Mind, Mouth and Page – 5 (Williams)

“William Carlos Williams seated at a typewriter in the upstairs bedroom, 1940s” via Beinecke Collection, Yale

Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos Williams continues from here

“The Raper from Passenack” – [Allen reads William Carlos Williams’ poem, “The Raper from Passenack” in its entirety]  (“..I wish I could shoot him. How would/ you like to know a murderer?/ I may do it..”) – It’s a character again. Like somebody talking for real. Somebody very intelligent, actually. Sounds to me like somebody very intelligent in total shock, coming out of a total shock, but the doctor is listening, Doctor Williams is listening. He’s got to treat the lady.

“Invocation and Conclusion” [Allen reads the short poem “Invocation and Conclusion”, likewise in its entirety] – “January!/ The beginnings of all things!/ Sprung from the old burning nest/upward in the flame/ I was married at thirteen/ My parents had nine kids/ and we were on the street/ That’s why the old bugger -/ He was twenty-six/ and I hadn’t even had/ my changes yet. Now look at me!” – At this point he got interested in abstracting it a little – just making a collage of the conversation, or the signs or whatever he was hearing – but he gets more and more precise as a study of what he hears (page 109 – “Sunday”), actually a study in shabda (sound – Sanskrit (for) “sound”). So Williams (is) practicing shabda yoga in Rutherford, New Jersey, maybe 1922, that is, just listening to sounds. Interesting to compare (this) to a passage in Kerouac describing the sounds in the middle of the night in Ozone Park, New York in Visions of Cody. I have a book called The Visions of the Great Rememberer which talks about that, or points that passage out, if you want to check it out. It’s in the library.

“Sunday” [Allen then begins reading William Carlos Williams’ poem, “Sunday”] – “Small barking sounds/ Clatter of metal in a pan..” It’s Sunday, of course. So (these are) the Sunday sounds. He’s quiet enough to be able to hear what is going on on Sunday because he isn’t preoccupied in having to fill out his office hours. So it’s actually really Sunday,shabda Sunday conjured [Allen continues, reading the poem in its entirety] – “Small barking sounds/ Clatter of metal in a pan/ A high fretting voice…”..”A distant door slammed. Amen” – Another Sunday poem, another detail. I guess he started listening and then all of a sudden heard (this) or that on another Sunday. I would bet these were both written in the same day, or same month. There’s no evidence..

One problem with this book (The Collected Earlier Poems), I think it was done after Williams had his stroke, and he probably did it together with his wife or had some help, but there is no finura in it, as far as dating (you can’t even find in the Acknowledgements page the dates of the publications of the different books that are mentioned, so it’s a little difficult to know exactly what year he’s writing). So what is really needed, in addition to Williams’ (Collected Poems) would be the exact dates, as much as possible.

Student: Is it just an over-sight then that they’re not presented chronologically.. ?

AG: I’m not sure that they weren’t published chronologically. How much out-of-chronology is this? did you notice?

Student: Yeah, it’s fairly… I mean, there are whole sections…

AG: It’s basically chronological. But there are a couple of things that are..

Student: .. say, three or four or five…

AG: Yeah

Student: ..are fairly out-of-place.

AG: Yeah. And I actually should have prepared this better by getting it on order. But I don’t know, that sounds like a scholar’s work, and would take quite a bit of time. You’d have to write to New Directions

Student: Yeah, I wrote to New Directions, they didn’t answer me.

AG: On this subject?

Student: Yeah

AG: No kidding. When did you do this? What were you doing it for?

Student: Um..for a..honors, I guess for an honors course..

AG: Uh-huh. You tried to get a chronological ordering of these (poems)?

Student: Not a chronological ordering, but I tried….

AG: Or the dates of the books?

Student: ..to find out, I tried to find out from (James) Laughlin. I wrote to Laughlin’s office. (So) why wasn’t it presented in chronological order in this volume?

AG: My guess is that probably it was done..when was this done?, when was this first printed?..let’s see..well, the last copyright is (19)66, Florence Williams, but (19)51, around that time, I think, he had a stroke. ’51, ’52, I’m not quite sure exactly when. He wasn’t that much interested in that kind of scholarship. He had those books and he put them together.

Student: Right.

AG: He didn’t have ten apprentices like I do!

Student: Well, I thought.. I thought that perhaps they had more of an aesthetic meaning to Williams presented in this way,

AG: I’m sure he presented (them) as he wanted, in the order that he wanted, aesthetically. Though he was a little bit… he was a householder.. a little arbitrary about that. It was, just like housekeeping, “Well, I’ll put that book there and that book there. I’ll put that bookshelf over there, or maybe I’ll move my desk. Maybe I’ll put this book in the middle, over here”, or “I didn’t get this book. I didn’t have a copy of it. Maybe it just came in just as I was going to send the manuscript off..” So that old book, published by Four Seasons Press or Black Sun Press or something… (those books were getting pretty rare by then, he didn’t have some of them probably). I think there’s a certain amount (of a) rough attention to the way he set it up, but I don’t think he got hung-up on it, he just didn’t get hung up on that. By the time he got around to putting all of these together, it took all his strength just to type, and he could only type one finger at a time (and made mistakes at the time).

Student: How did it come about that he finally got published? Was it his doing, or was it..?

AG: Oh, he was published very early, by Black Sun Press and others. There was this big international mucous-membrane network with Pound – and Harry Crosby and Caresse Crosby, sort of rich, literary, Fitzgerald-ean, European, international avant-garde types, had a press in the South of France and published tremendous things. I think Gertrude Stein’s (The) Making of Americans..

Student: This is Black Sparrow?

AG: No, no, Black Sun..Black Sparrow is a modern version of that..in Los Angeles

Student: Did they charge high prices too?

AG: Pardon me?

Student: Did Black Sun charge high prices?

AG: Yeah, they were relatively expensive, because they were small editions of one or two or three or four hundred copies.

Student: They were printed in France?

AG: Yes.

Student: And then sent to England?

AG: Yeah. Well, if you listen – [Allen reads from the inside Copyrights page] – “Copyright 1917, 1921 by the Four Seas Company, Copyright 1934 by The Objectivist Press, Copyright 1935 by the Alcestis Press, Copyright 1936 by Ronald Lane Latimer, Copyright 1938 by New Directions..” But there were others – by the Cummington Press The Wedge, which is a section here, a later book, was published by the Cummington Press in Cummington, Massachusetts. Yes?

Student: Allen, If I remember correctly, in his Autobiography, Williams said that (with) several books of his that were published, he went out to the bookstores and bought up all of the copies. Why was that?

AG: He probably knew how valuable they’d be! I don’t remember. Was he ashamed of his early books? the earlier Keats-ian books, I think.

Student: (I think) he even tried to get them from the Rutherford Library, but..

AG: It’s probably his early Keats.

Student: Do those not appear in that book (Collected Earlier Poems)?

AG: No, they’re not in here. There are some. If you want to hear what he first wrote. It starts with “The Wanderer”. Well there’s one, “First Praise” (page 17) [Allen reads Williams’ “First Praise”] – (“Lady of dusk-wood fastnesses…Praising my Lady”) – The echo here is (Ezra) Pound – a lot (Pound’s translations of Provencal, probably). There are a few poems that have that.. well there’s a funny kind of crisp splintering-leaf tread, which is direct observation, refreshing the form.

Student: The voice is really different,

AG: It’s a different voice.. (Yeah). He was really ashamed of those Keats poems, the way he talked to me about them. Ashamed, in the sense that he thought he was just an idiot, compared to what he came to, compared to the reality that he came to.

Student: How old was he when he started writing his first poems?

AG: Well, let’s see.. When was he born? .. I don’t know… I would guess, probably.. the Keats poems?..oh, seventeen?

Student: No, when he got over that and found (his own voice)?

AG: That’s the trouble with this book. You can’t tell. Probably around..let’s see.. I would guess probably around age) twenty-four (or) twenty-five, when he got onto his own, Well, probably that poem about “your thighs are appletrees which touch the sky”. It was probably when he was about twenty-four years old (I would guess, twenty-five). Already a doctor, maybe (or already in medical school), out of college. When he was in college with Pound, he was writing Poundian Romantic verse, but his model was Keats, he said (he actually modeled himself on Keats, he liked Keats). I think Keats’ sanity and basic mellowness (is) what he dug.

Student: It wasn’t so much the Romanticism, but it sounds like..I can’t believe that he talked like that back then. I believe that he talked like that later on..

AG: Talked like that in the later poems or the earlier poems?

Student: Yeah, it seems like he found…

AG: No, he did talk…

Student: …or was able to accept his own voice later on..

AG: Yeah.

Student: .. and it’s as if he were trying to… that was probably what he didn’t like, that it seemed like he was straining, just to reach that voice in that…

AG: No, no..he already talked like that as a talker. No question of that.

Student: He talked…

AG: The realization that (that) was the material of his poetry came late, but he had a pre-conceived idea of poetry until he abandoned it.

Student: That was what I meant

AG: Oh, ok..

Student: It seems like he found his voice in his poetry. It seems like he was able to merge his voice with his poetry..

AG: Well, that’s the whole point.

Student: ..whereas before…

AG: Whereas before he was hung-up on an idea (of) what the poetic voice should be like (and was taking from models that Pound was giving him, actually).

Sunday –The Catholic Bells” – Catholic Bells. So there’s a church and there’s an excellent subject. So how does he deal with it? [Allen reads “The Catholic Bells‘] – “Tho I’m no Catholic/ I listen hard when the bells/in the yellow-brick tower..”..”..O bells/ ring for the ringing!/ the beginning and the end/ of the ringing! Ring ring/ring ring ring ring!/ Catholic bells!”

I’ll finish with a poem which I read last time, which was a source of suggestion for Gregory Corso (a little poem, in Gasoline, about “Mrs Lombardi’s son is dead” – “Italian Extravaganza” is the title) – “Mrs Lombardi’s month-old son is dead/ They’ve just finished saying high mass for it/ They’re coming out now/ Wow!, what a small coffin/ And ten black Cadillacs to carry it in” – No [Allen tries again] – “They’ve just finished saying high mass for it/ Mrs Lombardi’s month-old son is dead/A small purplish wrinkled head…” – “a small purplish wrinkled head”, and a description of the coffin – (And) Wow!, what a small coffin/ And ten black Cadillacs to carry it in” – When I first met Gregory, he’d already met Williams, 1950 or (19)51, and the one poem he dug the most, “The Dead Baby” – [Allen reads Williams’ “The Dead Baby“] – “Sweep the house/ under the feet of the curious/ holiday seekers..”..”a curiosity -/ surrounded by fresh flowers”

I have one more poem (because it’s the end of a book of poems, and it finishes, and sums up, his aesthetics of that day, the book, An Early Martyr. [Allen reads “A Poem for Norman Macleod”] – “The revolution/ is accomplished/ noble has been/ changed to no bull/ After that/has sickered down/ slumming will/ be done on Park Ave. / Or as chief/ One Horn said to/ the constipated/ prospector:/ You big fool!/ and with his knife/ gashed a balsam/ standing nearby/ Gathering the/ gum that oozed out/ in a tin spoon/ it did the trick./ You can do lots/ if you know/ what’s around you/ No bull” – In case you didn’t get it, it was a constipated prospector and the cure was balsam, which the Indian knew as a local cure, knowing the land, knowing America, knowing the place where he was and its creatures. I’ll continue with Williams until we’re done with Collected Earlier Poems.

[class and tape ends here]

Leave a Reply

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