Spiritual Poetics – 9 (Milarepa Didn’t Have A Tape-Recorder)

Allen Ginsberg’s Spiritual Poetics class continues from – here 

AG: Before going on, I would like to read, in that context, a couple of texts – William Carlos Williams, and a little scribbling by (Jack) Kerouac . But I wanted also to continue with the notebook/tape-machine problem. Means. With tape-machines.. if you want to carry them around.. because they’re harder to carry around than a notebook, though it seems, for media-oriented kids, or people grown up in the last ten years, they’re so available, and the petro-chemical wonderland is so bewildering, it seems it may be just as basic as a notebook now, for the high-school kid to carry around a little electric computer (sic) (I notice they use the little computers up in the Naropa office, so there must be some function for them, and tape-machines, to transcribe Chogyam (Trungpa)’s talks. Milarepa didn’t have a tape-machine.
Student: What?
AG: I said Milarepa didn’t have a tape-machine (is there more room inside?….

The tape-machine puts you really right with your language because all you have is the sound and the words and you can’t refer back to it to remember what you said, unless you want to run it over and over again. Ideally, I think if you’re writing on a tape-machine,what you should do is, writing any kind of writing.., most machines have a “stop” and a “start” button, or a microphone button that will click on and off and start the machine and stop it, so if you’re actually intending to do writing, one way is to use the automatic “control” button as the margin of your line, as the margin of the page would be in a notebook or typewriter poem. That is, you’re talking into the machine, you don’t have anything to say, so you click it off. Then, when something emerges, when you notice something, (the black shadows on your face ..the unnatural light in the room..turning (to) movie-camera, rather than God) – click! . Then, when you’re transcribing on a page, unless it’s going to be a purely auditory universe and we’re banning the page entirely, if you transcribe, which I’ve done a lot, from ’65 to ’70, with a Uher machine, you can use the “click” at the end of the tape line, the tape operation, as your breath stop. “Breath stop” is a phrase used by Robert Creeley to describe how he arranges his lines on the page. Wherever his breath stops, it’s the natural end of the line, a natural end of the line. In doing this kind of naked writing or spontaneous writing, lacking any other prescribed form (like sonnet, quatrain, 17-syllables-for-the-haiku, or sestina form), lacking the guidance of stanza and foot measure, how do you measure the line? How do you lay it out on the page? So that’s a basic problem brought up when you use a tape-machine, or when you’re using a notebook, or when you’re writing in open form, or when you’re just taking down the raw data of your thinks – what form is that?..or..how do you make a form of it? (because everyone’s always wandering around, saying, “you gotta have form, you gotta have form”, especially if you’re in school ) so how do you deal with that question of what is your form, or how do you put it into a form on the page?

A lot of recent writing I’ve seen in the last twenty years that has an open form does not pay attention to form, unfortunately, doesn’t pay attention to some kind of solidification on the page of the line connecting the line with the breath, connecting the line with the breath stops, seeing a sequence of rhythmical units in the breaths, seeing, perhaps, a graduated extension in the breath to longer and longer sentences, each sentence of which could actually be put on the page, carry over to the margin on the right hand side of the page and then indented, continued as part of the same sentence completed, period. If you’re following what I was doing, I was just sort of breath-stopping, extending the breath longer and longer, and on the page it would look somewhat like, say, the form of the third part of “Howl” – “I’m with you in Rockland” – where the lines just get longer and longer and longer, and a longer breath, because the thoughts get more complicated, or the breath-rush, or the rush gets more dense. But, if you’re working with a tape-machine, then, when transcribing, you can use the clicks of the machine to indicate where you actually stop. So why not stop there on the page, and then start over again on the margin, or, if the thought continues, if you stop because you couldn’t complete a thought, then you could continue the thought indented under the first line of the thought . So, your stanza might be, then, in am open-form poetry. You might have the conception of a stanza as being on the margin, the left-handed margin, if we’re using that convention (which we don’t have to, but just to keep it simple),
Beginning on the left-hand-side margin, where a thought rises, as in meditation, where a discrete, separated flower in the air of thought rises, you begin at the margin, where there’s some lapse of attention, or blank
or where you suddenly remember that you’re thinking and you think you better write it down and then what was the end of the thought?, that’s the end of the line – where your mind goes a little blank is the end of the line, where you stopped in your recollection, or where you couldn’t transcribe anymore. Then, if the thought did continue, if you were able to pick it up, if you were able to remember how it ended, indent, and continue what you can remember in the next line indented so that the second line is dependent on the first . If it still goes on, you can indent again from the second line and continue that and keep going. You can fill a whole page. Beginning at one margin, you can fill a page with a big zig-zag series of tailings, tail end of, let’s say, first thought. Or maybe it’s something that just passes through – a bird squeaked, so you just put a space – “a bird squeaked” – another space, and then you can go on to whatever thought you were thinking you were thinking. Am I being clear?
Students: Yes.
AG: I could use a blackboard for that, actually. That might be a good idea.
Because I think one problem with a lot of writing using a free form is that it tends to dwell too much on the left-hand margin, and it isn’t even necessary to begin on the left-hand margin, because very often you remember your thought in the middle, so you might begin in the middle of the page. (William Carlos) Williams had a very great moment in his poetry – the poem called “The Clouds”, where either he couldn’t remember, or he got too impatient, or it was so impossible to continue, that he stopped a thought in mid-sentence with a whole bunch of dots, and ended the poem that way. He’s talking about what happens when your mind wanders and you don’t actually clamp it down on objects but instead just wander off into the imagination, where there’s no substance, finally, to rely on. Or, at least, that’s how I interpret it. He’s talking about the imagination being up in the clouds, so, in other words, New Jersey talk is, “he was up in the clouds” –
The Clouds – “The clouds remain/ – the disordered heavens, ragged, ripped by winds/ or dormant, a calligraphy of scaly dragons and bright moths,/ of straining thought, bulbous or smooth,/ ornate, the flesh itself (in which/ the poet foretells his own death); convoluted, lunging upon/ a pismire, a conflagration, a…….”

And it’s dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot; it’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. I once saw him read it and I suddenly understood modern poetry when I heard him read that. So, “convoluted, lunging upon/ a pismire, a conflagration, a…….” . He was in the Museum of Modern Art, and I suddenly realized that, oh, he was just talking! He was really talking for real, He meant what he said. That he wasn’t trying to write poetry, and that the genius of it was that he was not trying to write poetry. So the genius of poetry is when it’s not poetry, really, in that way. You don’t have to worry about poetry, in other words. Let poetry take care of itself. It’s only a word, anyway. What we can take care of is our attention, and frankness – our own frankness, and own recollection, and enough energy and generosity to carry your notebook and to put your ego-less mind there (and you can put your ego there too, as long as you’re not trapped in a dream of it, but you’re seeing it as another solid object – your ego – like a tree, or a moth). In that way, you can get lyrical – you can include your own complaints, if you want, and you can include yourself, if you look on yourself as another object to be described, and if you’re transcribing the occurrences of your mind, all of your subjective preoccupations and ramblings and obsessions and neuroticisms also can be included because they’re solid objects like any other. They’re as solid as a leaf, they’re a thought that went through. Looking at it objectively, you can include yourself if you want. In fact, you have to wind up, really, as part of the scene. It doesn’t even require some sacrifice of self not to have a self in the poem, all it requires is to pay attention to yourself. That is, remember what you were thinking, remember what your self-pity was, and then just put it down as a little object.

I finally gave up using the tape-machine because it was unreliable. Sometimes the batteries would run down, and there was one time I laid down in a field in a farm amid the buzzing of many locusts and crickets, looking up at bright, clear, twinkling stars, and wrote this huge rhapsody about stars and crickets, describing the precise stars I was looking at, listening to the actual cricket sounds, and getting it all tied together in some kind of synesthetic mish-mosh of stars and crickets, and then, when I tried to play it back, I found that the button hadn’t worked! – and it was one of the greatest poems I ever wrote! – or it was my work that was my poem for that season. That was my one moment of total solitude and attention to the outside for that season. Then my tape-recorder got ripped off later, the Uher, in the (New York’s) Lower East Side, so I figured it was a little more neolithic, a little more bardic, to settle for a notebook. And easier and less expensive, and you didn’t have to have that much of a house, you didn’t have to be that organized. And listening-back to tapes is a big hang-up and a big hassle, and the time taken to listen to tapes and sort them out and transcribe is quite large, though it’s interesting. The first part of a book called Fall of America, that I put out last year, the first fifty or sixty pages, is all tape transcriptions, criss-crossing America in a Volkswagen, talking into the Uher, and paying attention to the clicks of the Uher when transcribing, to show where the line stopped and how to build the lines.

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