Mind, Mouth and Page (Williams continues) – 10

William Carlos Williams in Rutherford, New Jersey, 1928 – photo via Beinecke Library

Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos Williams continues from hereĀ 

AG: (That) Pound poem I’ll have to find. (It’s) called “In Durance” – 1907, so probably prior to Williams, Williams probably imitating it. Very American in his statement, but, at the same time, written in an archaic style – “In Durance” – [Allen proceeds to read Ezra Pound’s poem “In Durance” in its entirety] – “I am homesick after mine own kind./ Oh I know that there are folk about me, friendly faces,/ But I am homesick after mine own kind..”..”Beyond, beyond, beyond, there lies..” – Well, of course, here he says, “For I am homesick after mine own kind/ And ordinary people touch me not”. And there was Williams in Rutherford looking for bodhisattvas among ordinary people, looking for signs of sentient intelligence and aesthetic choice among the old reprobate and his velvet dirty-shirted girlfriend, kicking the leaves, saying “gotcha!”. So, actually, a little tiny (poem) that I mentioned before comes (next, and chronologically [Allen reads William Carlos Williams’ poem, “El Hombre”] – “El Hombre” – “It’s a strange courage/ you give me ancient star:/ Shine alone in the sunrise/ towards which you lend no part!” – So Williams seeing himself there as morning-star.

That bodhisattva intelligence that he was looking for – there’s a poem called “Canthara” on page 143 that taught Williams a lesson, page 143, but, (it’s) also like a study, another character. [Allen reads “Canthara” in its entirety] – “The old black man showed / how he had been shocked/ in his youth/ by six women, dancing”…”swished with ecstasy to/ the familiar music of/ his old emotion” – I always liked that, and I didn’t realize, but that poem entered my head, and I got an image out of it, maybe six or seven years later – a poem called “Message” in Kaddish. This has nothing to do with Williams, because I, unconsciously, lifted those six women dancing and added a red stage, and while I was reading this, to prepare for the class, the other day, I suddenly realized (that) that’s where I got that line.”Message” – 1958, Paris, to Peter Orlovsky, who had left Paris and had gone back to New York [Allen reads his own poem “Message”] – “Since we had changed/ rogered spun worked/wept and pissed together”..”Six women dancing together on a red stage naked/ The leaves are green on all the trees in Paris now/ I will be home in two months to look you in the eyes.” – It was just that “Six women dancing together on a red stage naked” – I could never figure out where I got that, until I heard that “how he had been shocked/in his youth/ by six women, dancing…” It’s like a provincial drama he (Williams) had there, totally presented with the old black man. [Allen next reads Williams’ poem, “Good Night”] – “In brilliant gas light/ I turn on the kitchen spigot/ and watch the water plash/ into the clean white sink”..”Parsley in a glass/ still and shining/ brings me back, I take a drink/ and yawn deliciously./ I am ready for bed.” – So, a little bit like, in reverse, that poem I wrote about.. “Marijuana Notation” the daydream.. way out to Baudelaire, and then coming back to the grounded place where he was. So Williams is here really now conscious of it, and appreciating it, and able to do still-lifes, still-lifes, like a painter, sketcher – the excellent “glass filled with parsley/, crisped green”. And then noticing a lot. These odd details he remembers, like waiting for the water to freshen. Everybody in America has had to wait for the water to freshen and run cold out of the kitchen sink, and he’s the only person who’s aware of it enough (though) as an event of poetry, to include it in his consciousness, in his language, while he was writing. So the great thing about Williams is the more you read him, the subtler and subtler your own consciousness of the natural poesy of your own existence becomes. The more you read him over and over, you realize how many things he recognized and included, and how many things I/we forget, and exclude – and complain that we don’t have the inspiration to write poetry – that life is not hot enough, that the romance has gone, that the great days are past, that the “60’s are over, the ’50’s are over, the velvet dresses of Medieval days are improper for the common light of Cleveland… So that there’s a hand raised every moment in our consciousness

Student: ..Williams seeing.. waiting for the water to freshen out of the tap is one of those.. mannerisms..which you mentioned before..(like) what Williams saw in the colors of the side of the shack.. is one of those mannerisms on which (maybe) a culture can be built.

AG: Well

Student: ..strong

AG: As a mode of consciousness, characterized by subtle appreciation of the smaller details of living, taking, in good style, the everyday details, what in Buddhist terms, they call “mindfulness” (which is developed in vipassana meditation), “mindfulness”, which is developed in Zen meditation, so that when you make tea, you put all your focus on it and you really do it. When you tie your shoe-laces you can do it.. (I saw) Krishnamurti (once), who’s a great mindful person, and asked him what he did in the morning, and he said, “Well, one of the things I do is polish my shoes every day. And I have a good time doing it, and I get them very bright”. Le Grande Krishnamurti! – So you found the culture on it, in that, if you notice what you’re doing, then you do it well, and if it’s something unwholesome to do, you avoid doing it. But if it’s done, you appreciate the doing, and so life becomes much sharper, clearer, more awakened. You relate to the parsley, in a friendly way. You’re waiting for the water without impatience. You don’t get mad, you just notice “ah, you’re doing that“. Just like if you’re sitting in meditation and notice a pattern of thought. So there’s a great parallel between the bare mindfulness or bare attention, and mindfulness of Williams’ poetic practice, and the practice of meditation. Which is why I was proposing Williams here in this course as the basic ground to get into, really, and then, go check out Whitman, check out Eliot‘s consciousness, check out Pound’s, check out Kerouacs, check out mine, check out yours. Do you pay that much attention to putting the straps in your farmer’s-overalls? Obviously, yes, because, out of Williams’ noticing the (specific) difference of that funny shade of brown, or the freshness of the parsley-sprig, or the freshening of the water, comes an appreciation of faded dungarees – an appreciation of the patina on faded dungarees. It’s the same consciousness which used to be rejected by all the swishy hippies and Madison Avenue perverts and colorful young men who wanted to wear their high-school “Roar-Lion-Roar” t-shirts and store-bought pants. But it’s really a great breakthrough, when people appreciate not only their dungarees, but the holes in their dungarees and patch them up with beautiful flowers, especially over the ass or the crotch. It’s like a great statement of self-recognition, as well as whatever social message there in back-to-work, back-to-the-earth, back-to-the-land. Yeah, so I would say that the very clothes that you are wearing, which are part of the culture very definitely, your permission to wear such clothes, comes out of Williams’ permission to himself to enjoy the parsley, enjoy his yawn, enjoy going to bed. To enjoy the boredom of being up late at night when everybody’s in bed, getting a cold glass of water, and waiting for the water to run cold, fresh, in the sink. It’s all part of the same mindfulness and humor. So, in that sense, a culture is founded, yes. oddly. Or “when the mode of (the) music changes, the walls of the city shake” on a larger scale, you could say. Or – another statement of the same thing, “great oaks from little acorns grow”, or – “for want of a shoe, the battle was lost, and with the shoe, the battle was won”. You know, all those old stories, the old little apothegms?

Well, it’s quarter of.., so we’ll continue with Williams’ early period. He’s still a young man now, still hasn’t come to his full power, and he hasn’t come to his tragic end. It’s a big novel! It’s going to come to some tearful ending in a couple of weeks. [class and tape end here].

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