Mind, Mouth and Page – 9 (Permission)

Robert Duncan, 1919-1988 – (“Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow/ as if it were a scene made up by the mind, / that is not mine, but is a made place,/that is mine, it is so near to the heart..” – from The Opening of the Field (1960).

Allen’s lecture on William Carlos Williams that we’ve been serializing here these past two weeks continues from here

AG: As you can hear, there’s a similarity between what he (William Carlos Williams) was practicing and the juvenile practice that I was doing, but what I was doing – the genuine observation of where I was and what was around me.. almost transparent.. I hadn’t intended to be Williams-like, originally. It’s just that I’d written them (the poems) and then realized that maybe that’s what he was doing, or maybe that was the secret of what he was doing, just really writing for real for himself, rather than trying to write a poem in the old style. But when he recognized it, it immediately gave me permission to recognize it, as a major form of art (though it took me several months before I realized, “oh, this is what poetry is, rather than that is what poetry is”, except (Jack) Kerouac came along and said, “Well, of course. You can do that all the time, Allen. Why don’t you write like that all the time? You can just open your mind and say what you are thinking. You can do that all the time. You don’t have to worry about writing poetry, just write your own.. write your own art. If that‘s your art, what kind of standards are you trying to uphold that don’t belong to you, or don’t have anything to do with the way you think and the way you write, or the way you talk?”. So it was reinforced, then, by Williams and by Kerouac.

The phrase “permission” is a phrase that Robert Duncan uses – sort of like gurus – poetry-gurus or guru-gurus. The idea of permission is that when something you do is recognized, something you do that you’re a little ashamed of, or you don’t think is so important but is natural to you, is recognized by someone whom you look up to, like an authority, you suddenly realize that that space is open for you to occupy, and, that in a sense, you have “permission”. That it’s alright, that there’s nothing wrong, that’s the right way, that’s the right road, that’s where everybody is, that’s where the ground is (that both can walk on, rather than one).

I think you’ll find that you’ll find permission to do things of your own nature from many sources besides gurus – girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, movies, (Fyodor) Dostoevsky, (Jean) Genet, (Walt) Whitman. You have (a) tremendous amount of permission, in every direction, to be yourself. So poets who give permission to enlarge the scope of your activity are doing a great social service. And that’s one of the functions of poetry, I think – to let you be who you are, (and als0) to reinforce your own recognition of what you can do, so you can do it boldly and courageously, fearlessly, not worrying about the spiteful wit of the world

Student: Allen, in that poem (that Williams poem), it becomes.. it’s so framed..because (it seems like) all you’re doing is watching television now, just like coming into a window…

AG; Yeah, well, they didn’t have television in those days

Student: I know, but it’s kind of (like) that..that’s very important, I think, to the whole pattern of the poem..to Williams.. (that) everything is, like, you know, (a) television kind of manifestation of it, just like watching, you know…

AG: That’s a good way..

Student: …a conscious image…

AG: …of observation, of writing a poem-experiment – to take the frame of a window and describe it and everything that goes on, moves through and passes through. It’s almost like “Death is…” and then fill in the rest – like a Surrealist poem, or translating the Egyptian hieroglyph – look out the door or a window and a describe it – and for that there’s a way of doing it and instructions. Pardon me?

Student: Larry Eigner is good for direct observations

AG: Yeah, There’s a poet, who’s spastic, in a wheelchair – what is it? What is his illness, do you know?

Student: Multiple sclerosis? [Editorial note – it was actually the result of bungled forceps delivery at birth]

AG: Like he can type, but he’s stuck in that wheel-chair, looking out the window, and he’s got the most amazing poems, about sparrows, or leaves, or grass, or the neighbor’s lawn-mower. He really sees it – like Emily Dickinson – spread along the page in a very interesting open-spaced way, because he can’t hardly move the typewriter around. His name is Larry Eigner. He was one of the poets early published in the Black Mountain Review (and you’ll find some of his work in the New American Poetry 1945-1960, and there are some books you can get..)

[Allen reaches for a cigarette] – Anybody got a match?.. thanks.. yeah, I’m kind of a cripple [ Bell’s palsy], I can’t suck with the right side of my lips (har-har)

Student: When you first turn to this reinforcement of the self, is it..

AG: Pardon?

Student: When you first turn on to this confidence, this awareness that you were just you and it didn’t matter what the world thought..

AG: I think mainly through Neal Cassady and (William) Burroughs and (Jack) Kerouac, around 1945.

Student: Like, I remember a line in “Howl” where you said “America, go fuck yourself!”…

AG: No. I said “America go fuck yourself with your atom bomb”

Student: Okay

AG: ..which is funny.

Student: And sassy

AG: Yeah, that was sort of sassy – and self-confident. But it was actually grounded on the knowledge that there was nothing America could do with the atom bomb but go fuck yourself (fuck itself) – unless you dropped it somewhere into the void.

I think probably (19)44, (19)45, meeting Kerouac, and the specific moment of recognition of self, or the self I knew, or the particular.. it wasn’t “self” exactly.. the particular aspect of myself that was most familiar to me but most delicate and secret, exemplified by… I had just come out of Columbia (so I’d broken out of Paterson and was on my own in New York) and had met Kerouac and a few other people, and I was beginning to be “lonesome after mine own kind”. So I found my own kind of my companions, and was moving out of the seventh floor of the Union Theological Seminary, where I had spent the first half of my freshman year, and when I left.. I had (had) such a sweet, tender, romantic time and (had) fallen in love, and it was like “immortal youth” (and I knew it then). So when I left, I bowed to the door and said “farewell” and bowed to the hall and said “farewell” and then walked down the seven flights of steps to the street and said “farewell” to each step. And the second time I met Kerouac, (or maybe the first), I blurted that out. And he said, “Oh, you think just like I do. Of course. That’s your nature – the melancholic Allen – just like me”. And (so) I suddenly realized that what I had done was absolutely beautiful and poetic and true and human, and recognized the fact that I was in eternity and that everything was transient, recognizing what, in Buddhist terms, would be that.. all the constituents of being are transitory, the transitoriness of the dream that we were in. And so (I recognized) some very, kind of, deep, sweet, aspect of myself that I would hardly reveal to anyone, (except someone as warm, open and mellowed out, vulnerable, as Kerouac). But his immediate response (to my surprise) was to adore what I did there, and that was like permission, reinforcement, for my own nature. So, I can feel what I feel, all the time now! – and I can even express it!

With Burroughs, a very similar situation. Burroughs was very intelligent, I thought, and I thought I was stupid, or dumb, like a dumb Paterson kid, hanging around. And he knew Shakespeare and was always quoting Shakespeare very wittily – “‘Tis too starved an argument for my sword”. And his wife (Joan) told me one day that he (had) said, “Allen Ginsberg? Oh, he’s smart as a whip”. And I thought, “Gee am I smart? Wow, he thinks I’m smart”. So I realized I was smart (or I realized I wasn’t a clunk).

And then, later on, I spent a year.. I spent a year with him. We were all living in the same apartment, about 1945, and he was being analyzed by a Dr. Federn, who had been analyzed by Freud, and so I spent about a year lying on a a couch, an hour a day, free-associating to Burroughs, which was one of the best times I’ve ever spent in my life. It was one of the most valuable times, because I ran through my whole childhood history, and it was really the foundation for later being able to write “Kaddish”. And I came to a moment at the end where, for the first time, I really showed some feeling, and burst out weeping, and said “Nobody loves me!” (which is exactly what I felt). And Burroughs sat there, impersonal, benevolent, friendly, didn’t say a word, didn’t intrude, but accepted it, allowed it, didn’t mock me, didn’t make fun of me, because it was just the sort of thing I was deathly afraid to say to anybody (altho’ that was my main feeling – “Nobody loves me” – at the age of.. what? nineteen?). So that was a kind of permission to feel that nobody loves me and that’s alright, or that you can have feelings like that without being a pariah, to have such disgusting feelings and still be “smart as a whip”, still be acceptable, tender, company.

Well there are numerable instances of permission given in my life. If you’re lucky, given the right environment, you’ve all had that in one way or another..from your first girlfriend? to allow you to be naked and have a hard-on and present it, you know?, or have your body.. have your breasts.. I mean that’s the whole point, if you have a good time, of the first time you go to bed with another human body. That’s permission. There are lots of instances of permission in my life (which is why I have the strength I have, actually). Permission from others to pursue it. That’s one reason why I like Chogyam Trungpa (Rinpoche). I got permission (from) him for certain things that I’d dreamt of but hadn’t tried – like teaching here (Naropa). Or, very specifically, in 1972, here in Denver – no, where was it? San Francisco? – w ’72 I had a conversation with Trungpa and I saw his traveling and lecture schedule and (I) said, “How can you do that? I’m getting bored with what I’m doing, going cross-country like this”. And he said, “Ah, that’s because you don’t like your poetry”. And I said, “What do you know about poetry?” And he said, “Why don’t you do like the great poets do, like Milarepa? Why do you need a piece of paper? Why don’t you just improvise it on the stage. You have your mind, don’t you? Why do you need a piece of paper if you have your mind?” And I suddenly realized that was the tradition of great bardic poetics – the use of spontaneous mind and the articulation of it without fear of being fucked up or wrong or stupid, or your own farts, or whatever.. So I began doing that from then on, whenever I give a reading (which has actually given me more interest in going out and giving readings). It just made it like tight-rope walking. I did it that very day and the next day. I had to give a benefit concert for the Tibetan Nyingma Center in Berkeley, and this was the first time I ever went on a stage without a piece of paper to support me and just made up a sweet two-chord song about how sweet (it was) to be born here in America in the deva loka, suffering the beautiful perfumes of the Gods, or something.. (I don’t remember it, it wasn’t recorded – but it also gave me permission to lay out my poetry into the wind without worrying whether it was recorded or not, not worrying about if it fitted on a page).

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