Allen Ginsberg at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, November 1969
A few weeks back, we featured Allen, in 1973, reading at the Maryland Institute. Here’s another recording, from 1969, four years previously, where he presents a little mantra, a little William Blake and a substantial selection (some still in early draft) of his epic “poem of these states”, later incorporated in “The Fall of America”
The reading begins with a very brief introduction, welcoming Allen back (sic) ( “It seems to me most appropriate because this reading comes between All Saints Day and All Souls Day” – the reading takes place, November 2. 1969). Allen is introduced as the “conscience of America”
AG: I’ll begin with a Buddhist chant – The Three Vows – which were…which I first heard from Jack Kerouac’s throat about nineteen years ago, seventeen years ago – Buddham saranam gacchami/Dhammam saranam gacchami/Sangham saranam gacchami (In Buddha I take my refuge/ In the dharma I take my refuge/In the sangha I take my refuge)
“Buddha”, you read about in Life magazine! “Dharma”, is the nature of cause and effect, or how things work out, and fate (if you hit people on the head with salamis, you’ll be hit on the head with a salami), or karma, let’s say, truth or paradharma. And “Sangha” is in Buddhist terminology the company of assembled fellow monks or fellow meditation-practioners, or fellow devotees, or fellow selves……..
[Allen begins with this chant, (beginning at approximately two-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding approximately eight-and-a-half minutes in] – (“I think there was… We should take a few minutes to settle. Some people still have to settle (are still coming in) from the outside…)…(So) heartbeat and (chanting). So that and mantra. Last time I was here I was chanting from the balcony the mantras to Manjushri Buddha, an aspect of discriminating wisdom and intelligence, with a book in one hand and the flaming sword of discrimination or smartness in the other” [At approximately nine-and-a-half minutes in, Allen resumes chanting] – “Om A Ra Pa Ca Na Dhih Dhih Dhih Dhih” (especially good for holding children in the arms, apparently)
[At approximately thirteen-and-a-half minutes in, Allen begins the reading proper]
AG: What I’ll (do is) read now for the first half, say for about another hour, then take a break and chant some more, sing some of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which I’ve been setting to music. But now I’ll read…It’s about twenty-after, so I’ll read till about nine, and we’ll take a break, and then I’ll read another hour, read and sing another hour.
And what I’d like to begin with is fragments of a long poem (called) “Of These States” [“The Fall of America”] – travel journals, or notations in poetry-consciousness, of different plane-rides, automobile-rides, or city melancholy notations, taken down over the last three or four years traveling through the United States. The last time I was here was about two years ago and I finished the reading from this balcony with a section of the same poem,“Wichita Vortex Sutra”, and then finished after that with a recap of that in Nebraska. Now “Chicago to Salt Lake by Air” [Allen begins reading approximately fifteen minutes in ] – (”If Hanson Baldwin got a bullet in his brain, outrage?”…… “Neal was born in Paradise”)
[Allen continues, (approximately twenty-two-and-a-half minutes in) ,with] – “Bixby Canyon” – ((“19)68, (the) last (one) I read was March 1968. so, June, on the West Coast) – (“Path crowded with thistle fern blue daisy…”…”so pipes pray to the Avalanche”) –then,(approximately twenty-eight-and-as-half minutes in) – “By Air, San Francisco to New York, June 1968″ (“Crossing Nation”) – (“Under the silver wing,/ San Francisco’s towers sprouting..”.. “What do I have to lose if America falls?/My body? my neck? my personality?”) – and, (at approximately twenty-nine-and-a-quarter minutes in) – July, 1968 – “Violence – Mexico City drugstore table giant sex fiend in black spats sticks knife in the plump faggot’s sportscoat scene…”….. voiolentfairy gangsters with bloody hands hustle through midnight to cut my throat from its beard”
[At approximately thirty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in] – “Going to Chicago” – (“22,000 feet over Hazed square Vegetable planet Floor..”…”Scream in despair over Meat and Metal Microphone”) – and – Chicago, During the (1968 Democratic) Convention in Grant Park –“Green air, children sat under trees with the old…”…”Who wants to be President of the/ Garden of Eden?” – (At thirty-four-and-a-quarter) – “Continuing “Long Poem on these States” – This is 1969. March 1969 – I’ll read chronologically, actually. So, jumping from August to November” (thirty-five minutes in) – “Albany Memorial Hospital” – (“Crash! bug nausea hip to heart – it all collapses back to laughing gas…”….”warm Massachusetts (for Kerouac) /car crash./ snow blizzard..”…. “What does it feel like not to talk?/ To die in the back sear, Ow!)….”..”Raw pine walls, ice white windows…”…”…1869 his velvet tie askew, hair/mussed & ruffled by policeman’s rape”) (forty-three-and-a-half minutes in) – March 1969 “Via Air Albany to Baltimore” – (“Albany throned in snow/Hudson ribboned North ice white flats…”…”Didja Dream Baltimore’d Be Seen From Heaven/In Man Poet’s eyes Astounded in the Fire Haze,/carbon Gas aghast!”.. [a few lines here are missed, with the reading continuing on second side of the tape] – “…Shelley, thy Prophecy, What Demiurge assembles Matter-Factories..”…’…”kidnapped by phantoms/conspiring to win elections/in the Deathly Gutter of 19th Century”
[The first minute-and-a-half of the second side continues with the conclusion of “Via Air Albany to Baltimore”] – “Continuation of a long poem on these states” – then, “ Falling Asleep in America” (“We’re in the Great Place, Fable Place, Beulah, Man wedded to Earth, Planet of green Grass…” ….”Lying in bed body darkened ear of the bus roar running , only the eye flickering grass green returns me to Nashville.”) – and – “April 1969” – This is.. (the) Northwest coast, the Columbia River Gorge where the Columbia River meets the Snake River at Lake Wallula, not far from McNary Dam, where (lay the) Northwest Passage, where Sacagawea, an Indian, led Lewis and Clark through, down the Columbia river to the Pacific.”(A) continuation of a long poem on these states“ – (“Incense under Horse Heaven Hills/ Empty logger trucks speed..” …Christ merging with/ Krishna in Car Crash Salvation”…,.,,”Seattle First National Motor banking/next to Everybody’s Bank.” 1050
[AG: It’s nine o’clock so lets take a ten-minute (break) – Resuming with sound of finger cymbals and harmonium – Allen returns with a brief set of William Blake songs] …
[“The Lamb” – (‘”Little Lamb who made thee..”) – I guess you know most of the Blake.. some of the Blake texts – “Introduction to the Songs of Innocence” – (“Piping down the valleys wild..”) – “The Shepherd” -(“How sweet is the Shepherd’s sweet lot”…) and “The Ecchoing Green” (”The sun does arise/ And make happy the skies…”)
[At approximately seventeen-and-a-quarter minutes in, on the second tape, Allen reads from Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues] – (the 217th Chorus (“Sooladat smarty pines came prapping down/ my line of least regard…”… “twab/twab/twabble/all day”), the ‘230th Chorus” (“Love’s multitude boneyard/ of decay”… “Like kissing my kitten in the belly/The softness of our reward”), and the last (242nd Chorus) (” ( “The sound in your mind/is the first sound/that you could sing”,,”All’s well/I am the Guard”).
“To continue. (with “poems of these states”), July 1969, July (“Independence Day”) – (“Orange hawkeye stronger than thought winking above a thousand thin grassblades..”…”Independence Day! the Cow’s deep moo’s an Aum!”) – “Cut my backbone/unstring eyes and fingers/a million insects eat the body/soul is empty as grass bends trembling greasy warble” –
(and from) August 1969 – “Rain-wet asphalt heat, garbage curbed cans overflowing” (“I hauled down lifeless mattresses to sidewalk refuse-piles..”…”..sudden farewell to the bedbug-ridden mattresses piled soggy in dark rain”) – and, from the following month – “September 26” – “Death On All Fronts” – “(In the) first lines I was thinking of an ecologist, Paul Ehrlich, who has written a book called The Population Bomb, which says that the globe is already doubly populated, twice as many people as can stand, without eating each other’s toes off! – Well figure it out, find out – (“Half the blue globe’s germ population’s more than enough/ to keep the cloudy lung from stinking pneumonia’) – ((“A new moon looks down on our sick sweet planet..”…”….Pain in /left temple living death –“)
(from) “October 22 to October 25th (the previous month),. (”Memory Gardens”) – I guess, could be titled “Elegy For Jack Kerouac” – different fragments written over a week in which I went with Gregory Corso and Robert Creeley and John Clellon Holmes and Peter Orlovsky to bury Jack.(“Memory Gardens/covered with yellow leaves/in morning rain…”…”a holy vision’s been rebuilt, clean ceramic/over the scum & spit & come of quarter century”) (includes August 29th, New York to Maine (“Flying into a trail of black smoke..”) – ”Well, while I’m here I’ll/do the work -/anf what’s the Work?/To ease the pain of living./ Everything else, drunken/dumbshow.”)
[The reading concludes approximately thirty-three-and-a-half minutes in (on the second tape) with another mantra, Allen apologizing for “(the) amount of death to lay on you.. half an hour of death!” ] – (so), the mantra to the.. “to ease the pain of living” – the mantra, a mantra, (Hindu, ,since I’ve been doing Buddhist mantras before), for preservation of the planet, to Krishna (If any of you know the Hare Krishna mantra, it sounds nicer when many people sing than one does)
From approximately thirty-four-and-a-half minutes in until the end of the tape, Allen chants Hare Krishna
[Audio for the above may be found here]
“We absolutely enjoyed Allen Ginsberg and had great respect for his poetic brilliance, but when he started chanting and squeezing the harmonium, it could make you dizzy..” (Robbie Robertson of The Band , from the recently-published memoir, Testimony,) Robertson recounts a visit to The Band’s compound at Big Pink and their deft suggestion that he (Allen), along with companion Peter Orlovsky, might not perhaps join them in a eagerly looked-for, free-form,, harmonium-driven, jam-session. Purna Dass and the Bauls of Bengal had arrived, and were staying just up the way, and were lost a little. Perhaps he’d like to attend to them? – “See You Later Allen Ginsberg”