continuing with transcription of Allen Ginsberg’s Basic Poetics class from February 1980 (Feb 27) at the Naropa Institute
AG: Who’s got the right time?… So, last time we were.. so.. what you were just doing before was Ted (Berrigan), Ted’s class. How many of you are in Ted’s class? So what happens?, There’s a half an hour wait in between? Is that a heavy shot to go through, two long hour- and-a-half (classes) in the evening. How does that work out? I was wondering. Are we creating.. (putting) too much on, to concentrate on, you know, on the same nights? – I don’t know. This room (makes a lot of difference). Yeah, I guess we’ll be out of here by next…. I hope.. I don’t know where, (it next might be) ,maybe. I heard it was ) (perhaps in) the hall out there.
And you did the Creeley? (Robert Creeley). So, I read this one little poem that I did, as an imitation of Creeley. So I’ll read that here. I read it at the Faculty reading about a month ago. Did everybody hear it then? Everybody in the Berrigan class?
Student: Which one was it, do you know?
AG: It’s a little thing called “After Later”..just because you had Creeley (recently) in, I’ll just read this fast, and then get on to where we were .. What was going on Creeley’s class that was…?
Student: He took the poem “Later” ((not) from the book, Later)
AG: Yeah.. yeah.. And a lot of earlier poems?
Student: A number of poems from For Love
AG: Yeah – Okay. Yeah, so I was.. (so) did I discuss his principle of monosyllabic progression at all?
AG: Oh..what did they say? What did they (the students in Creeley’s class) talk about?
Student; We discussed mystery, and..
AG: Ok , well, sounding, really, is his basic measure. His measure, or his cadence, seems to be one monosyllable after another, (partly because he’s a New Englander and, I think, (has) a hesitancy and a stammer in his speech, sort of) – “So/that/he/thinks/like/this” – “one/word/aft/er/an/other” – “and/some/ little/ space/even/in/between/the”/ “syllables of / two/syllable/words” – When he reads, it’s a kind of trembling intensity.. So I read his last book, Later, and, after about sixteen pages, I got into his style again (because, every once in a while I try and write that way). He gets it from (Thomas) Campion, and… that is, the attention, the care for syllable-by-syllable, from Campion – and (Louis) Zukofsky – So that lineage that was really interested in the weight of one syllable falling after another, or the length of one syllable after another.
“After Later” -. (because, that’s something that’s typical Creeley – like a whole book called Later, meaning , you know, “I’ll see you later”, or “Later Works”, but “Later”.
I am/ finally/ no one/ to be a/ Ginsberg?/ – ridiculous!/ Yet I am/that and no one/ Clearly/there is no identity/fixed point/”Everything is water/if you/look long enough” – (“I’m quoting him, actually -“Everything is water/ if you look long enough” [from his poem “Just Friends“]) – “How do I/ know this?/Who am I?/Who are you?/ Emily knew you/ No one too” (You know Emily Dickinson’s poem – “I’m nobody! Who are you?/Are you nobody too?” – “Then there’s two of us – don’t/ tell! ” (“Then there’s a pair of us – don’t/ tell!”) – “How awful to be somebody and croak your name all day long to an admiring bog” (“How dreary to be somebody!…/..To tell your name the livelong day/To an admiring bog”) – [Allen tries remembering this poem] Do you know that poem? Does anybody not.. Anybody heard that poem before? – A couple – Okay, well it’s a famous poem by Emily Dickinson saying, “I am nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody too? – How dreadful to be somebody” – Do you remember it? – “how dreadful to be somebody…I guess..,croak your name the livelong day to an admiring bog. I guess.. I’m nobody. Are you nobody too?….just like a frog, just like a frog then, nobody, like a frog then, how awful to be somebody, and croak your day all day long, so, to a bog, like a frog, so…..”
…”Emily knew you/No one too./Much –(so that line is “Too” – period – “Much” – “too much” …”Emily knew you/No one too./Much we know ourselves..” – “Much we know ourselves/As empty-hearted/breath and blue as the sky/ My own father says “I/ why?” /quoting Bodenheim or/ Joseph Auslander/Am I a Jew?/What are you?/ Are – Are is a verb/ means motion/ ocean water air/ fire earth changes/ Don’t step on / your own daughter/even if you think you oughta./ But me, / my problem is different/ I’m famous/ in Europe/ South America /even Asia probably/ Is this me?/Yes it is/ No it isn’t, it’s Ginsberg/ Me? I’m not me/ half the time/ Half-time me/ The other half?/ That’s ridiculous/ Doesn’t exist,/ Doesn’t add up/ “Just like life”/ he said/ I said/ multiply by zero/ getting old/ empty gold ..” – (And the) subtitle: “After Reading Fourteen Page of Later”
So his angle was.. The impression I got listening to him read here a couple of years ago, and then other places (that). If he has stanzas which have one or two syllables to the line, or three, or only one, and he thinks it slowly, writing one syllable after another down, you know, (like.. he writes on (a) typewriter, and in his early writing it was just like in the center of the typewriter so it was just short line) Each syllable that he puts down modifies the syllable that went before, like – “I’m here, comma, there” which he wrote in Formosa, or in Korea (he was in Korea) – “I’m here, there” – And then the next word will sort of reflect back on everything that went before and change the meaning of what went before. So, it’s like..partly like adding on a new thought to each.. like a tape-worm, adding on a new thought, but also each new thought, which is generally expressed.. One thought… I guess the idea is, one thought, one syllable. Every syllable is a thought. Every syllable a new thought (because he writes slowly, so it would be “I..am..” (that would be like the Biblical statement “I am”) “going.. no.. where.. here.”
Student: Hey Allen. don’t you think in there (where you say) “Everything is water” – don’t you think everything is light and water”..
AG: Well, this is..
Student: … (that it looks that way), because, later on, you mention, you get into, changes of earth and fire..
AG: Well, what it was Creeley was quoting Heraclitus saying, “All things are flowing” – Heraclitus’ “You can’t step in the same river twice” – Heraclitus, ancient philosopher, ”You can’t step in the same river…”
Student: That’s flux and all
AG: Yeah,..flux. So Heraclitus says “everything’s in flux” or everything is.. “all things are flowing”, and Creeley’s adaptation of that was “Everything is water/ if you look long enough” – (oh, that’s a good example of his method – “Every/ thing/ is/ water/if…”
Student: But that.. I thought he wrote that after, after “Later”, after his poem “Later”…
AG: That’s quoting him.
Student: Quoting him?
AG: Quoting his line.
Student: Do you think he’s right or wrong. Don’t you think everything’s light and water?
AG: I don’t know.. now, wait a minute. Water just means flowing
Student: Oh is that all it means. Oh, I see
G: Well, everything, everything is flowing, everything is flowing, everything is flux . It means “everything is flowing’ , like (it is) water – if/you/look/long enough – if you look at it long enough. In other words this building, if you can stand on the other side of the..
Student: (But) If it’s flowing, if it’s flowing, then it’s got to be a basic form of energy – like life. – I don’t mean to get…’
AG: Well, everything is molasses if you look long enough! – Slow-motion
Student: ((Well without getting technical, that’s sort of the way I look at it)
AG: Well you get, well – yeah but, you see, if you say ‘Everything is light if you look long enough”, Light doesn’t exactly flow.
Student: It’s energy…
AG: Who gives a fuck if it’s energy, he’s just talking about what he can see! .
Student: You can see light.
AG: You can talk about what you can see but you can’t see light flowing/
Student: Sure you can
Student: Yeah (within the lab)
Peter Orlovsky ; Well you had brilliance falling from the air:
AG: “Brightnesse falls from the ayre” – [Thomas Nash – “Song – In Time of Pestilence“] – Well that means more like raining down, but that quality of slow-motion flowing. slow motion flowing (like in a slow-motion movie when you see the clouds moving, or, if you were to stand across the street and look at this building for..eighty-five years, you go up and you go down, just like a wave, you could see that) – or, if you look at a tree , if you live long enough, if you look long enough, you’ll see it go up and fall, up and fall. So that kind of slow-motion slowing is what he’s talking about, what you can actually see with your own eyes, without figuring it out by theory (of light is energy equals mc squared, or something..)
Student: Oh , I don’t mean in theory. I just mean, you know..
AG: I generally think of light as flowing..
AG: Occasionally, it’s..
Student; Yes, I would describe it like that (but) why do you use “flowing” for..
AG: Well, he was talking about flowing.
AD: (We) started with Heraclitus – “All things are flowing”, or “in flux”, flowing, then his vernacular, American-ese, translation was “Everything is water” (with a qualification, you know, this building isn’t made of water – “this isn’t water, this is plaster!” – however, is like water – “if you look long enough”. You could say it’s like light, if you have x-ray eyes, or something! – but you don’t have x-ray eyes, you’ve just got ordinary human eyes. Isn’t that satisfactory?
Student: Hell, no!
AG: Why don’t you write your own poems then! Write your own poems! – I was just explaining what he meant by that poem. You mean to say his poem is wrong?
Peter Orlovsky: This room is more light than water, tho’, isn’t it?
AG: (exasperated): Two idiots against one idiot! – Shall we continue?
PO: I mean the light does bounce down, and then bounce up again..
AG: That isn’t flowing, it’s bouncing!
AG: Light rays and bounces and shines and reflects. Water is different from light.
PO: Considering there’s no water in this room
A: Then how do you describe the “tin flash of sun-dazzle” on the surface of the waters? – Put them together, put them together, and you get… What would you have to do if you put them together? (Ezra) Pound [in Canto XXI] said “tin flash of sun-dazzle”, [ “And the sea with tin-flash in the sun-dazzle..”}, when the light reflected off the water, the Mediterranean sunlight on the waters – tin flash of sun-dazzle – (to) distract everybody! – (a) bauble – (to) distract everybody with a bauble. (So) where were we?
[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and continuing until approximately thirteen minutes in]