Mind, Mouth and Page (Williams and Meditation)

William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, Rutherford, New Jersey, June 1959 – photograph by Richard Avedon

Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos Williams continues from here 

AG: Well, I’ve been making a great thing about, all through the course, trying to correlate some of (William Carlos) Williams’, perceptions, practices, attitudes, and mindfulness, with the mindfulness practices that you are all familiar (with), or most of you are familiar with, here [at Naropa], who have undertaken some practice of meditation. We finally come to the intersection point of the two – a great dramatic moment in the history of American Literature. How many here do practice meditation? or have learned some meditation practice? [Allen receives a show of hands] – So everybody should understand this. And you all know about breathing and watching the air. [Allen reads to the class William Carlos Williams’ poem, “Thursday”]


I have had my dream – like others
and it has come to nothing,
I remain now carelessly
with feet planted on the ground
and look up at the sky –
feeling my clothes about me,
the weight of my body in my shoes,
the rim of my hat, air passing in and out
at my nose – and decide to dream no more.

That’s “Thursday”. It happened to him on Thursday. He got that grounded and got that much into his body and that much into his own mind that there is an astounding naturalistic home-made American, not even a discovery, (but) simply a setting into a natural awareness, which in Oriental cultures had been cultivated as an aesthetic and psychological self-investigatory form. Here, by the practice of poetics, he arrived at the same place, arrived at the tip of his nose – “air passing in and out/at my nose”.

Student: I was wondering where (Ezra) Pound related to this watchfulness and awareness and, (from) what I’ve read of him and Williams, (there were) radically-felt differences…

AG: Yeah

Student: ..in what they were..

AG: Were you here when I was reading the Pound instructions for watchfulness?

Student: Yeah

AG: ..for watchfulness of the language? Well, see, Pound was more intellectual. It was up in his head more. So that..

Student: So it was more.. it was more…

AG: More as, what you might say, a practitioner. The difference was doing it more as a Jnana yoga, so to speak. Is that the right word, Jnana (yoga)?

Student: Right.

AG: That is.. the guy.. like Herbert Guenther.. J-N-A-N-A – Jnana – There is a yoga that involves intellectual research and refining the thoughts of the mind to such precise classical perfection that you arrive at the same point as the sitter. Or there is, as far as I know, supposed to be some such yoga, or some such class of yogi.

If you followed Pound’s directions just from the very beginning – “Go in fear of abstraction” – They’re a little more general than Williams’ insistence that you pick out that aspect of the tree, or that gesture of the tree that makes it different from other trees. Williams is a better meditation master in this particular study, but Pound has the right direction and the right ideas on it, and, actually, the right practice in his own poetry, though maybe Pound is a little more heavy-handed and deliberate – too deliberate and heavy-handed – At the beginning, not at the end. He mellows tremendously at the end, and he’s engulfed with the actual world by the time he’s in a cage – in the prison camp in Pisa after World War II. He’s directly confronting phenomena around him and recording them – the later Pound. And there’s a lot of clear, crisp early (poems) (“crisp” is the word one student used for¬†Personae, the early book of Pound), the crisp detail, or attention to detail so that his rendering of it becomes very crisp and clear, or, in Buddhist terminology, vajra-like.<

Student: How do you deal with the.. well, relative (difference) that he was.. well (in his case, his) awareness seems to be (occasionally) developed on external objects and external people,
whereas meditation is almost always an external experience, that he really had correlatives and images, let’s say, that were..

AG: Well, for the instructions in the development of Tantric iconography (presented here in Boulder) last might, the instructions were to go out and look and observe detail.

Student: But that’s not…

AG: Remember?

Student: But that’s not sitting practice

AG: No, that’s not sitting practice, it’s another practice, sometimes, depending on development of sitting practice (but this was before (the) general audience last night, most of whom hadn’t sat). As far as I know, Vipassana meditation may begin with observation of the point (of) the tip of the nose, but then extends onwards to the skandhas, or different senses, and then it extends through the body (as I’ve heard it explained in a little seminar the other day). And then it extends outward into the world, to notice the details of the world too, isn’t that right? Didn’t (Joseph) Goldstein (sic) describe that? as part of his meditation? – extending attention outward to notice detail in the so-called external universe.

Student: Essentially too, it confirms the abstractions of the mind, by grounding it..

AG: Well, refines the abstractions of the mind by seeing them as a thought passing through, and of definite things also..

Student: Hmm

AG: In other words, that’s the Objectivists‘ angle – that the thoughts of the mind are also definite things and can be rendered like things, very precisely.

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