Allen Ginsberg at Cheltenham 1993

Allen Ginsberg, in 1993, reading at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in England. The feature today on The Allen Ginsberg Project. Allen reads a selection of poems, (mostly from White Shroud and the, subsequently-published Cosmpolitan Greetings

Introduction: Good evening everybody and some of you I’m sure came to the event where Allen Ginsberg was being interviewed by John Calder here today and will have suffered as Mr Ginsberg did the problems of the weather and British Rail. Years ago Allen Ginsberg wrote of Jack Kerouac that he was the sole full-moving thing, earlier today I’m afraid Allen Ginsberg was the sole un-moving thing as British Rail slowed him down around Swindon or thereabouts. Anyway, to make up for that, Mr Ginsberg said he’d like to continue beyond the hour that he’s scheduled to talk to you, and obviously some of you may be going to the talk that’s scheduled to start at nine o’clock, so there may be a bit of a dash about five to nine but I hope you’ll be as pleased as I am that Allen Ginsberg is extending this evening’s talk. I’m not allowed to say anything about him,. Well, I’ll end up by saying, I’m extremely pleased he’s here to talk to us tonight

AG: So what I’d like to do this evening is read chronologically from poetry written in the (19)80’s and on into 1993, beginning with music and mixing poetry and music together, as a… First of all, can you hear me clearly? The sound is alright? Yes? No, some.. It doesn’t sound quite like it did before. Well, maybe the monitors are not on or something, but, as we go along, let me know how things are working out, because… Is that better now? Yeah… So, beginning with an invocation to poetry by William Blake, “The Tyger”, or an invocation to the imaginative..poetic creative imagination. Los, the blacksmith in Blake’s mythology, the blacksmith’s hammer, anvil, chains, are part of the smithies symbolism used in Blake’s “Tyger”, pointing out that we ourselves created Serbia (sic) or the nuclear bomb as well as the lamb,  and it didn’t comr from old Nobodaddy  . So Blake’s “Tyger” from Songs of Innocence and Experience”, which Blake himself sang as songs,(those scholar-professors of his day failed to notate the melodies) –

AG – bom bom, bom bom– heart-beat- bom-bom – – [Allen opens the reading with a performance of  “The Tyger‘ ( “Tyger, tiger, burning bright/In the forests of the night”… “What immortal hand or eye,/ Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?”

So, begin with poetry, spoken, from a book published here (England), 1986, and I’ll just read a very.. a few poems from that , and then move on to poems from a more recent book that has not (yet) been published, 1985 to 1993, from White Shroud – “Why I Meditate” – “I sit..” – (the sitting practice of meditation..)  1982.. (“I sit because the Dadaists screamed on Mirror Street/I sit because the Surrealists ate angry pillows”….”I sit inside the shell of the old Me/I sit for world revolution” –   “Maturity” (Young, I drank beer & vomited green bile/Older drank wine vomited blood red/ Now I vomit air”) – “Written in My Dream by William Carlos Williams” (I was in China in the Fall of 1984 and saw or encountered in dreams, the shades of many friends living and dead, and one personage whose phantom appeared in dream was William Carlos Williams who addressed me on the subject of poetics and gave me some advice in the dream, and when I woke, I remembered enough of what he said to begin writing it down in his own style of very short couplet lines. So, the poem is called “Written in My Dream by William Carlos Williams” – (“As is/ you’re bearing/ a common/ Truth/ Commonly known/as desire…” ….”…What began/as desire/will end wiser”)

And from unpublished poems, beginning 1986, – “Sphincter” (“I hope my good old asshole holds out..”….”Hope the old hole stays young/till death, relax”)  “Graphic Winces” – (this is an experiment I did at a writing class at Brooklyn College, to.. in Rimbaud’s “alchemy of the word”.. to see if language could have a physiological effect on the body of the listener. So this is “Graphic Winces” – I wrote the first and last lines and the class contributed other.. other incidents, and then I edited it – (‘“In high school when you crack your front tooth bending down too fast over the porcelain water fountain..”..…”or you may wince, tingling twixy sphincter and scrotum a subtle electrical discharge”) – “Personals Ad” (with an epitaph by Robert Creeley) – (Personals Ad – do you have here? – you know what that is) – Creeley’s epigraph – “I will send a picture too/if you will send me one of you”) – “Poet-professor in autumn years/seeks helpmate companion protector friend…” …” Post Office Box 582, Stuyvesant Station, New York, 10009 New York” – “Proclamation” ( “I am King of the Universe…. “In any case you can believe every word/ I say.” – “To Jacob Rabinowitz” (“Dear Jacob, I received your translation…”…” …..Catullus & Poetry/humble enough to print these translations by yourself.””) –

The “Return of Kral Majales” – so we’re in 1990, I’ll be reading.. first reading recent poems. In 1965 in Prague I was elected in an anti-government demonstration to be King of May and deported by the Minister of Education and Minister of Culture, arrested and held incommunicado and deported – and I wrote an interesting poem called “Kral Majales”, on the plane, touching London airport. I was invited back by the Mayor of Prague twenty-five years later, 1990, and so, in the airport coming back down to Prague, to return for the first time in quarter century, wrote another poem, a slighter poem, called “Return of the King of May” ( “This silver anniversary much hair has gone from my head and I am the King of May”… ..”All gone, all gone, all overgone now, all gone sky-high old mind so Ah!” – (The last is a paraphrase of the Buddhist – Gate gate para gate parasam gate, bodhi svaha)    

Next, a little bit of history. Years ago, I wrote a poem called “CIA Dope Calypso” about the use of Indo-Chinese opiates by CIA and American intelligence agencies to fund off-the-shelf operations and contribute to the general chaos of New York City, and help gain allies, hitch-hiking along with dope-pushers in the VietnamWar. Then I found it necessary to continue the saga in 1990 with the revelations of the Iranscam. And then there was an interesting little epilogue to be added about the career of General (Norman) Schwarzkopf and the Iraq bombing. So there are two separate additions to the early poem. One is “NSA (National Security Agency) Dope Calypso”  and the other “Just Say Yes Calypso” – (“Now Richard Secord and Oliver North/Hated Sandinistas whatever they were worth..…” …”When they wave a yellow ribbon & an oily flag/ just say yes or they’ll call you a fag”) –

Next, a contribution to the War on Drugs is a non-smoking un-commercial , or non-commercial, which I’ve developed over the last few years. So it’s called “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag” – (Don’t smoke, don’t smoke…  ) – “After The Big Parade” – (After the Iraq War, there was a large-scale Wall Street confetti-parade for the returning soldiers and generals.  And there was a very tiny group of war-protesters, in a little island, where we stood, in the middle of Wall Street. So this is called – “After The Big Parade” – (“Millions of people cheering and waving flags for joy in Manhattan..”…”Will another hundred thousand desert deaths across the world be/ cause for the next rejoicing?”)

And then the.. continued consideration with a poem I had begun, May 1971, and then added every ten years a new sectionbased on the Shaivite cry when Shaivite saddhus in India in the burning grounds smoke a chillum of marijuana, they raise a clay pipe to their foreheads and say “HUM BOM!” or  “BOM BOM MAHADEV!”– So the title of this is “Hum Bom!” –     (“Hum Bom!/We bomb them…”…  “…Armageddon did the job”) –  “Yiddische Kopf” (“,, smart Jew, “Jewish Head”)  – (“I’m Jewish because love my family matzoh ball soup..”“,,,how can they stand it, going out with only ten dollars and a hydrogen bomb” – “A Thief Stole This Poem” (“These days,steal everything.. “…..”steal your universe”) –

We’re in 1992. ‘ Lalon Shah – This is a poem called “After…”  Lalon Shah was a nineteenth- century Baul – B-A-U-L – a minstrel, street-singer, minstrel, poet, who reputedly lived a hundred and thirty-seven  years, was an influence on Rabindranath Tagore. The Baul sect were a group of people who wore patchwork and played a one-string ektara instrument on the streets of Calcutta, Bengal, northern Bengal,…where they come from, wear patchwork clothes, beg, and sing devotional songs to Allah, to Krishna, to Ramakrishna, to Christ, to Buddha, to themselves, to their girlfriends, to asses, donkeys, monkeys, a very cheerful group of people. And a friend, who was a poet, who I met in India years ago, sent me a book of translations of Lalon Shah, and in the classic style of that kind of poetry, the poet names himself at the end of each verse, or shloka, or doha And I’d read it in bed in the evening and I got totally turned on and I couldn’t sleep, so I was waking up every hour or so and adding another poem,  So I wrote about six poems in one night in the mode of Lalon Shah

“After Lalon” – (“(I) -It’s true I got caught in/the world/When I was young Blake/tipped me off…….(VI) – “….. Allen Ginsberg warns you,/ don’t follow my path/ to extinction” –”Research” (“Research has shown that black people have inferiority complexes regarding white folks…”Research has shown…” …”To conclude research has shown that the material universe does not exist.”

Somebody earlier in the day asked me about political correctness. So this is my contribution. It’s a collaboration I made with a young friend, a classicist who had graduated from Naropa Institute and the University of Colorado and had a good grasp of meter. It’s.. there’s an epitaph, It’s from an old song I heard sung in 1944 by the mother of a college room-mate which was… maybe it may be familiar to some people here. It sounds like an old English musical-hall song – (“Violent Collaborations”) –  (“Violate me/in violet times/the vilest way you know..” … “Double me over/in summertime clover/then hose me down w/ your stud” )

“Charnel Ground” – There was a very interesting poem by my own late Tibetan lama meditation teacher called “The Sadhana of Mahamudra” and I was reading (as) a commentary on that poem on how to relate to the phenomenal world and was comparing the whole world that we live in, the phenomenal world, to the charnel ground where things rise, flower, and decay. And he spoke – quote – of rugged and raw situations and having accepted them as part of your home ground, then some spark of sympathy or compassion could tale place. You are not in a hurry to leave such a place immediately.You would like to face the facts, realities of that particular world” – “Upstairs Jenny crashed her car & became a living corpse…”…. “..”The whole point seems to be the idea of giving awaythe giver.”

“Autumn Leaves “ (”At 66 just learning how to take care of my body..”…. “…happy not yet/ to be a corpse”)

“American Sentences” – Well, these are simple declarative sentences and one line – seventeen-syllable each. So the basic idea of haiku, but on the other hand Japanese haiku is actually written out in one verse,  as one, not separated as we have the inconvenient nineteenth-century invention of a gerundive sentence with –I-N-G- and no subject –object-verb, subject verb and object, so I’ve tried to make a simple declarative sentence – (“Tompkins Square Lower East Side New York”  – some  I’ll read each twice because they go by fast –   Skinheads in America are mixed, there’s some really nice skinheads  anti-Nazi skinheads and then there’s the usual compliment, a minority of the Polish-style, German-style, skinheads – “Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella”  – And next is a science-fiction sentence (“Bearded robots drink from Uranium coffee cups on Saturn’s ring””) – “On Hearing the Muezzin Cry Allah Akbar While Visiting the Pythian Oracle at Didyma Toward the End of the Second Millennium”  – As you may ..may know, the Temple of Apollo was the site of the Pythian oracle on the Aegean shore and the site of magna mater is replaced by what (William) Blake called “Old Nobodadday” the macho monotheist Father God. So, after the establishment of the Empire, the..   Rome, in the fourth-century sent for an oracle from the Greek, from the Pythian oracle, and the last oracle that came from the Pythian oracle was “the Gods have departed this place and Apollo no longer reports these pillars” – So, “On Hearing the Muezzin Cry Allah Akbar While Visiting thr Pythian Oracle at Didyma Toward the End of the Second Millennium”” – (and the word “bawl” here is like baby –  B-A-W-L) –  “At sunset Apollo’s columns echo with the bawl of the One God”      “The weary Ambassador waits relatives late at the supper table” – “Approaching Seoul by Bus in Heavy Rain” – “Get used to your body, forget you were born, suddenly you got to get out!” – And the next was written a month or so before I wound up in hospital with conjective heart failure – “Put on my tie in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to..meditate”  –   “Taxi-ghosts at dusk pass Monoprix in Paris 20 years ago”  – “The young stud who dreamt I “dick’d his ass” asked me to take him to supper”  – “Two  blocks from his hotel in a taxi thr fat Lama punched out his mugger” –  “Naropa hot-tub” – “The ocean is full of naked young boys and Neptune-bearded old men”   –   Two double-sentence –  “He stands at the church steps a long tome looking down at new white sneakers-/Determined, goes in the door quickly to make his Sunday confession”  The next was also a sort of semiscience fiction sentence – “The midget albino entered the hairy limousine to pipi..” – “I can still see Neal’s 23-year-old corpse when I come in my hand”) – (“corpse” a pun on “corpus” –body)

“After The Party” – (“amid glasses clinking, mineral water, schnapps…” …”…we talk the refined old doctrine/Coemergent Wisdom”)

So, (I’ll)  finish with more Blake (I think we have a few minutes before we have to worry about the next… ) –   “Nurses Song” by William Blake – I’ve used often to close poetry readings. The plot is that the nurse is saying to the kids, that it’s time to go to sleep, getting late and dark. And they object, they want to stay out, and she says, okay, and then they’re happy and they weep and shout and laugh, “and all the hills echo” (or, for the rhyme, “all the hills echo-ed”). So this is a sing-along and you’re welcome in Albion to sing along with William Blake the last line – “and all the hills echo-ed” –   ( “When the voices of children are heard on the green,.,”…”and all the hills echo-ed”)

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