Allen Ginsberg continues his Mind Mouth and Page lectures on William Carlos Williams
AG: …mindfulness, Oriental-style. You can see it already when I interjected the fifty or so haiku in the middle of (William Carlos) Williams’ short poems last time.
What I’ll do today, actually, is go through more Williams, one or two poems, a couple of poems by an Objectivist (quote-unquote) friend of his, Charles Reznikoff, and I had mentioned a specific story by Williams in “The Knife of the Times”. It’s called “The Knife of the Times”. Did anybody get to read that? Can you raise your hands? – so, ok, I’ve got it here in class, it’s very brief, three pages, so I’ll get into that.
So (first) “January Morning”. Williams went out on a walk..and, I’ll find my place in a moment.. one moment
Student: It’s (page) 162
AG: 162? Is that where we began. He calls it a “suite”. There’s still some effort to keep track of his forms – as if it were, like, a legitimate European somewhat-musical form – a suite. There’s a kind of naivete in that. [Allen reads Williams’ “January Morning”] -“I’ve discovered that most of/ the beauties of travel are due to/ the strange hours we keep to see them”…”Well, you know how/ the young girls run giggling/ on Park Avenue after dark/ when they ought to be home in bed?/ Well,/ that’s the way it is with me somehow.” – Well, that’s a perfect example of what was proposed earlier in this class, and proposed upstairs in the Great Lecture Hall, as “mindfulness”. In other words, the same practices are useful. The same place is being watched outside of your head, or, if you include your thoughts, inside your head, as well. But you’re watching your thoughts, you’re not getting lost in them, (or) getting dreary and wound-up and sentimental and involved in the movie of your own mind. You’re watching the movie of your mind and taking down a few notes on the scenes.
He (Williams) gets a little heavy in talking “To A Solitary Disciple” – because he has a solitary disciple now in Rutherford (he’s a guru, he’s a poetry guru) and these are his instructions to his solitary disciple. [Allen reads “To A Solitary Disciple”] – “Rather notice, mon cher/ that the moon is/ tilted above/ the point of the steeple/ than that its color/ is shell-pink/ Rather observe/ that it is early morning/than that the sky/ is smooth/ as a turquoise”…”..observe/ the oppressive weight/of that squat edifice/ Observe/ the jasmine lightness of the moon.” – So he’s making fun of his own practice, but also giving very intelligent instructions how to look – how to choose detail, how to avoid getting too poetical and describing the turquoise aspect (which in Paterson, New Jersey, was not so omnipresent as it is in the Southwest).
Continuing with character again, or a “a portrait of a lady” – “Dedication for a Plot of Ground” – [Allen reads “Dedication for a Plot of Ground”] – “This plot of ground/ facing the waters of this inlet..”..”If you care bring nothing to this place/ but your carcass, keep out.”) – Well, it’s a little novel actually. Like, a complete history (even more exquisite – you see his practice of, actually, complete life-histories in one page).Williams wrote a play called “Many Loves”, which was the doctor and his girlfriend and the doctor’s wife and the girlfriend’s girlfriend (the gay motorcyclist of 1932, zapping through Rutherford in a black jacket). So, Williams himself was not gay but his mind was gay, or his humane nature was gay, or humani nihil a me alienum puto – whatever the proper quotation is (do you know? classicist, sir? – nihil?) – nothing human is alien to me – nothing human alien – So it’s an odd sympathy on Williams’ part, but absolutely true. It’s a complete life expressed in that short story (that play) – anybody’s life, or anybody’s particular weird love – not necessarily homosexual, but anybody’s weird love.
He’s written novels too – Life Along the Passaic River – many short stories – White Mule, the novel. A number of short stories. They’re all very detailed attentive realistic, (unimaginative, in the sense that there’s no display of smart-aleck imagination, there’s no un-Rutherford-ian turquoise in it, but there is the solid back-rock of Passaic County).
Student: What was the name of the book that you just read from?
AG: The book that I just read from is The Farmers’ Daughters. It’s the Collected Stories of Williams and that’s the first of the stories. There’s a big funny story about a handsome motorcyclist coming in from Greenwich Village to New Jersey all the time to visit his friend – that’s back in the ’30’s. (It has) a photo of Williams on the cover with all the smokestacks of downtown Paterson behind him – at home in his landscape. His friend – Charles Reznikoff (I spoke of the Objectivist movement – they presented the image, presented the fact, the meticulous details) – I keep quoting these phrases, hoping that, sooner or later, they’ll fall into place – “minute particulars” says William Blake – “minute particulars” – “No ideas but in things” (says Williams). I guess the present Buddhist terminology is “watchfulness” (as distinct from analysis). The Objectivists also presented the thoughts (so they were watchful of their thoughts, or their feelings, (and) included those in the poem. [turning to student] – You had a question?
Student: I was wondering.. I took a very brief look at a book called “Kora in Hell“
Student: I was wondering if you could say something about it.
AG: Well, there’s one great thing in the “Introduction” to Kora in Hell (which is not included in the City Lights (edition)). There’s a long introduction, talking about his method of composition. “Kora in Hell” was a little different from this using-the-building-blocks-of-daily-perceptions-but-including-daily-imaginations-daily fantasies-daily fancies..(There’s) a little turquoise (sic) in that book. They’re sort of Surrealist or (and) Objectivist. Objectivist – including the interior thought; Surrealist – mixing things up, just for the fun of the mind moving along. (But) still with a naturalistic base. Williams, in his introduction, gives us, like, very good meditation instructions for people who are walking down the street, and then trying to articulate or put in words the perceptions they have, say, of trees. And he says that, if you want to describe a tree, well immediately, the first thing is that you’re boggled – so how do you find words? you’ve got to describe each leaf? do you begin at the bottom with the first crack in the trunk? would it be better to be a painter? maybe you could make a drawing? – but, to do it in words? how do you begin to describe a tree? – I mean, a tree – you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, so to speak. Well, the idea “seen one tree, seen them all” is a trap, it’s a stereotype trap of the mind, because each tree is different. So he suggests that you pick out that particular aspect of the tree which makes it different from other trees – describe the little extra horn at the top, rising like a cow’s horn, or (a) broken large branch leaning, elbow-like, on the green grass, or a flock of birds on the top at sunset, or a particular leaf mold, or withering… Special weird branch branching. Take that detail or specific thing about the tree which differs it from other trees and describe just that one aspect and you’ll conjure up the entire tree. So if you say “oak with great lower branch covered with moss” then the mind imagines the rest of the oak leaves. You don’t have to describe each leaf