Mind, Mouth and Page – 6 (Williams)

“William Carlos Williams and unidentified man in front of a Rutherford cobbler’s” via Beinecke Collection, Yale

Allen’s July 25 1975 “Mind, Mouth and Page” lecture on William Carlos Williams continues – the recording picks up in media res, Allen is speaking of Ezra Pound

AG: “…love that I love with beauty and delight and wit, or something..” “I am homesick after mine own kind” [Allen quotes from Pound’s 1907 poem, “In Durance” here] – If you have a chance, look that up, it’s in Personae by Pound (that’s his early poems) – (“…I know the glory/ of th’ unbounded ones, but ye that hide/ As I hide most the while/ And burst forth to the windows only whiles or whiles/For love, or hope, or beauty, or for power..”

That was in relation to “Sub Terra”, page 117 of William Carlos Williams’ Collected Earlier Poems. We finished “A Poem for Norman Macleod”, which said that the revolution is accomplished – “noble has been changed to No Bulk” – And then, in the next book, “To Him Who Wants It” or “For Whoever Wants It” Al Que Quiere – dedicated “Al Que Quiere” (to Who Wants It). I guess Pound was doing something similar at the same time, looking for companions who aren’t bullshitting, or looking for companions who are grounded in their own territory. “Under the Earth” (Sub Terra) – [Allen reads Williams’ “Sub Terra” in its entirety – “Where shall I find you,/ you my grotesque fellows/ that I seek everywhere…”…”You!? to go with me a tip-toe,/ head down under heaven,/ nostrils lipping the wind!” – It’s the same call as Whitman laid out – “Poets and Orators to come...” Same call as Pound was laying out in a more archaic fashion – “I am homesick after mine own kind..”… It’s a constant call throughout American literature, actually, up through Kerouac, out through my own poetry, a call for companions. The first that I know of it is in Whitman – that prophetic cry for a response from future generations, which actually accumulated and built up, and did actually take place – certainly (to) Williams, because the “grotesque fellows” that Williams (was) looking for, sprang up, from the streets of Paterson, actually. By the 1950’s, there were half a dozen poets coming from Paterson, and there are, in the class, (Summer of 1975), maybe five or six “grotesque fellows’ from Northern New Jersey who are (directly, from their own backgrounds) able to appreciate his appreciation of the Passaic River. But then, back to a sort of self-recognition of his own nature, and, with that self-recognition, containing in the Whitmanic-person feeling one’s own personal feeling, and then looking out with the same sympathy. [Allen reads Williams’ “A Pastoral”] – “When I was younger/It was plain to me/ that I must make something of myself..”..”No one/ will believe this/ of vast import to the nation” – That’s a little corny, actually – “No one/ will believe this/ of vast import to the nation” – And, actually, there’s a little paraphrase of Pound there. There’s a little poem of Pound’s, very similar, making some subtle observations on the difference of colors, or differences (in) manners – “No one will believe that this acute grounded perception is the necessary base upon which a culture would rise, which would be strong enough to withstand the hallucination of mechanical repetition of imagery, television, industrialization..” – but there’s a certain aggressive corniness in that – “No one/ will believe this/ of vast import to the nation” – So he’s still a sort of provincial crank, or “grotesque fellow”, railing, or dreaming, bodhisattva-like, about the possibility of refining the sensibility of his fellow citizens in Rutherford by means of clarifying the speech of Rutherford and himself speaking so clearly in the middle of Rutherford that anybody could understand him there, and anybody who heard him, anybody hearing him, would have pointed out to their attention the “smeared a bluish green/ that properly weathered/pleases…best/ of all colors” [quoting again from “A Pastoral” here] – He was interested in painting, actually. That business of a little subtle comparison of colors comes in a poem very late, also, one of his last poems before he died, talking about comparing shades of blue, just a little personal noticing on his part, a private think.

So he’s got this modified Messianic view of his role as poet, and so addresses poems even to his townspeople (in fact, it becomes a little gimmick, characteristic). [Allen reads Williams’ poem, “Gulls” in its entirety] – “My townspeople, beyond in the great world,/ are many with whom it were far more/profitable for me to live than here with you..”..”You see, it is not necessary for us to leap at each other,/ and, as I told you, in the end/ the gulls moved seaward very quietly” – So he’s coming to some kind of bodhisattvic compromise with his irritation. “The Gulls” (on page 126). There’s another poem, “My townspeople, I will teach you how to perform a funeral”

(“I will teach you my townspeople/ how to perform a funeral” – “Tract”). So he had a genre of poems directly addressed to “my townspeople” (which actually sounds archaic, old-fashioned, of another century, when there were “towns”, but he was actually living in a little town Rutherford, and there was, actually, a community). There was a guy in Rutherford who was the literary editor of the New York Herald Tribune, and he was a minor poet, and they used to have tea together, or go over (to) each other’s house every once in a while, and there were a few old ladies, and an insurance man, who were just local friends who dug his poetry and wrote little poems of their own (though in the Rutherford Public Library, they didn’t have a very good collection of Williams around the early (19)50’s – it was a library about ten blocks from his house and they didn’t have his books! – maybe one novel or something like that.

Student: Lowell (library) [this is 1975] doesn’t have any of Kerouac’s books..

AG: No books..?

Student: Six

AG: Six? – Yeah, there’s a new biography of Kerouac written in Lowell by Charles Jarvis, who’s a local school professor (which you can get down here) which has a lot of interesting gossip from Lowell.

Student: What’s the name of it?

AG: Written by Charles Jarvis – “Kerouac”, I guess [actually, “Visions of Kerouac”] – blue cover (and they’ve got it down in Town and Country (bookstore). [Allen continues – reads William Carlos Williams’ poem, “Apology”] – Apology – “Why do I write today?/ The beauty of/ the terrible faces/ of our nonentities/ stirs me to it:/ colored women/ day workers -/ old and experienced -/ returning home at dusk/ in cast off clothing/ faces like/ old Florentine oak/ Also/ the set pieces/ of your faces stir me -/ leading citizens -/ but not/ in the same way” – A little bit like Rembrandt, doing his portraits.

Student: “Bodhisattva”? What do you mean when you say bodhisattva“?

AG: “Bodhisattva”? – It’s a term used a great deal in Snyder and Kerouac, so it’s fair to use it here in class. I mean, it’s a commonly-used word in American Literature of the ’50’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s. “Sattva” – Sanskrit, “essence”, (and) “bodhi” means, “wakened mind” – (so) – “essence of wakened mind”. But bodhisattva is (more particularly), a class of person in Mahayana Buddhism, greater vehicle Buddhism, who has taken vows, basically, that he won’t go to heaven until all the sentient beings in the universe are equally wakened up, which means he can’t go to heaven until he himself is completely wakened up, because once he is wakened, everything is wakened, and to be a bodhisattva… there are a number of bodhisattvas walking around here who have taken the bodhisattva vows (because once you’ve taken the bodhisattva vows, you’re sort of set in a path). The Bodhisattva‘s vows, traditionally, are: “Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to illuminate all. Attatchments are unaccountable, I vow to release them all. The Gates of Natural Law (dharma) are endless, I vow to go through every one (or I vow to master all the Gates, or openings – which means “I vow to be you, I vow to be a worm, I vow to experience every condition and situation and be a buddha of that situation” – “The Gates of dharma are limited, I vow to go through every one” – and – “The Buddha Path (or “wakened mind” path) is endless, I vow to follow it through.” – There are a number of people around, in the town (Boulder), who have taken those vows. So it’s a term commonly used in Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, Zen (all people studying Zen take the Bodhisattva‘s vows), and people studying upstairs take the Bodhisattva‘s vows, and downtown.. Well, Williams is kind of a bodhisattva, in that sentient beings in Rutherford are too many to count. “I vow to illumate them all” – “Empathy into their condition is widespread, I vow to dig those situations”..Yeah?

Student: He does seem to have a problem empathizing fully with women, though, at times, doesn’t he?

AG: Sure.

Student: Yeah

AG: And he resolves it somewhat towards the end of his life when he says “the female principle of the world/ is my appeal/ in the extremity/ to which I have come” (in the poem, “For Eleanor and Bill Monahan”). He slowly begins to recognize the woman in himself, actually. And so earlier he had a lot of trouble. Although, actually, he’s got a lot of sympathetic and empathetic portraits of girls, old ladies, patients, his wife, actually (very often).. I don’t think he really had much more trouble empathizing with women than with men, actually. He was always, actually, a sort of lonely self writing, looking out on the outside.

So about this point, sitting around Rutherford like a bodhisattva, looking for something to do [Allen reads next, “Promenade”, in its entirety] – “Well, mind, here we have/ our little son beside us:/ a little diversion before breakfast…”…”Home now, my mind! -/ Sonny’s arms are icy I tell you, -/ and have breakfast!” – Actually there’s quite a bit of actual simple family relation (here), like taking the son out for a walk, thinking to bring a little bouquet back to “mamma” (Flossie, his wife) – (“..a bunch of little flowers/ for Flossie – the little ones/ only..”) – But he also had a funny kind of bodhisattva-intelligent politics, thinking about the immigrants around Northern New Jersey of that time, Italian immigrants, particularly, because, in the (19)20’s in Paterson, there were silk strikes, there was a tremendous recollection of Italian immigrant anarchist tradition, which he picked up on – [Allen reads Williams’ “Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!” in its entirety] – “You sullen pig of a man/ you force me into the mud/ with your stinking ash-cart!..”..”and-/ dreams are not a bad thing” – So now there’s a plateau he gets to , where there’s little daily flashes

Student: Is he left with his dreams at the (end there), I mean it’s like, no particular way you can think of going to it..just sort of, like..keep (hold of your dreams).. ?

AG: At that moment.. At that moment, in that poem, a sort of a consolation prize – “dreams aren’t (are not) a bad thing” ( though he’d said, earlier in the poem, “it is dreams that have destroyed us” (daydreams, so to speak, or dreams of romance…)

There’s a funny kind of sympathy for some people, so battered, so bleak, so poor, so drunk – “Give ’em another beer!” – “The peaceful beer of impotence be yours, old man’. That’s another poem that we’ll get to. That ends that way – “The peaceful beer of impotence be yours”.(“The Old Men”)

Here, he’s at a kind of plateau, but grounded in the sense of, at home with himself (or just about coming to be at home with himself) and beginning to recognize his own humor. “The Young Housewife” – this is a little bit like the dream he had of the girl that leaned on the door of his car, and then he had this wet dream about her and (then he) wondered how he was going to deal with her every day. [Allen reads in its entirety, “The Young Housewife“] – “At ten A.M., the young housewife/ moves about in negligee behind/ the wooden walls of her husband’s house..”…”The noiseless wheels of my car/ rush with a crackling sound over/ dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling” – I’ve always liked that because here he’s written a Chinese poem (“..and I compare her to a fallen leaf”) but very exact (it’s a fallen maple leaf, it’s not a mulberry leaf). He’s got a car (with a really good description – “The noiseless wheels of my car/ rush with a crackling sound over/ dried leaves” – over those dried leaves – “as I bow and pass smiling”.
Ice-man, the fish-man. Nobody had thought of putting the ice-man, fish-man, in a poem before, as the romantic details of poesy. And (his description) “..stands/ shy, uncorseted, tucking in/ stray ends of hair” – that’s as good as Hemingway in terms of fast, perfect, complete, condensed, photo-description. With all that humor, he still sees himself as a solitary crank. Yeah?

Student: When you mentioned last time hat his interest in, or study of, language was almost scientific, did it go..

AG: I should (actually) have said “medical”, in the sense that you study symptoms, or you have experiences with corpses (living and dead). You begin to know the signs of (life), to recognize..

Student: Was he more than just a really shrewd listener? Did he do any reading on the subject of..

AG: Well, he didn’t read linguistics. He may have read something, but I doubt if he read..I doubt if he read Chomsky, or anything like that. He may have read Deep Down in the Jungle, or listened to the blues. His reading was pretty extensive actually, but scattered. I doubt if he did anything that he would call scientific linguistics. But “scientific” in the sense of collecting data, and making replicable experiences (replicable in the sense of listening to speech-rhythms and diction, and then reproducing them, and proposing a method that other poets could use for their own speech that would sound different from his because their own speech was different). The question about W.S.Merwin, in a sense [Editorial note – Merwin and Anne Waldman were both present at Naropa in 1975], is is his Shakespearean-actor style of poetic delivery his actual natural speech? ( – and it may be so). Anne Waldman’s vibrant, tremulous, delivery? – that is actually her body-speech. Williams laid out a method that influenced almost every poet that I’ve had converse with over the last twenty years, whose work I’ve dug. And it was because he had a very simple method of examination of language. As I said, it should be “medical-scientific”, in the sense that you examine diseases, and, through dealing with mumps long enough, you get to recognize the symptoms. But his practice – it’s a practice too, you might say – was so simple, (so) elemental that other people could pick up on it and apply it.

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