Mind, Mouth and Page – (More Williams Discussion – 4)

Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos Williams continues from here 

AG: (William Carlos) Williams, continuing on this theme (of  Eliot’s “To purify the dialect of the tribe..”)

“The Cure” – page 23 – [Allen reads Williams’ “The Cure” in its entirety] – “Sometimes I envy others, fear them/ a little too, if they write well./ For when I cannot write I am a sick man/ and want to die. The cause is plain./ But they have no access to my sources./ Let them write them as they may and/ perfect it as they can they will never/come to the secret of that form/ interknit with the unfathomable ground/ where we walk daily and from which/ among the rest of you have sprung/ and opened flower-like to my hand.” – He’s got his saxiflage there again. I actually didn’t read it properly because I wasn’t paying attention to his own markings there, but it is his basic philosophy of his writing by now. Envying Eliot too. He said that Eliot was such a great poet he set American poetry back twenty years because Eliot went to England, wrote basically an English tone with an adaptation of English blank verse. So here he’s envying Eliot, probably [Allen reads “The Cure” again] – He did use rhyme, occasionally,playfully. Here, actually, to appeal to direct personal experience, which rhyme generally does not do. Rhyme was generally used for patriotic purposes, or, as he would have seen it, mentally patriotic purposes, authoritarian purposes. Here, he’s dismissing the general..generalization..and even dismissing history in favor of personal, direct experience. (So) on page 32 – “St. Valentine” [Allen reads “St. Valentine” in its entirety] – “A woman’s breasts/ for beauty/ A man’s delights/ for charm/ The rod and cups/ of duty/ to stave us/ from harm!/ A woman’s eyes/ a woman’s/ thighs and a man’s/ straight look/ Cities rotted to/ pig-sties/ will stand up by/ that book!” – So he’s having a little fun there – showing he can rhyme, if he wants. “The Poem” [Allen reads next “The Poem”] – “It’s all in/ the sound. A song./ Seldom a song. It should/ be a song made of/ particulars, wasps/ a gentian- something/ immediate, open/ scissors, a lady’s/ eyes – walking/ centrifugal, centripetal” – So just a little further philosophical comment.

Student: Gentian?

AG: A gentian – a flower. The gentian flower which was peculiar (and) particular to his backyard in Rutherford. Simply asking for particulars again.

Now here [Allen turns to the poem, “Perfection”] is a perfection of a particular (something like we were talking about a week-and-a-half ago, when (Chogyam) Trungpa (Rinpoche) requested Al Santoli to take his time, make a cup of tea, watch, rather than analyze, slow down, maybe take a walk in Boulder) – “Perfection” – and this is the perfection of Williams’ method again, his mind, resting, watching something, remembering something real. “Perfection”, page 40 [Allen reads the poem “Perfection” in its entirety] – “O lovely apple!/ beautifully and completely/ rotten..”…”..No one/ has moved you/ since I placed you on the porch/ rail a month ago/ to ripen./ No one. No one!” – So he put that apple there and he forgot it. And then he remembered it and he observed it and watched it and suddenly realized no one had touched it – that it had stayed there in the stillness like a great saintly yogi.

Next) – “These Purists” (page 41) – “Lovely! all the essential parts,/ like an oyster without a shell/ fresh and sweet tasting to be/ swallowed, chewed and swallowed./ Or better a brain without a/ skull. I remember once a guy in/ our anatomy class dropped one/ from the third floor window on/ an organ grinder in Pine Street” – The tone of the poem changes in the middle because his mind changes in the middle too. I’ll read that again. Because of the laughter you didn’t get the “Pine Street” at the end – “on/ an organ grinder in Pine Street” [Allen reads the poem again]

A very similar suggestion now (“The Last Turn“), but here in more (of a) shock (a little like the gap that you encounter in “raw meat Buddhism” – when confronted by total reality (a broken leg, car-crash, yamantaka), the horrific deities approaching, and annihilating all language, and annihilating all concepts, and annihilating all attempts to deal with reality or to categorize it, and yet there’s our own awareness, and even the invention and composition of poetry, that is another reality, equal to the eleven-headed yamantaka and all of his axes and nooses of skulls and necklaces of heads) – [Allen reads “The Last Turn” in its entirety] – “They see it! in distressing / detail – from behind a red light/ at 53d and 8th/ of a November evening the jazz/ of the cross lights echoing the/ crazy weave of the breaking mind:/ splash of a half purple, half/ naked woman’s body whose jeweled/ guts the cars drag up and down -/ No ho,use but has its brains/ blown off by the dark!/ Nothing recognizable, the whole one/jittering direction made of all/direction spelling the inexplicable:/ pigment upon flesh and flesh/ the pigment the genius of a world,/ against which rages the fury of/ our concepts, artless but supreme.” – Well, he had to get that flash – both of the woman whose guts and blood are spilled like jewels and the shock, and, at the same time, recomposition of that into the poem.

(Next poem), “The Thoughtful Lover” – [ Allen reads Williams’ “The Thoughtful Lover“] – “Deny yourself all/ half things. Have it/ or leave it..”…”..today/ the particulars/ of poetry/ that difficult art/ require your whole attention.” (Then), a kind of visionary Kafka-ian moment, a sort of imagination of (a) Paterson area,(a poem) called “The Forgotten City”, I guess a special exercise in mixing up imagination and total realistic detail (like taking a walk in Paterson, or taking a drive through..and, at the same time, seeing a magical town, or composing a poem about a magical town out of the common elements of Paterson). [Allen reads “The Forgotten City” in its entirety] – “When with my mother I was coming down/ from the country the day of the hurricane…”….”..(…this/ curious and industrious people who lived/ in these apartments, at these sharp/corners and turns of intersecting avenues/ with so little apparent communication/ with an outside world. How did they get/ cut off this way from representation in our/ newspapers and other means of publicity/ when so near the metropolis, so closely/ surrounded by the familiar and the famous?” – With a funny kind of invention there.

“Raleigh Was Right” – This (is) an early prophetic response to Gary Snyder,who is urging a neolithic way or style of existence as an adaptation to over-mechanized stereotyping of thought forms. “Raleigh Was Right” – you know. “Come live with me and be my love”, the old poem, (Christopher) Marlowe‘s “The Passionate Shepherd To His Love” – “Come live with me and be my love/And we will some old pleasures prove”.

Student: “And we will all the pleasures prove”

AG: “We will all the pleasures prove”, but “some old pleasures prove” is my adaption. Do you know the rest of the line?…[Allen continues “adapting”] -“Come live with me and be my love and we will go wandering by rock and rill and stream and hill and by the lambs lay down our arms and be what I am…”, or whatever.. And then (Sir Walter) Raleigh replied. “If truth..”, oh, let’s see [Allen consults book, reads opening stanza of “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd] – “If all the world and love were young,/And truth in every shepherd’s tongue/ These pretty pleasures might me move/ To live with thee and be thy love” – (So) Raleigh, in his reply, was saying, “No, everything grows old, and the country is not what it was proposed to be”, and Williams is saying Raleigh is right. [Allen reads “Raleigh Was Right” in its entirety] – “We cannot go to the country/ for the country will brng us/ no peace..”…”Empty pockets make empty heads./ Cure it if you can but/ do not believe that we can live/ today in the country/ for the country will bring us/ no peace”. – There’s a funny little refrain there – “for the country will bring us/ no peace”. And the line ends – “for the country will bring us/ no peace”. Twice. As his (Marlowe’s) refrain – “Come live with me and be my love”

Student: That’s kind of like (Chogyam Trungpa) Rinpoche’s argument against ecology.

AG: Well, yeah, it’s somewhat Rinpoche’s argument against back-to-nature idiot sentimentality, or idiot compassion, back-to-nature. Rinpoche’s proposition is actually, go to the country, learn the flowers, and then come back and transform the city to vines and arbors. At one time that was the alchemical Vajrayana formula.

His (Williams’) own human reactions were facts to him, also (as with the Objectivist poets), and there’s a funny inclusion of himself in his medical role here, called “A Cold Front” (page 57) – [Allen reads “A Cold Front” in its entirety] – “This woman with a dead face/ has seven foster children/ and a new baby of her own in/ spite of that. She wants pills/ for an abortion..”…”In a case like this I know/ quick action is the main thing” – It’s a really nice, even tone – “In a case like this I know/ quick action is the main thing” – just like someone really talking. And also his reproduction of her “looking at me/ quietly, I won’t have any more”. So you know that there’s an intelligent man talking to an intelligent woman, in a crucial moment, and he’s caught the quick of that moment, of people having to relate to each other in a dense mind moment. Yeah?

Student: Was that published while he was still alive and practicing medicine?
AG: Yeah
Student: It was?
AG: Oh sure, ah, the American Medical Association wasn’t reading his poetry.
Student: What was that called?
AG: That was called “A Cold Front”

(Next) “The Gentle Rejoinder” – Another moment caught in the quick of a dense mind, or here, a dense feeling. [Allen reads Williams’ “The Gentle Rejoinder” in its entirety] – “These are the days I want to/ give up my job and join/ the old men I once saw/ on the wharf at Villefranche/ fishing for sea-snails/with a split stick/, in the shallow water/ – I know/ something else you could catch/, she said, in the spring/ as easily if you/ wanted to, But you probably/ don’t want to, do you?” – The way he caught that little tender moment, and the shyness of that, is very typical of Williams’ observation. It’s not only of a fact, it’s of speech and expression and of people’s relationships and the sweetness of that kind – “But you probably/ don’t want to, do you?” – “do you” – “do ya” – “do ya”?

“Education: A Failure” (page 8o) (from a book called The Clouds) – [Allen reads “Education : A Failure“] – “The minor stupidities/ of my world/ dominate that world..”… “I had rather/ watch a cat threading/ a hedge with/ another sitting by/while a bird/ screams overhead/a thrush/ in the cover of the/ low branches” – (followed by) another fast picture of his daughter – “her jaw wagging/ her left hand pointing/ stiff armed behind her, I noticed/ her youth, her/receding chin and/ fair hair;/ her legs, bare/ The sun was on her/ as she came/ to the steps’ edge, the fat man,/ caught in his stride,/ collarless,/ turned sweating/toward her.” – It’s like a little short movie.

(Then), “The Maneuver”, which here applies to his poetic practice again. The maneuver of poetics here, as well as observation, (page 88) [Allen reads “The Maneuver” in its entirety] – “I saw the two starlings/ coming in toward the wires,/ But at the last,/ just before alighting, they/ turned in the air together/ and landed backwards!/ that’s what got me – to/ face into the wind’s teeth.” – and “The Horse” (“The horse moves/ independently/ without reference/ to his load/ He has eyes/ like a woman and turns them/ about, throws/ back his ears/and is generally/ conscious of/ the world. Yet/ he pulls when/ he must and/ pulls well, blowing/ fog from/ his nostrils like fumes from/ the twin/ exhausts of a car.” – That’s a funny sharp comparison at the end.

So, finally, by 1948, (19)50, he had become what you might consider a wise man through his practice. And now – one of his major statements about growing old, or about the development of his emotions, or toughening with age, or becoming an old dog. Among that series of poems I’ve been trying to point out that seem to be little stupas (stupas, moments of enlightenment on his way), like “The Nose”, (like) “Danse Russe” (waving his shirt around his head, being the “happy genius” in his own attic), standing, feeling the breath in and out of his nostrils (“Thursday”) – “The Act” (and this poem was so sharp, both (in) title and expression that it’s probably the major influence on Robert Creeley‘s poetic practice). So, on page 196, notice “The Act” – [Allen reads “The Act”] – “There were the roses, in the rain./ Don’t cut them, I pleaded./ They won’t last she said/ But they’re so beautiful/ where they are/ Agh, we were all beautiful once she/ said/ and cut them and gave them to me/ in my hand.” – Well, of course, that’s his actual wife, it’s his relationship with his wife, so you get the two of them together, and you see who was his guru, partly. You see the relationship between them and what happened to their love. From the very early poem.. Actually, it’s the same poem as the very early (“Portrait of A Lady“) – “Your thighs are appletrees/ whose blossoms touch the sky./ Which sky? Which sky?” – That is, it might have been his wife talking at that time (his wife in his mind, very early, talking, saying, “Which sky? What are you talking about?” – What’s curious about this is this is one of the first poems in the American language which uses the word A-G-H – “Agh” – A-G-H – “Agh” – “Agh, we were all beautiful once”. There are very few poems prior to this which used the word A-G-H. So just as a matter of diction and accuracy, it’s terrific. There’s probably a few specimens of “agh” before (but..) His spelling is interesting – A-G-H – “Agh” – so he’s got the “g” in it. See, it’s “Ah” also. It’s the American “Ah”, which is “Agh”. It’s a peculiarly American “Ah” – Maybe somebody (else has used it before) [Allen turns to poet, Larry Fagin, also sitting in in the class] – Do you know anybody else that had it?
Larry Fagin: No
AG: Agh?
Larry Fagin: But it’s German too
AG: Ach!
Larry Fagin: A-C-H
AG: Yeah, of course. He took his medical studies in Germany ..studied in Germany..

Student: Allen?

AG: Yes.

Student: I’m still bothered by (something from) a couple of poems back..in “Raleigh Was Right”… what was he trying to say about the country?

AG: Well, I don’t think he would say that in “Raleigh Was Right”, (that) “the country will bring us no peace”. I don’t think he was making an ultimate final definitive Gary Snyder-esque statement – but he was making a note on the sentimental pastoral poets of his day. And critics (and friends) like Kenneth Burke had moved to the country – and John Herrmann. There was a movement of his friends to South Jersey into Bucks County in the “30’s and ’40’s, mainly because they were drinking so much that they all went up to dry out for something that had begun (Allen Tate had had a farm where Hart Crane went up in the ’20’s to dry out). They brought their problems with them. I think it was more a comment on the Bohemian geniuses of his day who were coming on with nouveau arriviste..new(ly) arrived, country babble, like, “Man, you don’t know what it’s like in the country. You fools, sitting here in the city, I’ve got all this peace”!.. But, however, it’s sort of a basic statement there too.. that, given the American situation, that it’s too far gone for the country. The machinery’s too far gone for the entire population to be relieved merely by going to the country, and (in) going to the country, we’ll carry our anxieties with us – Which is, basically, I think, what we are learning. But I would say the statement is not totally disturbing anymore, because, something I was realizing recently regarding the Plutonium situation.. [Allen is speaking contemporaneous to the direct action at Rocky Flats and the composition of his own “Plutonian Ode].. which is that we have now created several thousand pounds of Plutonium (I think that’s the figure), which is deadly poison – biocidal poison – which must be contained, but which lasts a-quarter-of-a-million years – 250,000 years. The image in Buddhism (is) when you finally enter into a heavy dharmic path where you realize suffering – it’s like a snake entering a bamboo tube – it can’t turn around. In a sense, mankind is like a snake that has entered this bamboo tube and can’t turn around, because the Plutonium.., if we leave it alone and go back to pastoral, and leave our high technology behind to rot in the salt winds of New York City and Seattle, then all that Plutonium is going to leak out and poison us anyway, so we can’t go back to the country, for “the country will bring us no peace”. We’re stuck with having to maintain a high civilization for the next quarter-of-a-million years. That’s one aspect of it.

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