Allen Ginsberg – Richland College reading – part 2

Allen Ginsberg’s 1980 Richland College reading – continuing from yesterday

AG: So I would say now move on to.. 1956- moving on from 1956 to 1976. I have a series of poems which will require some music also – “Father Death Blues” – if we can get together on the stage –

My father died in 1976 in midsummer and I wrote a series of poems while he was alive because I spent a lot of time with him during the previous..during the winter that he was wasting, He was quite old and not in pain because it was a kind of cancer that was without pain during most of its development . So this is a series of poems called “Don’t Grow Old” – or Don’t Grow Old  [Allen gives the phrase a different emphasis]  – so I’ll read some of them. There’s a song called “Father Death Blues” in the middle. Most of the poems were.. well, some of them were written while my father was alive, when I was working with him or talking to him that year, and then I was in Boulder, Colorado, at the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics, also a Buddhist meditation center, where Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso and William Burroughs also, and many other poets, including myself, teach every year. My father died so I flew back to New York and in the plane over Lake Michigan wrote a blues on his death.

[Allen then reads Sections III, IV. V, VI, VII of the sequence “Don’t Grow Old” ]

“Wasted arms, feeble knees/ 80 years old, hair thin and white/cheek-bonier than I’d remembered…”..”I walked around the block/and found out what was back there-/it was a glue factory” – “Will that happen to me?/Of course, it’ll happen to thee..”…”What’ll happen to my bones?/They’ll get mixed up with stones”… [starting at approximately forty-two-and-three-quarter minutes in – “Father Death Blues” -“Hey Father Death I’m flying home…”…”My heart is still, as time will tell”] -“Near the Scrap Yard my Father’ll be Buried…”…”one grave over from Abe’s wife Anna my father’ll be buried”  – “What’s to be done about Death?./Nothing, nothing…”… “…Not be buried in the cemetery near Newark Airport some  day?”

(and),   twenty-eight years before – a continuation of that  [“Don’t Grow Old”] –  (“Twenty-eight years before on the living room couch he’d stared at me, I said/”I want to see a psychiatrist – I have sexual difficulties – homosexuality…”…..”Mouth drawn in, his false teeth in a dish, he turned his head round/looking up at Peter to smile ruefully, “Don’t ever grow old” – “At my urging, my eldest nephew came…”…””Tell him to go home son, I’m too tired”.” – “A year before visiting a handsome poet and my Tibetan guru…”…”..sighed, head bent heavy/talking to no one -/”what can you do…?'”)

 So..now  I think I’ll read..for…maybe we can take off a little time and I’ll read a poem – next what I’d like to read is a longer poem , with more titanic theme, for an oratorical voice as these last poem in imitation or out of the school of William Carlos Williams and  Charles Reznikoff were poems for ordinary voice, regular American speech, there is the oratorical style favored by Milton and Blake, useful for some subjects.

[Allen proceeds to read his poem “Plutonian Ode“, prefacing it with a few footnotes]

“Plutonian Ode” –   About 1978, working with Peter Orlovsky and a bunch of poets up around Naropa in Boulder near the Rockwell Corporation Rocky Flats Plutonium bomb trigger factory, where all of the bomb triggers for all the nuclear bombs in the United States go through the entrails of the Rockwell Corporation to be fitted with fabricated ten-pound plutonium bomb triggers. As part of Rocky Flats Truth Force we got arrested, sitting doing meditation practice on the railroad track, coming in and out blocking trains full of fissile materials from entering or leaving the core of Rocky Flats plant (facility as they call it).  So in the poem there are a bunch of different interesting references, we’ve got the 24.000 year cycle or The Great Year – 240,000 years would be the time it takes for plutonium to become physically inert (more inert than active), that’s ten times the Great Year (and, as you remember, Jehovah, one of our oldest Gods is only 6,000 years old, so Pluto‘s by-product is going to be 240,000 years old, so this is beyond the scale of human history that we’re getting ourselves into, or as Burroughs would say. “selling the ground from under unborn feet”.

Pluto was also, incidentally, the Lord of Wealth (as well as being Lord of Metal).. As the Rockefellers are the single largest salesmen of nuclear fuel, plutonian in nature, so the symmetry between the imagery of Pluto of the Underworld (where Springtime is stored, Persephone is stored underworld, in caverns, as is our plutonium, supposedly going to be stored in soft caves – 24,000 years would be along time to do it, but those are the plans, and… There are many aeons before Jehovah, however. There was Sabaot who was the God of the Garden of Eden, and then there was Jehovah, and according to some Gnostic theories there would be the aeon of Astapheus and the prior aeon of Adonaeus and Elohim and Iao and Ialdabaoth and these were by-products of the thought-forms of Sophia, the first intelligence, the first word. So there’s a little reference to that kind of babble. The Earth is considered to be four billion years old, which would mean 167,000 times 24,000 years – 167,000 Great Years.

I mention the names of Plutonian factories at Hanford, Savannah River, Rocky Flats, Pantex (here in Texas, I think that is), Burlington, Albuquerque, where plutonium is manufactured, fabricated into its parts and then, (as in Pantex I think), assembled, the parts assembled. Ten pounds of plutonium dust scattered about the Earth would be sufficient to poison the entire population of the Earth – if scattered as dust (about ten or twenty thousand tons have already been scattered in bomb tests). There’s about 300 tons of plutonium as of 1978 on earth (and the Russians have 20,000 bombs and the Americans had then, and probably still have, about 30,000). And in.. Odysseus.. in the Odyssey, when Odysseus went to visit Hades, to visit Pluto, he made a libation, in the eleventh book of the Odyssey, which consisted of wine mixed with honey and milk and barley seed, and the slaughter of oxen and sheep. So you know what that is. The diamond here is a reference to the Buddha’s doctrine of the Void, the Empty Void, or diamond-cutter that goes through everything. And the last line has got to do with gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha – a Buddhist mantra meaning “gone, gone, completely gone, to the other shore gone, wakened mind, salutations”. So those are footnotes that might be useful

Beginning at aproximately fifty-eight and three-quarter minutes in (and continuing on to the next tape), Allen begins reading “Plutonian Ode” (concluding approximately six-and-a-quarter minutes in)

We’ll finish this half with music again. We’ll finish with (William Blake’s “Nurses Song” – Shall we do that and then take a break. That has the refrain. “all the hills echo-ed”.  “all the hills echo-ed” – Do we have the chorus?… Text is by William Blake – “Nurses Song” from “Songs of Innocence”… do you know what age that is? – page 49 – You’re welcome to join in.. “All the hills echo-ed”, all of samsara, all of illusory time and space echoed, all symmetrical -{“When the voices of children are heard on the green…”

[Allen to musicians] – You can take a break if you want –  and I’ll continue with some more recent poems. I’ll come back 9.30-ish and continue till 10, say.]

[Tape closes and resumes – Allen is back with the musicians] – If you came in late, we were doing a little (ditty) by William Blake at the very beginning when we were practicing, so we’ll go over that again – The Blossom – “A flower was given to me”… “My Pretty Rose Tree” it is called…  (“A flower was offered to me…” … “and her thorns were my only delight”)

Now, why don’t you stay where you are for just one poem and then we’ll do this..  [Allen displays his  song sticks]  – The sticks in my hand are instruments for the oldest form of poetry known on the planet, twelve thousand years old some epics, mentioning extincted creatures, done by Australian aborigine song men. So these are songsticks from Australia. So this is a short poem composed in the style of aboriginal song chanting. And then, applied to music, another demonstration of the same poetic style. mode.

In the center of Australia, there’s a large red sandstone rock called Ayers Rock, or Uluru, which always has water, so it’s a sacred place for the nomadic aboriginal tribes. So this is a poem written on the way there  – [ Allen begins chanting,  accompanying hmself on song sticks] – “When the red pond fills, fish..” – no, that’s a different poem – [ Allen reads “Ayers Rock/Uluru Song”] – (“When the red pond fills, fish appear..”…..”When the raindrop dries, worlds come to their end”)

Now applying that, applying that method to a message poem – This is an anti-smoking non-commercial… “Don’t smoke, don’t smoke….” [“Put Down Your Cigarette Rag“]

The next poem, written in Las Vegas..improvised in Las Vegas, for a high-school, so it(‘s me) being.. interviewed by some high school students, and Moapa’ve Indians lived in the desert near Las Vegas which has very great outskirts sacred mountains actually, Mount Charleston in the Sheepshead (region) if you know that area in Nevada. Moapa’ve Indians, like the Australian aborigines, moved in a migratory cycle, making use of original water (which is to say glacial water, known as “original water”). And you may know that Robert Mayheu who was working for Howard Hughes was an ex-FBI man who was the person who connected the CIA stringers who were involved in trying to assasinate  (Fidel) Castro and Santos Trafficante and the rest of the…  John Roselli. and.. You may remember that newspaper history – “Aztec sandstone water-holes known by..” – can I read the poem? – [“Las Vegas – Verses Improvised for El Dorado H.S. Newspaper”] –  (“Aztec sandstone water-holes known by Moapa’ve/dried out under the baccarat pits…”…”     Yeah!  because they don’t know how to gamble/ like mustangs and desert lizards”)

[Allen then reads (unaccompanied) three more poems:

Verses Written For A Student Antidraft (Registration) Rally, 1980” (“The warrior is afraid/the warrior has a big trembling heart/the warrior sees bright explosions over Utah…”…”that he press the Secret button to Blow up the Great Cities of (the) Earth”) –

Ode To Failure” (“Many prophets have failed, their voices silent…”…..”I never learned to die”)

The last poem [sic], written.. well…  [Allen reads from “After Whitman and Reznikoff”]  (“That round faced woman, she owns the street with her three big dogs, screeches at me…”….”Big Jerk…you think you’re famous?” – reminds me of my mother”)

This next and last poem [sic] is in a verse-form that’s the oldest verse-form known in the West, which is Sapphic stanza (Sappho,  650 BCE,  invented the mixolydian mode of music and played a five-string tortoise-shell lyre, also was the first individualstic lyric poet (poetry of the lyre) – previously poetry had been Homeric, social, communal, she’s the first one to separate out and become, like, a crank or individualist poet. And her cadence, (which has lasted longer than Buddha actually, it’s twenty-seven hundred years old) is, as follows, for the Sapphic stanza (so that you get what I’m doing here) – it’s  da-da, da-da, da-da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da-da, da-da, da, da-da, da-da, da-da-da, da-da, da-da-da, da-da – or trochee – (like “Tyger, Tyger“‘s trochee) – trochee, trochee, dactyl, trochee, trochee,  trochee,  spondee, dactyl, trochee, spondee,  trochee trochee dactyl, trochee, spondee,  dactyl, trochee   (spondees get mixed up, spondees are long-long – da-ta da-ta da-ta da-ta) –  “Red cheeked boyfriends tenderly kiss me sweet mouthed…..”…”years a-/go in Manhattan”.).

I’ll finish with a song – a fifteenth-century English lyric – “I Sing of A Mayden” set to a tune – “I sing of a mayden that is makeles” ( a maiden that is matchless, a virgin that is without a mate, Mary -who chose to give it for her son, the king of all kings)  – reading concludes

Yeah, it was a nice evening, I thought, very aimable audience….

[Audio for the above begins here, beginning at approximately forty-one minutes in on the first tape, and continues here on a second tape (both tapes are part of the archives of the Allen Ginsberg collection at Stanford University]

Leave a Reply

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