Spontaneous Poetics – 30 (Reading List – 1) (Dorn, Smart, Bunting, Wieners)

Allen’s 1976 Spontaneous Poetics Summer lectures continue with this, his fifth lecture, dated June 18, 1976. He continues from his earlier classes on the ballad form, but in this class begins by sketching out a brief bibliography, offering suggestions for reading. He consistently refers students to the then-growing Naropa Institute library. Ed Dorn, Christopher Smart, Basil Bunting and John Wieners are the first of a number of figures that he mentions.

AG (begins, distributing a leaflet with various writers names) : There’s something by everybody, here in the library. So it’s a reading-list, or it’s a list of poets that I think are interesting, or important, or useful. I’ll try, before the end of term, to suggest one or two sample poems of everybody on the list. I’ll get a piece of paper xeroxed up which’ll give you some. For instance, Christopher Smart number 7, at the bottom of the list – (you might take some notes now) – “Rejoice In The Lamb” – it’s a long, 80-page poem.Why don’t I run through some of this and give you, for those of you who don’t know, beginning at the bottom of the list, for those of you who don’t have (a) clear (map)..[Allen continues distributing the leaflet] – Anyone not have one?

Student: Yes

AG: Anybody else? Does everybody have this list? – I think what I’ll do is I’ll just go over this list now and suggest things for you to read (and I think everything I’m suggesting can be found in the library). I’m not suggesting giant reading-lists, I’m just suggesting little
fragments so that you’ll actually just be able to check out what you don’t know.

At the bottom of the list – Ed Dorn – if you look him up in the Don Allen anthology, The New American Poetry 1945-1960.

Student: What’s the title again?

AG: The title of the poem? I don’t remember. Look at the last line. The Newly Fallen (is the title of the book) or “For the Newly Fallen”…

Student: Didn’t he write a book called “Hands Off Poetry”?

AG: Yes. [No] ┬áHe’s (also) got a book called Hands Up!. I’m just suggesting a little thing to look at, see?, one actual poem to look at, instead of saying his name and an encyclopaedic list of books, because that’s not going to do you any good. Nobody’s going to read all that. Not even me! He’s also got an interesting long, long poem called…

Student: Gunslinger

AG: ..the Gunslinger, the Gunslinger – and “Hands Up”

Student: It’s a little..

AG: I have it.

Student: ..small book. Individual discrete poems, isn’t it?

AG: Yeah. But I’m suggesting you (look at one poem) from his early poetry, (the one) that ends “Oh, the stone’s not yet cut”, called “The Newly Fallen”, I think. It’s in the Don Allen anthology.

(Then), above that, Christopher Smart – “Rejoice in the Lamb” – “Jubilate Agno” – “Rejoice in the Lamb”, which is in the library. It’s a book. It was written in Bedlam, the bug-house, three lines a day for a number of years. The manuscript was lost and only recently recovered (in 1920), and published and re-edited several times until finally we got a good version of it. Almost anywhere (in) that huge, long, manuscript of eighty pages, it’s great. Cranky, eccentric, supernatural-minded. “Rejoice in the Lamb” is the model I used for the poem “Howl” – the structure of “Rejoice in the Lamb” is the actual original “Howl”. There’s a famous section beginning “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry” which is in almost all anthologies. But in the library we have the entire “Rejoice in the Lamb”. There is an expensive $8 [sic] edition of it available in the bookstores.

Student: Eleven

AG: Eleven dollars now? Well, it’s a good purchase for eleven bucks, if you can afford poetry. Yeah?…What I would suggest is (to) check out any anthology of English poetry that would have a section from “Rejoice in the Lamb”, and the Norton Anthology, this thing I’ve been using here (actually, I just fell into it), the Norton Anthology of Poetry is a pretty good one. It’s got everything. All those little lyrics and ballads that I was reading from are in the Norton Anthology. I don’t know if we’ve got it in the library here. It’s a good solid book to work out of. The modern section isn’t so good. It costs [then] eight bucks.

Student: They have a Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry as well

AG: Yeah. I don;t know the modern selection…

Student: Volume II, which covers from 18oo on.

AG: What I was saying is I don’t know if their modern selection is any good. I don’t think it is. It’s not a really good modern selection. It doesn’t have Basil Bunting.

Student: Not in the 20th Century?

AG: That’s what I’m trying to say. But, before the 20th Century, it’s quite good. All I’m saying is I don’t know if their modern stuff is any good, but anything before the 20th Century, they’re pretty dependable. And they do have (the) “(For) I will consider my Cat Jeoffry” section, which is the corniest and most obvious and available section of ‘Rejoice in the Lamb”. Basil Bunting – his Collected Poems are in the library, and I’ve checked out all the readable easy-to-understand poems in the book, and written the pages to look at. So, if you just check out Basil Bunting in the library, I’ve pre-digested it for you (and, also, it’s the only copy of that book in Boulder, or perhaps in the Western United States, because it was published in England by the Fulcrum Press. I don’t know where else you can get his work, or maybe you can..Is Bunting available anywhere? [the Collected volume that Allen refers to here was first published by Fulcrum and was re-published by OUP (Oxford University Press) a decade later. The Complete Poems is now available from Bloodaxe in England and New Directions in America

Student (offering a book): Allen? There’s a short excerpt in this book.

AG: Oh, it is in some anthologies – that’s (good) – Shake The Kaleidoscope edited by Milton Klonsky.

Student: It has something from…

AG: It’s Pocket Books. Which Pocket Book is that? Mentor? Pocket Books, New York. What publisher is that, actually? Simon and Schuster? Pocket Books has a relatively interesting anthology also for 20th Century matters, and has some Bunting, Dorn, Smart. Bunting was a friend of Pound, Williams, Eliot, Yeats. I’ve talked about him before here, I think. He’s quite old now and he’s the last of the great, great old men of the Imagist period from World War I [then, 1976] still alive.

(Then) John Wieners is a poet that can make you cry, if you’re an aging faggot like me. You’ll find a good selection of his “Hotel Wentley poems” in the Don Allen anthology. His most famous book is “The Hotel Wentley Poems”, very brief, and most of those are reproduced in the Donald Allen anthology, with another long poem at the very end there, [“A Poem For Trapped Things“] which is a total knock-out, about him sitting on the bed in some tragic junk phase,watching a butterfly trying to get out of the room and suddenly realizing that he’s the butterfly trying to get out of the room, and it ends, “I watch you/ all morning/ long,/With my hand over my mouth”. It’s really solid, clear, like a movie – “…the butterfly is my soul/ and weak from battle”…”I watch you/ all morning/ long/ With my hand over my mouth”. Wieners is about 40 now [1976] and he reads at St Marks occasionally, and he was originally connected with the Black Mountain Review group of poets. I put a couple of his new books in the library. He has a book called Nerves, later, and then Fag Rag, a Boston gay newspaper group. just put out his collected recent poems (Behind the State Capitol: Or Cincinnati Pike) and it’s really a terrific volume. I think that’s just been sent to the library. So there’s Wieners in the library here. But for a brief early selection of Wieners, the Don Allen anthology will do.

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