WNET – Frank O’Hara & Ed Sanders – Ed Sanders

[Ed Sanders in 1965]

WNET  USA -Poetry – continuing from yesterday (this section begins approximately sixteen minutes in)  –  Today – a 1965 profile of Ed Sanders. He begins with a definition of his ethical options (and a reference to L.Ron Hubbard!)

ES: Well, I’m going to get a cream-gilded yacht and I’m going to communicate with my neophytes through ship-to-shore phone. No, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I will probably… I will sell out, No, I don’t know what I’m going to do but I hope I don’t. No, see, the temptation of money. People keep running to our group (The Fugs) and they say “Well, if you just change your name, or if you’ll just take those three words out, buddy, we’ll get you on.. all the..all the disc-jockeys will play your records. Well, I don’t know, it’s difficult, it’s a difficult posture to be in, to be bribed, as it were, bribed as it is, bribed, bribery. No, I’m not going to sell out. We’re going to… we’re embarking on a.. I’m now embarking on a new series of magazines, in spite of the police harrassment.

Introduction: It is difficult to describe the work of Ed Sanders in traditional literary terms. Much of his poetry raises questions of legality that are increasingly being defined in the courts today. In brief, he is a young man, born in Kansas, and now in his mid-twenties, who has developed an aptitude for scandal. He owns the Peace Eye bookstore on East 10th Street in New York City and he is the leader of a rock ‘n roll group known as The Fugs.

[Allen Ginsberg, c.1966,  browsing in the Peace Eye Bookstore]

ES: (I’m largely) emeshed in this Lower East Side culture, which is composed of artists, writers, the usual, but many, many poets who are operating.. like Allen Ginsberg who lives a block away and Frank O’Hara (who) lives three or four blocks that way. In-between those two, we have, like, thousands of poets and dope-fiends and writers and entrepreneurs and amphetamine-heads and coke-freaks and… a very interesting place. The buildings were condemned about fifty years ago, and certainly there’s a negative police situation here, similar to other areas, other bohemian areas in the country.But it’s a wonderful place to live in. The mafia king who controlled all the juke-boxes in the world lives a block away.

Well I formed this bookstore as sort of a freak-center and scrounge-lounge and, during the evening, sure enough, it fills up with creeps and poets and thinkers and writers and artists, musicians and… It’s sort of a focal scene for this ten-block area, in terms of, like, where little magazines can be distributed (I have, you know, like, the major avant-garde magazines come in here and get sold or get stolen., mostly get stolen.

[From approximately eighteen-and-a-half minutes in to twenty-three minutes in, Ed Sanders reads his poem “Cemetery Hill”] – “This is from my nation-wide best-seller book..no..this is a poem..a fairly long poem, so I’ll read..would read only the first section. It’s a ..It’s to my mother, who’s buried in a lonely Missouri cemetery. It’s called “Cemetery Hill”.  The night she died I had extraordinary religious experiences,of a solar nature, that is of a.. of a boat or of a barge, coffin-bearing barge, uniting with the sun in the dawn. I was very upset and I had temporary religious visual experiences.

(“Cemetery Hill – The Scene- March 10, 1957 – Cemetery Hill/, at the foot of which we lived,/ 11 pm – death of Mother…”…. “sunflower/ out of the flesh/ all out /all out”) – (Well that’s that_)

Ed Sanders is the publisher of a magazine which cannot be sent through the mails, and, although his fane is largely underground, he is regarded by a number of important American poets, including Charles Olson, as the most exciting poet of the younger generation. Among his many activities, he is also an active pacifist, and was one of those arrested in the early 1960’a for bordering a nuclear submarine in New London harbor

“We spent all summer training, training ourselves, getting in shape for Operation Frogman, which was a.. We would approach these submarines in boats at advertised times, that is, say, whenever Jacqueline Kennedy or somebody was there to christen a submarine. We would go up there and try to swim and get on a submarine and wave a flag around and

It was kind of a paranoid game because if you didn’t.. if you didn’t touch the submarine, or if you didn’t get on the submarine, you didn’t get much of a punishment. But it was a great pacifist goal to actually get on a submarine. But if you did get on a submarine, man, you got, like a year in prison! So, like, you had to.. The Peace Movement wanted you to get on the submarine, for their publicity and for some internal spiritual mysticism of, like, getting on the great matriarchal submarine, but, at the same time, boy, you knew that if you got on that submarine, one year in the slam!, one year at Danbury Prison . So that was a great..

Anyway, we did it all summer, and we’d go out in this little pond in Connecticut, and we’d train and swim, and we’d choose up sides, half of us would be frogmen, and the other half would be pacifists and we’d try to elude the frogmen and stuff   So the big day came and we swam out, and.. the “Poem From Jail”!

The situation with the peace movement is very vague. You see, I always think, from a.. like, I’m getting.. I’m aging, I’m about twenty-six now, you know. When I was boarding submarines, I was only twenty-one, you know. I feel now that as I start zooming towards middle-age that, oh, I”ll have to get into a field where I can do, have, long-term projects, and I feel that this singing group I’m with. We have like a.. We have a song called “Kill For Peace”, which is like a blatant bold statement about the situation in Vietnam. We feel we could present that to teenagers of America in a way that many peace demonstrations couldn’t , because we can get it on the juke-boxes and hopefully over the aiwaves

In another field, we want to present literary rock n roll. For instance, we have a song called the “I Saw The Best Minds of My Generation Rot which is Allen Ginsberg’s very wonderful poem “Howl” edited to a highly precise rock genre, and we have a…our first forty-five release has on the flip-side a poem by Charles Olson, (from “Maximus From Dogtown”) – [Ed Sanders is seen in performance] “I Want To Know” ( “We drink/ or break open/ our veins/ solely to know/ solely to know/solely to know/  hunger drives me onward/ to feel/ all of the skin/all of the skin/all of the skin….).

Footage here (and elsewhere) of Ed Sanders walking on Second Avenue and on the streets of the Lower East Side

ED: “We’re all pacifists and think like that. We have all these… we have these messages and missions.”

Ed Sanders can be described as a long-haired put-on and as a genuine street poet . His name is always among the first mentioned in any discussion of American poets under thirty. Ironically, his best-known work is precisely that which cannot be presented on television. Unlike the generation of Ezra Pound, T.S.Eliot, and William Carlos Williams, the poets of Sanders’ generation, now in their twenties, seem to be heading up a revolution not of style but of content.. It is the subject-matter, not the arrangement of the lines or (to) the words on the page, that creates the scandal.

A recent [1966] Time magazine article commented on Sanders’ rock n roll group as follows: “When it comes to sheer shock-value, no-one can match The Fugs. They have no use for innuendo. They lay it right on the line”.  The article comments further that the Fugs’ “scatological satires have gained a steadily-growing audience on the college campses”. and Sanders himself is quoted as saying, “There are too many taboos in society, and we want to eliminate them. Being a Fug is better than being on a peace walk. “

ES: “Right now I’m involved in a censorship case from various  unmentionable publications of my own, and The Fugs, conceivably, could, very easily, get into a legal situation with some of their material. So we have to remain.. we have to reman in unison with ourselves. So we can’t sell-out. Like, we have to. we have to sing our songs, we have to write our poetry. If we don’t do..  if you know, if we don’t just proceed forward, and talk, and speak, and think. and act, the way we want to, then our children will scorn us.”

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