Mind, Mouth & Page – (Williams Early Surrealism)

“Unidentified Man with Pan Flute” (Williams?) – from the William Carlos Williams papers at the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos Williams continuing from here

Student: (William Carlos) Williamswas involved in the early Surrealist movement wasn’t he? Didn’t he have a hand in some of the journals they did or the magazines that they put out?

AG: Well, he edited Contact magazine, which published the first novel by Nathaniel West, The Dream Life of Balso Snell, which was a Surrealist novel, which took place in the.. I think it was the rectum of the Trojan Horse! – a joke Surrealist novel, a home-made Nathaniel West Surrealism (but, oddly, that was published in Contact, Williams’ magazine). If he was in America, he must have known the people who were connected to the 1913 Armory Show, where all the Dada and Surrealist and Futurist and Constructivist and Cubist works were shown, hanging around the Stieglitz “American Place” gallery. There were several (other) art galleries there where all the European influences were coming in. He was a friend of Charles Sheeler, who was a painter, who was making use of composition..a Cubist-style composition, or collage, a little bit. So he was in contact with all of that. And, I think, probably, Kora in Hell reflects his artiness of that period.

But the point I was trying to make was he gave specific instructions for how to notice things, how to pick out detail, to chose the detail by which an object differs itself from objects of the same class (I think his phrasing is similar to that). And that’s actually an old prose, or poetry, trick, for those who’ve studied (Gustave) Flaubert or (Guy) de Maupassant. I think there was some story of de Maupassant being instructed by his elder, (perhaps Flaubert?, I’ve forgotten), that he should be able to make a quick fast sketch of somebody who jumped out of the window, before he hit the ground. He should be able to grasp some detail that fast, and be able to write it down before the guy hit the ground – if he was a real writer. He should really practice and be able to get it that swiftly and that perceptively, being trained to look for detail.

Student: Would you agree with this statement.. it’s something I read in (a) Canadian journal three or four years ago.. they made the statement that (Bob) Dylan was the first to really bring Surrealism to American music effectively and convincingly in his later albums..

AG: I think Surrealism in painting had already been absorbed by the advertising industry.

Student: I mean, Surrealism in writing..

AG: Probably. I guess you could say so.

Student: (But) so many others did..

AG: Who else did, actually?

Student: I think Henry Miller sort of did, somewhat..

AG: Yeah, but Henry Miller never got to be that widespread until (after) Dylan came..(well, practically the same time, actually). Dylan was singing “The motorcycle black madonna/ two wheeled gypsy queen/ And her silver-studded phantom..” (which is) straight out of “Howl” (straight out of Apollinaire, actually).

Student: Allen, don’t you think (Jean) Cocteau did a number on Hollywood a lot earlier?

AG: Yeah, but it was probably in French and published only in French.

Student: No, in the movies, you know, from his plays

AG: Yeah.

Student: “Beauty and the Beast” (La Belle et La Bete)

AG: Yeah, so there was the introduction by Cocteau much earlier. I’d say World War II, and later.. Well, when was (Le Sang D’Un Poete) “The Blood of A Poet” of Cocteau?

Student: Forty-nine

AG: Forty-nine? – made in (nineteen) forty-nine?

Student: Twenty-nine.

AG: ‘Twenty-nine and ‘thirty. Yeah, but we’re talking about writing – and there’s some emphasis here on actually penetrating American consciousness…
[tape continues..]

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