Mind, Mouth and Page – (Williams’ Plums)

Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos Williams continues

AG: The poem I like best to illustrate his (William Carlos Williams’) point, his method, is something that he told me, I think, was simply, literally a note left for his wife (Floss), which, when he reread it in the morning, he picked up (on) and put in the book as another poem. “This is Just to Say” is the title. [Allen reads “This is Just to Say” in its entirety] – “This is just to say” [title] I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox/ and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast/ Forgive me. they were delicious/ so sweet/and so cold”.

I think that’s one of his greatest exemplary poems, because, finally, it’s where life and poetry are identical. There’s no separation out. That the note that he would write to communicate to his wife is identical to what he would put in a book to communicate to the eternals.

Student: But is it poetry?

AG: Well, everything is poetry, to begin with, if you see it. He begins to see everything finally. And, naturally, it becomes poetry, which is a part of the point again.

I’m trying to make a parallel (between) the lectures that are going on upstairs (here at Naropa Institute) on the iconography of Buddhism, where the upstairs guru (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche) is pointing out that if you look, and are attentive, without resentment, every noise becomes punctuation in the mantra, and every little movement has a meaning of its own (and (likewise, as it does in) Williams’ practice). Do you know that old song? – “Every little movement has a meaning of its own”? (the belly-dancers of the vampish ’20’s?).

So there is a point, as (Chogyam Trungpa) Rinpoche was pointing out, where everyday life – but not merely everyday life, but one’s perception of everyday life – becomes so clear, because there’s no obstacle of trying to impose a thought on it, there’s no obstacle of trying to impose another world on it, so it becomes a complete natural world, where “the natural object is an adequate symbol of itself”, and which every object shines out with its own significance (and meaning, in which every movement has a relationship to… The example given was the insects in the parking-lot (some twirling around, some going zig-zag, some going in a straight line, suddenly stopping and going off on a tangent). They were all following their own self-ultimate fatal paths, and the observant person seeing them would be struck by the humor and curiosity of so much individuality finding its own way. Or a person, wanting to impose an idea on it, would say, “Oh, (but) it’s nothing but a bunch of insects! Why bother looking at them?, Why bother perceiving them?” – “They’re nothing but some cold plums in the icebox. What’s so poetic about that?”. But the perception of “so sweet” – the clarity and preciseness of the perception, as well as the humor and generosity of his relationship with his wife revealed by the tone and precision of the note that he sends her – makes it like a picture of their entire domestic life, their psychological relationship, that she’s got these plums which she has saved for breakfast – “Don’t take them in the middle-of-the-night!” – and him knowing it, and saying “which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast./ Forgive me” – like he stole the plums from his wife – “Forgive me/ they were delicious” – So you have their sexual relationship, actually, set up in that little thing. You have their personal emotive role-playing set-up, and then you have the midnight doctor, who’s coming down in the middle of the night, (as in the earlier poem, noticing the sprig of parsley in the clear glass by the sink-edge, and standing there in his pyjamas, and turning the water on, and waiting for it to freshen before it gets nice and cold for his drink, and noticing how the water freshens..). So (here’s) the doctor in the kitchen again. But totally awake, with beating mind, writing, “Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold” (oh, actually, he was probably just tired and wrote it down, but, in the morning, he realized how precise the poem was, or the writing was)

Student: Floss was ok with it?

AG: I’m sure. She allowed it in the Collected Poems (though she cut out (the poem [another poem] which included the line) “I kissed her while she pissed”.

One comment

  1. This is the poem that breaks poetry for me. If anything is poetry, then everything is poetry, then nothing is poetry. How can people sit down and make the effort of writing poetry, after this schmoe can get his grocery note for his wife printed in hundreds of thousands of anthologies? If I had read "I kissed her while she pissed" instead, I might be able to enjoy poetry still.

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