Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) – 14 (Allen Ginsberg)

Cover for Allen’s book Luminous Dreams, Zasterle
Press, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain, 1997

AG: Okay, I want to go on with ballads a little. [to Students] If you wrote a ballad at the end of the class, can you hand it in, with your name on it, and your address or phone-number too, so it doesn’t get lost? I can look them over and I can bring some in and read some next time. I’ll read mine, before anybody else does. It’s not a very good one. I wrote it this morning. I had a dream, woke up with a certain amount of anxiety wondering if I’d done my homework, had a dream, and then decided to write the dream down, as I usually do, (but, this time) in ballad form. So this is (a) first draft, in ballad form, of a dream. It’s very rough metrically.

“I came out in my business suit,/ my vest and my briefcase./ I had my overcoat and hat,/my serious middle-aged face./ I stopped at the bar and signed my name/ and nodded to the nurse./ The room was big and made of wood/ like a horse-drawn hearse./ On the ground-floor of the hospital/ I had just seen my friend./In the middle of the Admissions Office/ my mind began to bend./ “I’d never go to the hospital/ without your papers, son./They’ll steal your picture by surprise/with a hidden flashgun.”/ I stepped two paces to the right,/ the light blinded my eyes/ “This photo’s unconstitutional!”/I got mad by surprise./ “We wanna make sure you didn’t escape./Step back to the window./We never saw you here before,/ we need to get your photo”. / “I said before and I’ll say it again,/I absolutely refuse!/I already signed my name. That’s enough/Now if you’ll please excuse.”/ I saw an attendant whisper to the nurse/in the corner of my eye./A short doctor came through the door/In my suit I began to sigh./ They think I’m crazy. This is real,/though I’m a famous poet./They’ll bust me for resistance ‘cause/these bureaucrats don’t know it./ I better shut up and compromise/”Take my picture, I gotta go”./They leaned in their chairs and they stared at me,/an orderly muttered, “Uh oh”./ I looked in their files and found a name./ Sanford Unger, Ph.D./”I know this doctor, I said with a smile./”He wrote about LSD”./ Whether I got out free or wound up in shock/ half a century older,/I never knew at the end of the dream/when I woke up this morning in Boulder.”

Well, the point of (all) this was supposed to be “spontaneous poetics”. This is a first draft. The meter is very rough, but it probably fits the four-three, four-three line, with an ABCB rhyme. I was interested because I just wrote it down without correction, making use of the jump cuts shown by accurate recollection in the course of the dream. In other words, this is the first thing I did in the morning. I got up out of bed (and) picked up pen. Waking, what I did was, I had the forming mind, as ballad, (and) I had the material in mind, because I’d just woken up from a dream, so, then, the problem was how to compose it and in what sequence. I overcame the confusions of that situation by sticking strictly to the facts of the dream, in the order which I recollected them, or in the order in which they recollected. In other words, it was a problem that I worked out simply, by relying on nature, so to speak, like Cezanne painting Mt. Sainte-Victoire, simply observing the picture there, observing the moving picture and taking down the details.

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