An interesting note by self-confessed “bourgeois philistine”, Lewis Lapham, to appear in the upcoming Winter 2012 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. This, from a slighty-adapted version posted at TomDispatch.com (the complete essay, “Raiding Consciousness: Why the War on Drugs Is a War on Human Nature”, is well worth reading). Lapham, here is looking back, recalling, his “one experiment with psychedelics in 1959”:
“Employed at the time as a reporter at the San Francisco Examiner, I was assigned to go with the poet Allen Ginsberg to the Stanford Research Institute there to take a trip on LSD. Social scientists opening the door of perception at the behest of Aldous Huxley wished to compare the flight patterns of a Bohemian artist and a bourgeois philistine, and they had asked the paper’s literary editor to furnish one of each. We were placed in adjacent soundproofed rooms, both of us under the observation of men in white coats equipped with clipboards, the idea being that we would relay messages from the higher consciousness to the air-traffic controllers on the ground.
Liftoff was a blue pill taken on an empty stomach at 9 a.m., the trajectory, a bell curve plotted over a distance of seven hours. By way of traveling companions we had been encouraged to bring music, in those days on vinyl LP’s, of whatever kind moved us while on earth to register emotions approaching the sublime.
Together with Johann Sebastian Bach and the Modern Jazz Quartet, I attained what I had been informed would be cruising altitude by noon. I neglected to bring a willing suspension of disbelief, and because I stubbornly resisted the sales-pitch for the drug – if you, O Wizard, can work wonders, prove to me the where and when and how and why – I encountered heavy turbulence. Images inchoate and nonsensical, my arms and legs seemingly elongated and embalmed in grease, the sense of utter isolation while being gnawed by rats.
To the men in white I had nothing to report, not one word on either the going up and out or the coming back and down. I never learned what Ginsberg had to say. Whatever it was, I wasn’t interested, and I left the building before he had returned from what I think by then I knew to be a dead-end sleep”.
James Franco is a poet (Well, we knew that!) – but it’s kind of official now, as 2012 sees publication of his first chapbook, his first book of poems, the provocatively-titled “Strongest of the Litter“. He speaks about writing and about poetry in a recent interview with Greg Barrios in the L.A.Review of Books – “(“Strongest of the Litter“) is written in a much different way than most of (Hart) Crane‘s work. I (unlike him) use a lot of plain speech and also personae. I try to use personae to evoke rhythms of contemporary speech and to find the poetry in that. I am very interested in masks and ventriloquism. I have made my living as an actor for a decade and a half so I am used to trying on different roles, the poetry often works in a similar way…(William Carlos) Williams is a big influence. I am often drawn to plain speech and boiling things to their essence, simplifying them on the surface for more complex effects from structure and subject. Williams was not a fan of Crane’s, partly because I don’t think he understood him, but also because their philosophies of writing differed so much. Allen Ginsberg was a student of both Crane’s and Williams’ styles, and I like to think I’m a student of all three – and of Frank Bidart as well… I had been a reader of both (Ginsberg and Crane)..for years before I did the films (“Howl” and “The Broken Tower“)..Doing the films showed me how the poets differed. Ginsberg was a communicator. He wanted to reach people. He was a teacher. His work reflects that. Although it has a collage-heavy beatnik-style approach, most of the references are traceable. It is not difficult to give definition to his miasma of references….”
Diego Luna’s Spanish-language presentation of “Howl” was spotlighted here a couple of weeks ago (the November 24 presentation, as part of the 2012 Festival Internacional de Teatro Puebla). It was performed again at the FIL (the Guadalajara International Book, “considered the most important book festival in the Spanish language”, a week or so ago. An account (in English – on the Bar None Group site) of that performance and that evening, may be read here.
“To hear Howl in Spanish”, the author writes, “is a treat”, (but), “(c)uriously, at no time before, during or after the show was Allen Ginsberg credited, or even mentioned, as the author of “Howl”. While the press-release mentions Ginsberg, he should have been mentioned at least once during the evening”
– To which we, at the Allen Ginsberg Project, add “hear hear”.