Garcia Lorca (Allen Ginsberg’s 1975 Naropa Class)

Federico Garcia Lorca, in Granada, 1919, aged 21 – photo by Rogelio Robles

“and you. Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?”

(Federico Garcia) Lorca came to New York, hung around Columbia University quite a while, wrote big poems on the Brooklyn Bridge, as Mayakovsky did on Harlem, in 1930, probably ’32, two years after Mayakovsky’s suicide. Lorca was gay and killed by jealous cops or something, by Franco’s Guardia Civile, Civil Guard. He wrote while in New York a book of Surrealist poems, and he was turned on, perhaps, by Salvador Dali, whom he met. I met Dali once and I asked him if he knew Lorca’s “Ode to Walt Whitman” (“Oda a Walt Whitman“), and he said, “Have you read his Oda a Salvador Dali?” So there was a Surrealist element mixed in and that comes out of (Guillaume) Apollinaire, and you can see some of the Apollinaire influence here, but you get that powerful personality and the voice here, as you have, somewhat more muted, in Apollinaire, but then (it) bursts out completely with the Russian poets, (as you can hear on the recordings, especially Esenin, where the voice boom(s) out from the chest and can be heard – I think in the room you could hear – even with that scratchy old record – the total resonance of a complete body put into the vocalization of the poem).

“Ode to Walt Whitman” – I’ll read the first five lines in Spanish, because it’s so pretty in Spanish, an so awkward, that you realize his mind is taking a very realistic jump so he can use the word “Bronx” in Spanish, as if it were “cocaine” or “Elysium” – “Por el East River, y el Bronx/ los muchachos cantaban enseñando sus cinturas/ con la rueda, el aceite, el cuero y el martillo/ Noventa mil milaros sacaban la plata de las rocas/ Y los niños dibujaban escaleras y perspectivas” – So it’s like real Spanish. My Spanish is goofy but basdanom real Spanish, like – ni la reuda amarilla del tamboril. In English (there’s a) reasonably good translation by Stephen Spender and J.L.Gili, done, probably probably late’30s, or early “40s, published by then at any rate [Allen then reads then, in its entirety, in English, Lorca’s “Ode to Walt Whitman” – (“Along the East River and the Bronx/ the boys were singing, showing their waists/ with the wheel, the oil, the leather and the hammer./ Ninety thousand miners extracted silver from rocks/ and children drew stairs and perspectives..”)]

Okay. Well, so that voice you heard in recordings – Mayakovsky, Lorca, Apollinaire, Esenin, has its equivalent in the United States also, various poets. The nearest, Hart Crane, maybe the most powerful and sonorous, in terms of sonority. I’ll continue with certain elements of (Ezra) Pound, certain elements of my own writing. I’ll continue next time with Hart Crane, and some American writers of the ’20’s and ’30’s, who either have sound, or total sense, total mindfulness, or sometimes mindfulness and sound wedded. My father (Louis Ginsberg) will be here and will teach Keats (who I skipped over, purposely, because he taught me Keats, so I thought it better to get it directly from the horse’s mouth, so we’ll have a double-class).

Student: Will you get to Vachel Lindsay at all?

AG: Yeah, I might do that tomorrow. Depending on the time, I’ll bring in Lindsay. I’ll bring in Lindsay because it has good sound. Lindsay and Crane would be a very strange combination.
[class and tape ends here]

Audio for this class is available (audio that includes Allen’s reading of Lorca’s “Ode To Walt Whitman”) at:

(beginning at approx 52 minutes in)

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