Allen Ginsberg 1974 San Francisco tv Interview – “I Believe” – part 2

continuing from yesterday – (transcript of Allen Ginsberg and Father Mike S Riley’s 1974 conversation picks up approximately sixteen-and-a-half minutes in)

MR: What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing with all of the Christian metaphors and analogies?. It’s just “Christ,” “Jesus, “”the Church”, “Crucifixtion”…

AG: Well, what I’ve been talking (except to the reference to St John of the Cross) has mostly been formal Buddhist dharma, which is a perception of the Universe as transient, in the sense of..    The basic.. first basic thing is – all the constituents of being are transitory. So that’s why I’ve been talking about meat-men, snowmen. It’s just common sense We all know that -All the constituents are transitory – Now, there’s an attempt in the West to find something that isn’t transitory like a “God” or a “Soul” – they don’t want it all to be maya

MR: For sure

AG: Somebody wants security. In a sense, it’s, like, a grasping of more of one’s ego, to persist. Then there’s a Buddhist view, which says that, actually, existence is suffering, (or contains suffering because of the attempt to grasp for a permanent persistent ego). and that that suffering is caused by lack of recognition of the basic nature of things, which is that everything is transitory, (so there is a suffering because of the grasping for “me” – dig it?

MR: For sure.

AG: And that there’s an end to suffering when you understand the.. the openness of things. And that the way out would be to have a right view of it, (that is an understanding of the whole situation, the whole transitory situation), a right view, then the right ambition, (to be free of attachment), and then the right thought, (clear thought on the subject, that you’re not fuzzily looking for a..”Mary, save me”) – Then, from that right speech, you’re explaining clearly that we are, in a sense, empty.  And then, from that right action (because you’re no longer trying to shore up the sandcastle, but you’re trying to allieviate the suffering of people shoring up sandcastles) and from right action, would be right labor (in other words you don’t think you’re going to beat out the Chinese, so you don’t work in war plants to bomb them out), and from right labor, you have a sort of generosity which leads to right energy . And from right energy, right mindfulness, (awareness of what you’re doing and not wasting time fighting the ocean), and from right mindfulness, they would say right… right.. ecstasy? –( but that would be a little too romantic – maybe right boredom?) – right.. right.. right samadhi, right clarity of mind.

MR: Yeah. I’m really glad that you explained that because the.. it sounds very much like the early concept of poverty, or even St Paul’s freedom of the sons of God [“the glorious freedom of the children of God”]– it’s a free-ing..

AG: This is a classical Buddha dharma

MR:  I want to leave you with that to think about for just a minute We’ll be right back with “I Believe”

[The second (next) commercial break appears here with a blank screen approximately nineteen-and-a-half minutes in, the interview continues approximately twenty-one-and-a-half minutes in]

MR: Would you apply what you…We just did some pretty heavy things, and heady to boot,  I wonder how… Let’s talk about applying that to poetry because that, after all, is your life, is your profession

AG: Okay. So I’ll continue reading from a group of little poems I wrote this summer (sitting) in a little cottage  – {Allen continues reading from “Sad Dust Glories’]  – “Wind makes sound/ in tree tops/ like express train like city/ machinery/ Slow huge dances high up/ branches wave back &/ forth sensitive/ needleheads bob their heads/ to and forth that’s the human, it’s not/ human/. It’s treetops, whatever they think/, It’s me whatever I think/,It’s the wind talking.”  

So…what was that? That was, like, observation of my own thoughts, and cutting through my own thoughts, but recognizing also my own thought was as natural as the wind-sound in the treetops. So it wasn’t stopping my thoughts, but it wasn’t grasping on to my thoughts, it was sort of coming into a friendly relation with my thoughts, recognizing my thought as just empty thought like the emptiness of the wind talking.

MR:   Of course, your very approach. It’s always impressed me that you’re very practical and very realistic. You’ve talked about length-of-breath that you have for a line, (and) the size of the page which predetermines your poetry…

AG: Well (Allen displays it) this is, like, a little notebook I kept…

MR: This.. we have a little poem

AG: ….so I wrote little short lines and little poems about the size of the page.

MR: But you used the word “sensitive”, and I wonder.. all the way through, when I look at what you’ve written, (and a lot of it was (written by an) angry young man)..

AG: I think there’s a lot more humor in my earlier poems than anger (because it’s still observation of my own thought without being totally attached to the thought and taking it entirely seriously).

MR: I don’t think you took yourself too seriously, but…

AG: Well, it was taken seriously by serious Jewish literary critics, who were used to, like, a Biblical torah tradition, you know, like, that the Word was God. So they were hung up on authority, whereas I was really exploring my consciousness, and testing it, and examining it, and, once in a while, going with it, but there is always, like, a detatchment of a kind.

[There follows at approximately twenty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in another blank period/commercial break]

MR: You and Jack Kerouac sort of started the whole Beat (thing)…in fact, that word…

AG: Also (William) Burroughs

MR: William Burroughs, (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti

AG: Probably a lot of anonymous people on Times Square more, Probably the early junkies on Times Square who were the victims of government persecution, who were sort of like the early Watergate victims, you might say, in the sense that they were… there was government..corrupt government bureaucracies like the Narcotics Bureau who was constantly chasing them down with guns, and so they suddenly had a revelation that the entire authority of the State was a hoax

MR: Did you all claim the word “Beat”. Is that a good…

AG: No, it’s an old word from Chicago carnivals probably.

MR: Does “Beat” mean “pooped”? – or I.. at one point, you talked about “beatitude”- “beat” as short for…

AG: Again, that question of the “dark night of the soul”.  So what.. when… I think (Jack) Kerouac meant, “beat” at the bottom of the soul, exhausted of all entertainments and reasons, and so put back, finally, to the vaster emptiness of the nature of things (“beat” in human terms, but, at the same time, “beatific”, as he said, in terms of recognition and empathy with other suffering outside).

MR: Well, having begun the revolution, or whatever you want to call it, a consciousness-raising, a bringing of consciouses and consciousnesses, do you see yourself now, or did you then, as a prophet, as a seer?. And if so, were you reflecting reality, or were you envisioning the future indirectly?

AG: Okay, that’s an interesting question, because there is a literary tradition of prophecy – as (Walt) Whitman

MR: Sure

AG: …or Christopher Smart, or William Blake. That prophecy depends not on a magical mystery tour of the asteroids, it depends on knowing your heart, and if you are able to speak your own heart then, in a sense, you are speaking for heart, and, like (William) Shakespeare says, ”one touch of nature makes the whole world kin” – or  (Alexander Pope)  “What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed”. So if you can speak from your heart, or from a clear consciousness of where you are, what you’re doing, naturally you’ll be talking through time, to heart any time, and be… If, say, American culture had displayed its heavy materialistic aggressiveness and you saw that in 1945, then it applies in 1974 (now)

MR: And maybe we will even encourage people to see it now and do something about it.


MR: AH! – We’ll be right back with Allen Ginsberg –  and you.

 [There follows, at approximately twenty-six-and-a-quarter minutes in, the final break. The interview resumes at approximately twenty-seven-and-a-half minutes in]

MR: Allen, you’ve just won the National Book Award for The Fall of America, and I wonder two things about that.  One – is America really fallen? is it irreversible? – and two – here you are, with this literary award, can you be published?  ..I mean, “Howl” won the obscenity trial back in 1957 but, how much of Allen Ginsberg is going to go into high school literary textboooks?

AG ( with harmonium accompaniment!) “Well, I think it began a decade ago. There’s plenty of Howl in the books/ Even though in Charlotte, North Carolina, the citizens give me dirty looks/I think it’ll be read for another couple of decades unless the Board of Education’s all crooks/ As long as there’s rhythm, as long as there’s some kind of song/Even if it’s empty, even if its just like some donut-hole/The text will be read/inside the golden bowl” – AH! –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *