the emerald eel-grass”. He got the color, luminous color – “emerald eel-grass”, “(S)hell-crusted ledges”, “(C)urdy barnacles and broken ice crusts”
Student: What’s curdy?
AG: Like curds. Curdy barnacles. White … well, curds (look like).. yogurt, some kinds of yogurt.
Student: Cottage cheese.
AG: Cottage cheese. Cottage cheese puff balls, like a barnacle. Curdy. Curdy barnacles. “And broken ice crusts”.
Well, no wonder “the young doctor is dancing with happiness/in the sparkling wind, alone/at the prow of the ferry!” — he can see it all, he knows exactly what it means. He knows the names of it all, he can write it down. He can sketch it,. Perfect..
[Allen continues with section eleven] “Who knows the Palisades as I do/ knows the river breaks east from them/above the city–but they continue south” – Do you know this landscape? It looks like river’s coming down from heaven, actually – “Who knows the Palisades as I do/ knows the river breaks east from them/above the city – but they continue south/- under the sky – to bear a crust of/ little peering houses that brighten with dawn behind the moody/ water-loving giants of Manhattan.” [and section thirteen] – “Work hard all your young days/ and they’ll find you too, some morning/staring up under/you chiffonier” – ” “Chiffonier”? — do you know what that is? That’s a bureau where you keep your clothes, French bureau, elevated up on little legs in the bedroom., the clothes..dresser, clothes dresser – “Work hard all your young days/and they’ll find you too, some morning/staring up under/ you chiffonier at its warped/ bass-wood bottom and your soul – /out!/- among the little sparrows/ behind the shutter.” – [and, finally, section fifteen] – “All this – /was for you, old woman./ I wanted to write a poem/ that you would understand./ For what good is it to me/ if you can’t understand it?/ But you got to try hard-/ But- / Well, you know how/ the young girls run giggling on Park Avenue after dark/ when they ought to be home in bed?/ Well, / that’s the way it is with me somehow.”
Okay, all that was perfect description, but now (a) perfect description of a mood or a relationship with his mother, actually, his grandmother maybe, who he was trying to convince about modern poetry – “All this/was for you, old woman./I wanted to write a poem/that you would understand…..But you got to try hard.” So he’s actually got.. see, the insight is not only into a vast wood or “emerald eel-grass”, it’s insight also into the little angles of his own mood, and the delicacies (and) the humors of his own speech. “But you got to try hard.” – It’s just absolutely appropriate from him to her – “But you got to try hard.” – It has nothing to do with any conception that Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot in those days might have had of “High Poetry” – it was just totally functional and aware – total functional awareness of what tone of voice and how simple it would have to be if you wanted her to understand that. And how he would have to approach her, and what kind of words he’d have to use if he were really talking. And so he used those. And those were his mechanics for poetry. All based, primarily, on what, in Buddhism as well as non-Buddhism, is known as ordinary mind. No effort to get out of the universe. Only attention to this universe. Which includes Imagination, I mean, if you’re grounded, therefore you do have the imagination still to work with. So..
I’ll continue with Williams and Vipassina. That will be a third of our course – (William Carlos) Williams and (Charles) Reznikoff Vipassina – that’s one theme, until that grounding is very firm and clear for everybody as a reference point, or grounding. Then we’ll be going on to other conscious poetries, starting with that point in space of the breath passing in and out of the nose. Extending outward to the faucet. Extending further outward in space to many, many details. The program then will be to work up Whitman, extending his empathy or his attention all the way out to the end of space. That will be the Mahayana style. And then, after that, a rebound back into energetic ignorance back into the body and energetic ignorance coming back from all this consideration of deep space, dropping that whole thing, and coming back to where we are. That will be the Vajrayana.
But, meanwhile, parallel to this ideology of going out into detail, now go back to the breath and (how) the breath has been used or how the inspiration has been used, how the spirit has been used, spirit – breath, spirit or breath – inspiration. We went over this last Friday, how is that used otherwhere than in Williams – and Shelley,that I read last….
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-minutes in, and concluding at the end of the tape]