Encore En Français

Jean-Jacques Lebel, with poets Jerome Rothenberg and Allen Ginsberg, at Centre Pompidou in Paris, 1994

Allen parle en français, we trumpeted, a while ago, introducing this post (footage from 1965 of Allen speaking eloquently (allbeit briefly) about his drug experience – speaking in French! – part of Jean Michel Humea’s He! Viva Dada).

Jean-Jacques Lebel, who organized his visit on that occasion (as part of the second “Festival de la Libre Expression” (Festival of Free Expression)), re-appears (over three decades later!) here (as faithful confrère, prompter, and, when necessary, when Allen’s vocabulary occasionally fails him – translator – even performer), alongside beaucoup, (much) more! Allen-speaking-French
(oui, oui, c’est vrai, Allen parle ici en français).

Here, being a singular treat, unearthed courtesy of French radio (via the archives of INA, the French national sound archive) – Une anthologie parlée d’Allen Ginsberg” (de “La poésie n’est pas une solution avec Frank Smith”) – poems and conversation recorded on the occasion of his visit there (to Paris) in 1996.

The “anthology” begins with a recording of Allen reciting “Footnote to Howl” (“Holy, Holy, Holy”…”Holy, the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul” (sic)), followed by his first hesitant French utterances (he starts off by stressing “l’amitié” – “C’était l’amitié des poètes” et” l’idée de l’affection” (which America, he points out, took initially from Whitman), citing representative lines of Whitman’s Song of Myself ( (et) “ce n’est pas un égoïsme”).

Il chante (He sings) (like Whitman) – beginning with a version of “Everybody Sing” (from First Blues) (“Everybody’s just a little bit homosexual..”), improvising, morphing into a version of Blake’s Tyger! Tyger! (“Tiger Rag”). The poem, he notes, is “une projection de notre coeur” (a projection of our heart(beat)) – He references Artaud (Artaud’s famous concept of Van Gogh – le suicidé de la société) and confesses that he’ll die soon enough but does not want to die in a nuclear explosion, is willing to speak out, for sanity, (and) against (global) pollution – “Comment vivre, c’est le problème” (how to live, that’s the problem) – Allen then reads (with piano accompaniment) a brief section from “Plutonian Ode”. This is followed by a segment from 1987, Allen and Jean-Jacques Lebel – Allen reads, in English, his “sound poem” (”appropriate for radio”), “Hum Bom!”, followed by sections of it read in French by Lebel. A second “anti-war” poem is then read by Allen, first in French, and then in English, (from Cosmopolitan Greetings) – “After The Big Parade”

Allen on the role of the poet – “La possibilité pour la création d’un miroir pour d’autres personnes” via “la candeur” “la sincérité et “la précision” – to awaken, to evoke, true (personal) thought and emotion dans la population générale (he cites, in this context, public impact, Anna Akhmatova’s “Requiem“, and the poetry of (Osip) Mandelstam) – but (he observes, this generalizing), that’s “not the intention”, it’s “the fall-out”

Next, Allen on old-age (“Probablement je suis plus tranquille maintenant“) – 69 – (he can’t resist making the sexual pun! ) – “older and wiser’ – Allen reads his poem “Autumn Leaves” (from Cosmopolitan Greetings), first in French (“Feuilles d’automne”) then in its original English (“..happy not yet to be a corpse”). This is followed by a typically ribald throw-away ditty, (a recording of) “Cherry Blues” (mixing oral sex and heart-failure!) – & more talk of aging (and the aging of his friends – the relative good health of the octogenarian William Burroughs – Allen notes Burroughs’ current circumstances, his house by the lake (in Lawrence, Kansas), his painting, and his writing (a new book, Mon Education, focusing on dreams about to appear – Allen himself notes his commitment to writing down his dreams)

The next segment has Allen noting his engagement with Surrealism and the Surrealists that were in New York in the late 1940’s – in the company of, among others, Lebel’s father, Robert Lebel – (“et (importantly) le magasin VVV“) – Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Benjamin Péret… (“Duchamp et Man Ray adoré Allen Ginsberg”, Lebel points out) – also later visits in Paris, he notes, with Tristan Tzara, Louis Ferdinand Céline, Henri Michaux..
Allen is asked about poetry and intellectualism (en Anglais, on dit “head-trip”..ou abstraite, ou généralisée..“), and points to another, alternative, tradition drawing from William Carlos Williams and Whitman – and blues – and jazz (Ornette Coleman, for example – “Et nous avons travaillé avec ces musiciens de temps en temps“) – and, significantly, Beat involvement in Oriental studies (Zen, Buddhism, meditation, etc, etc)) – “(C’est) une classe différente de l’intellectualité” – He’s asked about religion (speaks of Buddhist impermanence – (“I don’t think there is a heaven. I would not want to be condemned to go to heaven forever…that sounds like Hell!”) – On ne peut pas entrer le fleuve un fois! (purposefully mis-translating Heraclitus, Allen credits that bon mot to Gregory Corso) – You can’t step into the same river..once!

The last approximately 15 minutes (starting 41:45) are taken up with an uninterrupted reading (in English) of “Howl” (accompanied by the Kronos Quartet) – reason enough to be listening to the broadcast.

Jean Jacques Lebel is currently organizing a multi-media presentation, dedicated to Allen and the Beat Generation which will take place in the Spring of next year, simultaneously at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, Les Champs Libres de Rennes, the Studio National des Arts Contemporains, Le Fresnoy,and ZKM (Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie), Karlsruhe.

Lebel writes: “No art on the walls, no linear discourse, but a maze of screens on which films, video-clips, photos, text, will be projected with or without sound. The overall effect I’m looking for is a “psychedelic jungle” offering the viewers the possibility to dance through a sensual experience of Beat poetry. At least three screens will have seating arrangements and a computerized “menu” from which visitors will be able to choose the films or clips they want to see, or see again..This is a very ambitious project..”

It will open on May 31, 2013.

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