Gang of Souls

Maria Beatty’s 1989 documentary, Gang of Souls: A Generation of Beat Poets, is our film focus this weekend. It, as Clint Weiler explains on the IMDB site, “explores the insights and influences of the American Beat poets..(and)..conveys their consciousness and sensibility through (simple unadorned) interviews”. It also “weaves in additional commentary from contemporary musicians, poets and writers” (four of them – Marianne Faithfull, Henry Rollins, Richard Hell and Lydia Lunch), and “expands upon how the poets reached new levels of creativity and inspired social change”.

Among the poets interviewed (in order of appearance) William S Burroughs (well, a prose-writer, but he’s a poet), Gregory Corso, Diane di Prima, John Giorno, Anne Waldman, Jim Carroll, Ed Sanders (seen in the screeb-grab above) – and Allen.

Here are the Allen sound-bytes:

“My name is Allen Ginsberg. I am a poet, and on this rainy night in Lower Manhattan [the film was shot in New York’s Downtown Community Television Center], I am 61 years old.”
“The community circle we had.. I spent a lot of time on Times Square with the lumpenproletariat in the all-night cafeterias, looking at the transient, floating, Beat population.”

“It [Beat] had something to do with the explosion of the (Atom) Bomb and some alteration of the earth’s atmosphere. The absoluteness of the Bomb, it being absolute power, invoked an inquiry into the nature of consciousness, because, after all, that year, (19)45, was the same year Dr.Hoffman discovered LSD (an equally important scientific opening-up, in fact, maybe more important than the Bomb, in terms that it’s the Mind-Bomb, the Bomb that opens up the Mind).”
“The main communion was New Vision, Supreme Reality, New Consciousness.. ”
“It was not quite a community, so much as a Gang of Souls, that liked each other (adored each other, actually) and saw a kind of star in each other’s forehead.”
“No more Attachment’s chains shall bind us/ Mind’s Aggression no more rules/ The Earth shall rise on new foundations/ We have been jerks we shall be Fools [Allen is quoting from his own poem hereĀ “Fifth Internationale”]

“Majesty and rhythm” – [on influences] – “I have behind me the whole ear of English lyric poetry and Milton and Shakespeare and Shelley and Wordsworth. Majesty and rhythm. That’s an advantage that most of the younger poets don’t have.”
“The thing that was amazing about (William) Burroughs, he had this exquisite eye for detail.”
Kerouac came back with me to my room, to get.. to pick up my last valise or something (everything had been moved). And then I closed the door, and looked at it, and said, “goodbye door”, and then we started downstairs, and I said, “goodbye step number one, goodbye step number two..” (I lived several stories up, so it was quite a long series of goodbyes), and he said, “oh, do you do that too?”. Every time I leave, I say goodbye. Every time I leave a home, I say goodbye (I become conscious of where I am and recognize the fleeting nature of existence, and realize that we’re only here in the flower-ness of the moment for that brief poignant farewell.”
[on grass, marijuana] – “But I used grass mainly for aesthetic study. I didn’t use it for kicks, and I think it’s best used as part of mediative study or aesthetic study – then you have something going with it, but just to get high and get zonked out and wander around paranoid doesn’t seem to be heaven-on-earth!”
[what is art?] – So we took the argument to Burroughs and he said, again, [quoting Shakespeare] “‘Tis too starved an argument for my sword”, again, it’s the most nonsensical argument I ever heard. Art is a three-letter word. It’s whatever you want to agree the word A-R-T means, however you choose to want to use it. It doesn’t have any built-in intrinsic meaning from heaven. God didn’t proclaim that art had to be one thing or another.It’s only three letters.”
“I took it for granted as a kid, now I realize what a great treasure it was to have all that in my bones, all that rhythm, and how lucky I was to have poetry as a family business (it was a family business) instead of plumbing, instead of coats and suits, I got poetry as a family business – good deal!
“How many more nights (to) go in under the covers, and stroke my cock, and read Charles Fourier, or Dostoyevsky, or Kenneth Koch, and scribble in my book.”
“How many more times (to) pull up the Venetian..the wooden Venetian blinds slats, and let in the morning light.”
“How many more times go downtown and stare into a television camera, and tell my tale, like Ahab, or the old buffoon who began “The Rime of The Ancient Mariner”

Marc Calderaro’s review of the film on PopMatters can be accessed here.

Richard Marcus (for Blogcritics) here.

“not quite a community, so much as a Gang of Souls, that liked each other (adored each other, actually) and saw a kind of star in each other’s forehead.”

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