Student: Allen, wouldn’t you say that a lot of the British poems written in (the) English language (are, formally, tight)?
AG: Until this century, yes. ‘Tis is a craft, sir. To be able to… (and) (let’s see you do this!). This (too) [Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues] is a craft – the craft of observation of mind. The discipline here is the discipline of observation of mind accurately – accurate, precise, observation of mind.
Student: But it sounds (initially, without a) sense of craft and, (clearly), it took a long time to get to a point where you can write like that, (to) be able to zip (it) off like that – but it sounds like he’s maybe denying, like (what was that? the “negative capability” of) (John) Keats, and… I know he could probably write (conventionally as well, but..)
AG: He’s not denying Keats. He’s quoting Shakespeare constantly. He’s not denying anybody. he’s just going further down the road.
Student: He’s saying craft is craft, you know, (he speaks of) “crafty”, but it’s (a put-down)
AG: Oh, but in this century, by “craft”, he’s using “craft” meaning miserly craft, egoistic craft, (which was characteristic of the poetry of his time that was “crafted” in the style of Keats and Shakespeare). It was a plague at that time, because the conception of craft that people had was actually the imitation of the inventions of their predecessors, rather than the new invention, as Keats did. As you remember, Keats, in his craft, invented the run-on line with rhymes – the “..thing of beauty is a joy for ever:/Its loveliness increases; it will never/Pass into nothingness..”
Now before Keats, there was another series of couplets styled by (Alexander) Pope, where you had to end the sentence or end the phrasing at the end of each line and Keats broke that. It was called uncraftsman-like because he changed the terms of the craft. Kerouac changed the terms of the craft. He didn’t deny previous craft, he just said, for this generation, century, when investigation of mind itself, after Einstein and others, is the focal subject of the entire century, the focal situation of this very situation we’re in now, “Meditation and Poetics”, where investigation of the mind itself was the big subject, (then) new means had to be crafted to graph the movements of the mind. So this is just as crafty, but it’s a different kind of craft.
And when he was putting down “the Craft Gleam” [in the 28th Chorus], the miserous (sic) “Craft Gleam”, he was probably talking about Anthony Hecht, Richard Wilbur, people he knew, John Hollander, Mark Van Doren, his teacher at Columbia, and all sorts of people who were trying to write poetry in the same form as the previous centuries without accommodating to the new relativistic mind that we’ve been pushed into by Einstein and everything that follows Einstein. The discipline, let us say (to get off the word “craft”), the discipline, or, to use the Buddhist word here (Naropa) used for meditation, the practice – the practice of observation of mind. If mind is clearly observed, mind will be observed to be shapely, And so, the art notated from that observation will also show the same shape as the mind indicates and the art will also be shapely.