Trent Harris’ Allen Ginsberg Interview

So here’s a lost little You Tube gem (it’s been up since December of 2010 apparently!). The message here is, please, spell-Allen’s-name-right! – it’s Allen Ginsberg! (and Ginsberg not Ginsburg!) – That necessary kvetch out of the way, it has to be said, this is a curiously charming, and delightfully intimate, piece. Trent Harris manages to coax out of Allen an extraordinary honesty and candor (and the clips of him reading are pretty great too)

In 1979 Trent Harris, as he declares, “was lucky enough to spend three days my favorite free radical…We talked about beatniks, politics, and love.”

Here follows a transcript:

tape begins with Allen reading excerpt from “America” – “America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies/ America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry/ I smoke marijuana every chance I get/ I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet”

AG: Well nobody could ever be a beatnik, it was just a phrase, a label that people put on people, like “Republican”, “Democrat”, “Communist”, “Anarchist”, “Faggot”, “Straight”, “Beat”.
TH: It’s not a philosophy? one that adheres to.. a life-style?
AG: No, I used to get letters from kids in high-school saying, “I want to join the Beatniks, how do I do that?”, and I would write, “Read Rimbaud“.. people, kids in high school would write me in the ’50’s, so I’d say.. I’d write back postcards saying, “Read Rimbaud’s “Season in Hell“, Herman Melville‘s “Moby Dick”, “Billy Budd”, and “Bartleby the Scrivener“, read Dostoevsky’s “(The) Idiot”, read (The) Diamond Sutra by Buddha – and then I’d say (Jack) Kerouac wrote a great essay called “Origins of the Beat Generation”, telling people to go and see W.C.Fields and go see Harpo Marx, with his angelic hair, playing harp
Allen cross-legged with aboriginal songsticks reading excerpt from “Ayers Rock/Uluru Song” “When the raindrop dries/ worlds come to their end”
AG: People who were called “Beat” had what might be called a planetary consciousness, the vision of us as that living blue eyeball as seen from the moon, as a living creature, a flash of the vastness of the space that we inhabit, of the transitoriness of our existence here, a kind of glory or joy in being aware of it and waking up in the middle of the sleep of America, realizing that we weren’t in America, we were on the planet, and we weren’t even on earth, we were in eternity.
Allen reads a further excerpt from “America” – “America you don’t really want to go to war/ America it’s them bad Russians/ Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians./ The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power-mad. She wants to take our oil fields from Persia from outside of our oil machinery [Allen’s additional line] She wants to take our cars from out our garages./ Her wants our Central America [additional line] /Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Readers Digest…/ America this is quite serious/ America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set/ America is this correct/ I’d better get right down to the job.”
TH: Do you love this country?
AG: Like my mother. Sure. My mother died in the madhouse and I’m afraid this country is going the same way, but I love my mother.
AG reading excerpt from “Verses Written for Student Antidraft Registration Rally 1980” “only helpless Draftees fight afraid, big meaty negroes trying not to die -/ The Warrior knows his own sad and tender heart which is not the heart of most newspapers/ Which is not the heart of most Television – This kind of sadness doesn’t sell popcorn/ This kind of sadness never goes to war, never spends $100 Billon on MX Missile systems never fights shadows in Utah/ never with Strategic Air Command near Colorado Springs / hides inside a hollow mountain/ waiting orders that he press the Secret button to Blow up the Great Cities of Earth”
TH: Do you think your poems are going to have an effect on politics?

AG: Well, probably – they have had in the past, not through the effect on politics but also the effect on consciousness, the appeal to some common sense and common ground of understanding, common emotions, like, if at the time… It’s not so much politics, it’s culture, like culture revolution. Like Plato said, “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake” [Ed Sanders cites this as coming, actually, from Tuli Kupferberg,”adapted (and considerably improved) from Damon of Athens circa 460 BC”]. When people begin to hear a new rhythm, when they begin to think a new way, then that affects the external political forms.

AG reads couplet from Capitol Air – “No hope Communism, no hope Capitalism Yeah/ Everybody’s lying on both sides Nyeah nyeah nyeah”
[Allen seen hitching a ride in the Colorado mountains]
TH: I’m starting to get a feel for the kind of person you are..I think
AG: Uh-huh. I don’t. I don’t who I am?
TH: You don’t know who you are?
AG: Absolutely no idea who I am anymore. I gave up all idea of that a long time ago.
TH: What do you mean by that?
AG: Well, I don’t seem to have a fixed identity. I seem to have a lot of thoughts that go through my head and recurrent patterns but the biggest question I started asking myself when I was at grammar-school was “Who am I?”, and I never did find an answer, fortunately.
TH: Fortunately?
AG: Yeah. So that left things wide open for lots of space and lots of..
TH: What do you mean, you’re Allen Ginsberg, the poet..
AG: That’s my name..
TH: You’re Allen Ginsberg, the teacher.
AG: A lot of people come up to me and say, “Are you Allen Ginsberg?” and I say, “No, that’s my name!”
AG reads excerpt from “Song” –” The warm bodies/ shine together/ in the darkness/ the hand moves/ to the center/ of the flesh/ the skin trembles/ in happiness/ and the soul comes/ joyful to the eye/ yes, yes/ that’s what/ I wanted/ I always wanted,/ I always wanted/ to return/ to the body/ where I was born”
TH: Are you lonely?
AG: Of course. Everybody’s lonely. That’s the beauty of life, that sense of lonely solitariness in the immensity of space that we live in. “I am proud to be lonely, I am best lonely” [Allen parodies here William Carlos Williams’ “Danse Russe” – “I was born to be lonely/ I am best so”]
AG reads excerpt from “Why Is God Love, Jack?” – “Why is God Love, Jack? – Because I lay my/ head on pillows/ Because I weep in the/ tombed studio/ Because my heart/ sinks below my navel..”
AG: Is love painful? Sure it is, an ache in the heart.
TH: Are you in love right now..
AG: Yes
TH: ..with anyone? Who are you in love with?
AG: About six people..
TH: At least six?
AG: ..but I wouldn’t want to tell who they were unless I embarrass them (except Peter Orlovsky, who’s un-embarass-able! – I have a crush.. I have a crush every day!
TH: How do you know when you’re in love?
AG: It’s this sort of aching feeling in the heart, a deep heavy feeling in the heart, and a sort of spooning day-dreamy Err [groans]!
TH: Sounds miserable.
AG: No, I enjoy it. Don’t you ever get that way?
TH: Yeah, I.. that’s how I know when I’m in love.
AG: Well, I think everybody gets that, but..
I think I get a crush nearly every day . Just seeing someone walking on the street.[three young men cross by the car]. I could be in love with a couple of those guys over there.
[Allen hectors from Boulder Varsity Townhouse fire-escape balcony] – “There’s a Buddhist coming up the street, banging on his drum, get him on the camera! – “Ho – Hum – Ginsberg – nam myoho renge kyo” [Allen quotes from the Lotus Sutra] – back in the car – improvises –
“Oh-ho for the mind that takes all in its turn/ oh-ho for the world which has not yet burned/ oh-ho for the fact that we all are alive/ oh-ho some of them have boyfriends and some of them have wives/ oh-ho for the voice that keeps singing along/ oh ho for Foothills Gardens, its cemetery song/ oh-ho for the life that persists for a while/ oh-ho for the pond down there half a mile/oh-ho for the space that gives us a place/ to roll in our truck and continue the race”
Allen reads excerpt from “Guru” – “It is the moon that disappears/It is the stars that hide not I”

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