Mind, Mouth and Page – (More Williams Discussion – 1)

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Allen Ginsberg continues his Mind, Mouth and Page lecture, focusing on William Carlos Williams, continuing from here

AG: Another aspect of (William Carlos) Williams that was picked up later by Robert Creeley and by Charles Olson (and by Gary Snyder and by Philip Whalen (also), I would say) (would be) the precision part. Many of them came out of the following poem (or, the inspiration for the kind of precision that you get in Snyder, the admiration for a good job well done, professionalism, that precision, that you might find in Olson, the sort of bemused, impersonal observation of an accurate thing that you might find in Creeley or Whalen (came out of this poem) – [Allen reads, in its entirety, Williams’ “Fine Work with Pitch and Copper“] – “Now they are resting/ in the fleckless light/ separately in unison/ like the sacks/ of sifted stone stacked/ regularly by twos/ about the flat roof/ready after lunch/ to be opened and strewn/ The copper in eight/ foot strips has been/ beaten lengthwise/ down the center at right/ angles and lies ready/ to edge the coping/ One still chewing/ picks up a copper strip/ and runs his eye along it.” – It’s that last thing – “One still chewing” – One of the workmen still chewing – “picks up a copper strip/ and runs his eye along it.” – And you get this picture of someone actually examining the copper just as Williams is examining his lines, just as Williams is examining his own perceptions. “Fine Work with Pitch and Copper” – (that’s) them making a copper roof.

Student: What about that first line?

AG: Yeah – “they are resting”, I presume, are (the) strips of copper. [Allen re-reads the entire poem] – (And) I would guess that (in) that last quatrain – “One still chewing” – One of the workmen still chewing – “picks up a copper strip/ and runs his eye along it” – you get a funny little movie going there.

Larry Fagin [poet Larry Fagin is sitting in on the class] – What’s really lovely about that is the chewing.

AG: Yeah

Larry Fagin: The distance between lunch..

AG: Yeah

Larry Fagin: ..and chewing. It’s just right

AG: Well Williams is looking at his face. He’s chewing and looking at the copper strip, and Williams is following his eyeball, Williams’ eyeball is following that other guy’s eyeball.

Student: Also the rhythm of that line

AG: Yeah

Student: It’s a little bit like “Peggy has a little bit of albumen..”

AG: Yeah, that line of Williams that we were talking about – “I will examine my pees/ Peggy has a little albumen/ in hers”. There’s a little echo of the same talk-talk.

[Allen reads next Williams’ “Young Woman at a Window”] – “She sits with/ tears on/ her cheek/ her cheek on / her hand/the child/ in her lap/his nose/ pressed/ to the glass” – Just a little, tiny, fast photo. [Allen reads the poem again] – That’s just about as compressed as you can get – The whole big story. She’s weeping and the kid is looking out the window with his nose pressed to the glass. It’s all visual, all exact

But then, of course, he perfects such a perfectly-honed, sharp, visual practice – running his practiced eye, along the edge of the verses. But there’s also a desire for a larger music to come, a music made out of his own speech-rhythms. So far, we haven’t had anything symphonic, in a sense. So here’s a little bit of an attempt at, say, a classical music. It’s called “Perpetuum Mobile: The City” – it’s page 384. [Allen proceeds to read “Perpetuum Mobile” The City” in its entirety] – ” – a dream/ we dreamed/ each/ separately/ we two/ of love/ and of/ desire -..”…”Tearful city/ on a summer’s day/ the hard grey/ dwindling/ in a wall of/ rain-/ farewell!” – So there was a longer music for him, like Impressionistic music, in a way. Yeah?

Student: About what year is that?

AG: “Perpetuum Mobile” The City”? – (It’s) probably late ’30’s, I think, or early ‘4o’s, but I’m not sure. 30’s – 30’s still.

Student: It seems so much a precursor of the Pictures From Brueghel and Paterson, It sounds like later Williams.

AG: Well, parts of Paterson. It’s the precursor of a longer poem that has the refrain, “beautiful thing, beautiful thing”.

Okay, so he’s had that. Now, going back to tackle a real solid, tough, description project, to get the whole modern industrial world, Blake’s “dark satanic mills”, to do a little photo-portrait of that, called “Classic Scene”. So he’s turning his attention away from ladies at the window, or plums in the ice-box, or little small human details. [Allen reads Williams’ “Classic Scene” in its entirety] – “A power-house/ in the shape of/a red brick chair/ 90 feet high/ on the seat of which/ sit the figures/ of two metal/stacks – aluminum -/ commanding an area/ of squalid shacks/ side by side – / from one of which/ buff smoke/ streams while under/ a grey sky/ the other remains/ passive today -” – So, like a little picture of Moloch, actually. From this, I think I got some of my inspiration for the conception of Moloch, and…

Student: Can you explain what your conception of Moloch is?

AG: [reads Williams’ “Classic Scene” again] – It’s like projecting on these metal stacks a throne-like kingly figure of animate, huge human animate beings.

Student: What’s the name of that piece?

AG: That’s “Classic Scene” – which is funny, because it’s a little bit like a de Chirico painting, the haunting-ness of a de Chirico painting in that – the space and haunting-ness and archetypal-ness.

[Allen continues] – (Now) here’s what must have begun as a little typical exercise, but which wound up with all the mysterious dimensions of a great classic haiku. He thought it was so classic, actually, that he called it “The Term” (almost like the terms in which he thinks of reality, or the term that he is setting on his poetry, or the mark, almost, of his poetics – Or the term that he thinks in terms of). This is the poem that he thinks in terms of. Or this is what he thinks the terms of poetry are, and what poetry can really do at best. [Allen reads Williams’ “The Term” in its entirety] – “A rumpled sheet/ of brown paper/ about the length/ and apparent bulk/ of a man was/ rolling with the/ wind slowly over/ and over in/ the street as/ a car drove down/ upon it and/ crushed it to/ the ground. Unlike/ a man it rose/ again rolling/ with the wind over/ and over to be as/ it was before.” – It’s like a little movie, perfect, that everybody has seen. But he’s got the description of it so accurate that it’s got all the magical-ness – “Unlike/ a man it rose/ again rolling/ with the wind over/ and over to be as/ it was before.” – What’s amazing is he called it “The Term”, (referring to the mind, to the bouncing back of the mind, to the imperishability of the mind, but also to the process of poetry, being able to capture a simulacrum of that strange mysteriousness). He’s got the wind in there. There’s a haiku of (Jack) Kerouac‘s about the garage-doors straining apart in the rain. So you’ve got the wind coming through the garage doors without the wind mentioned.

[Allen reads next Williams’ “The Poor”] – “It’s the anarchy of poverty/ delights me…”…”in a wind that fitfully/ turning his corner has/ overwhelmed the whole city.” – Just a funny little picture – the man sweeping “his own ten feet of” sidewalk. I like “It’s the anarchy of poverty/ delights me”. It’s a very Paterson-ian scene. Then, a little light ditty. Well, why is he hung here in Rutherford and Paterson, sticking to it? It’s called “Africa” [Allen reads “Africa” in its entirety] – “Quit writing/ and in Morocco/ raise a beard/ God without a hat/ like poor Clew/ who braved/ the desert heat./Or if you will/like Herb/ sit on a hotel/ balcony and/watch your ship/ while the girls/bring wines/and food/ to you privately./The language?/Make money./ Organize/the language./Right.”

Student: Who were Clew and Herb?

AG: Herb? I don’t actually know who they were. Let’s see if it makes sense. Who might (they) have been? – “Clew/ who braved/ the desert heat”? – “Herb”? – I don’t know. Does that strike a bell (for you)?

Student: No

AG: (Okay). A little note on modern economics and aesthetics, the equivalent of Pound’s “Usura” Canto, called..“The Defective Record”. [Allen reads Williams’ “The Defective Record” in its entirety] – “Cut the bank for the fill./ Dump sand..”..”Level it down/ for him to build a house/ on to build a/ house on to build a house on/to build a house/on to build a house on to…” [Allen reads the poem again] – It ends (with those ellipses) – “to build a house on to…”.

Then, a little tiny series called “Detail” – each one a detail (so he was writing the larger set, “Paterson”, but he was, at this point, like a sketch artist, making little sketches in his book, so these are maybe among the most useful for people to dig) – [Allen reads short fragments, from “Detail”] – “Her milk don’t seem to../ She’s always hungry but../ She seems to gain all right,/ I don’t know.” [Allen reads the poem again] – The mama talking to the doctor, see? [reads the poem a third time] – “Doc, I bin lookin’ for you/ I owe you two bucks./ How you doin’?/ Fine. When I get it/ I’ll bring it up to you” [Allen reads this poem twice – and also] – “Hey!/ Can I have some more/ milk?/ YEEEEAAAASSSSS!/- always the gentle/ mother!” – And, Y-E-E-E-E-A-A-A-A-S-S-S-S-S! – [reads a further “Detail”] – “I had a misfortune in September,/ just at the end of my vacation/ I been keepin’ away from that for years. Just an accident. No foundation./ None at all, no feeling. I-‘m too/ old to have a child. Why, I’m fifty!” [Allen reads this for a second time] – That’s also called “Detail”. And those are on page 427-428. Then, a number that are not called “Detail” but which are the same [Allen reads “At the Bar”] – “Hi! Open up a dozen./ Wha’cha tryin’ ta do -/ charge ya batteries?/ Make it two/ Easy, girl!/You’ll blow a fuse if/ ya keep that up.” – Just little details of conversation – “Breakfast”..oh, “To Greet a Letter-Carrier” (which is one of my favorite poems of his. And I’ve quoted it here maybe three or four times [Allen reads Williams’ “To Greet a Letter-Carrier”] – “Why’n’t you bring me/ a good letter? One with/ lots of money in it./ I could make use of that./ Atta boy! Atta boy!” – There, it always seemed to me, he was really attaining, finally, the musical lilt of the old-fashioned refrain, and he had the genius to see “Atta boy! Atta boy!” as the equivalent of “With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino”Atta boy! Atta boy!” as the musical equivalent.
At the same time, a little comment – “Breakfast” – “Breakfast – Twenty sparrows/on/ a scattered/turd;/ Share and share/alike”.

One of his great middle character-sketches (was) “The Last Words of My English Grandmother” (from around 1920) [Allen reads ” “The Last Words of My English Grandmother” in its entirety] – “There were some dirty plates/ and a glass of milk/beside her on a small table/near the rank, disheveled bed -“…”(W)e passed a long row of elms. She looked at them/ awhile out of/ the ambulance window and said/ What are all those/ fuzzy-looking things out there?/ Trees? Well, I’m tired/ of them and rolled her head away.” – He’s got a lot of things in that. That whole drama and then that last moment of Williams’ noticing of her perceptions, the optical perception of the dying, or someone just going out, fading out.. let’s see..”wrinkled and nearly blind”, yeah, “she lay and snored”, is great., or<

“Fragment” – Another study, or fragment. [Allen reads “Fragment”] – “My God, Bill, what have you done?/ What do you think I’ve done? I’ve/opened up the world/ Where did you get them? Marvelous/ beautiful!/ Where does all snot come from? Under/the nose,/ Yea-uh?/ – the gutter, where everything comes/ from, the manure heap.” – This is all, I guess, early ’30’s, the early (19)30’s, still sketching away.

[Allen reads next “The Sun Bathers”] – “A tramp thawing out/on a doorstep/against an east wall/ Nov.1, 1933:/ a young man begrimed/and in an old/army coat/wriggling and scratching/ while a fat negress/in a yellow-house window/nearby/leans out and yawns/ into the fine weather” – It’s like a little blues, almost.

So what’s the point of all this, finally? He’s going to lay it out now. [Allen reads Williams’ poem, “The Men”] – “Wherein is Moscow’s dignity/more than Passaic’s dignity?/A few men have added color better/to the canvas, that’s all./ The river is the same/the bridges are the same/there is the same to the discovered/of the sun-/ Look how cold steel grey/run the waters of the Passaic./The Church-of-the-Polak’s/bulbous towers/ kiss the sky just so sternly/so dreamily/as in Warsaw, as in Moscow -/Violet smoke rises/ from the mill chimneys – Only/the men are different who see/draw it down in their minds/or might be different.” – “Only/the men are different who see/draw it down in their minds/or might be different.” – So that’s what he wants – “A new world is only a new mind”.

(Turning to.. ) “You Have Pissed Your Life” (here, more a little exercise in song again – like a song made out of common speech. (“Any way you walk/Any way you turn/Any way you stand/Any way you lie/ You have pissed your life”) – So he’s looking (here) for that. “You have pissed your life” (as he would latter write, “I kissed her while she pissed”). He was looking to hear the little “Peggy has a little bit of albumen/in hers”, or, “I said petals from an apple tree”. “You have pissed your life” – “I’ll kick yuh eye”..

Okay, so all that in his early poems is his natural observation and his accurate eyeball – just like the guy eyeballing the copper..

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