Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) – Introduction (Mary Hamilton)

June 9 1976 at Naropa Institute. Allen’s Naropa classes continue. We begin today with serialization of the transcripts of “Spontaneous Poetics” (Ballads). Allen begins the class by introducing his poetry guests.

AG: (Robert Duncan) is from San Francisco and one of the founders of the whole San Francisco poetry scene and inheritor of the tradition of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. He was a friend and correspondent of Pound, helper of Charles Olsonone of the people who taught at Black Mountain College. He’s 56 years old, real distinguished-looking and very elegant. He’ll wear a velvet suit and a bow tie and he’s a real elegant poet. Tremendously strong mind and a big mouth and a fantastic intelligence and great learning. So he’s worth hearing
Helen Adam was born in Scotland and brought up on Scottish Border Ballads and writes ballads and sings them unaccompanied and has never worked with a musician, so it’s just this 66-year-old Scottish lady, looking like Margaret Rutherford or something from an English comedy, actually (thinner), who’s. actually a fantastic witch and a very intelligent woman, totally giggly, but a great ballad maker.

So it’ll be a funny scene.

And fortunately we have balladeers here with Mike Burton and with Jack Elliott.
So we might as well begin the course unexpectedly with guest teachers and begin properly back in time. I’ll read a ballad that Joan Baez has been singing lately, the “Ballad of Mary Hamilton”, which is drawn from a big book, a collection of ballads called Child Ballads. Has anyone ever heard of that? Child Ballads? I think (Bob) Dylan had it on his bookshelf to study when he wanted to pick up on ballads. Do you know about that? Child Ballads? Did you ever hear about it?

Student: Heard about it, for years, but I never heard it.

AG: Never saw a copy. I never saw a copy except on Dylan’s bookcase. It’s appropriate that Jack (Elliott) is here because Jack Elliott is an old friend of Jack Kerouac and this is the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics..also Elliott was in Paris at a time when William Burroughs and (Gregory) Corso and myself were around, so we’re old asshole buddies from previous decades, having shared the same girls one time or another, and, recently, the same stages with the Rolling Thundertroop. It’s appropriate for the first course then, to start off with ballads and Elliott.

Allen begins with the opening stanza of “Mary Hamilton” – “Word’s gane to the kitchen./ And word’s gane to the ha’/ That Marie Hamilton gangs wi’ bairn/ To the hichest Stewart of a’’” – (that Mary Hamilton’s gone with a baby to the highest Stewart of all) – and continues through 17 more verses – “Last night there were four Marys,/ Tonight there’ll be but three/ There was Mary Seton and Mary Beton/ And Mary Carmichael, and me”.

AG: I’d actually never read this aloud before, so that’s why I was stumbling, but I’d heard Joan Baez sing it a couple of months ago and it really sounded like absolute knock-out  – the jumps from image to image, from situation to situation, from fast time to fast time – so it sounded like an ideal ballad.

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