Allen Ginsberg – 1994 Greek TV Interview

Here’s a find – courtesy “redfox60” and “Daily Motion”. Allen in 1994, in performance and being interviewed (lucid as always), on Greek tv – the presentation, by one Giorgos Kappa (a film with Greek sub-titles). Please excuse (we know you will) the fact that it’s not exactly synch-sound, but.. more than made-up for by substance.
(excuse also the possibility of a little advertising sneaking in at the beginning there!)

The piece opens with black-and-white footage of Allen with his harmonium performing “Father Death Blues”, also fleeting shots of New York City, and then the first segment of the interview.  

AG: Well the(re’s) first religion (is) the religion of poetry, which is to say exploration of the mind, probing the mind, examining the texture of the mind, widening the area of consciousness or awareness-practice through the refinement of perception and knowledge of your own thought that comes with writing poetry – and its like a meditation practice, but I was interested to find that both Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhist depend on a lineage of teachers who are also poets, that you can’t be a great Buddhist teacher unless you’re a poet, so, later on, I found some very great Tibetan lamas, who were also poets, who enriched my own experience  (we sort of traded experiences, Eastern and Western poetry, but I think I got the best of the bargain), (but) one of them was a lama, Chogyam Trungpa, who was educated at Oxford, as well as in Tibet, and he formed a college here in America called Naropa Institute [now Naropa University], which is the first Buddhist college that’s been accredited in the Western World, to exchange credits with other students. So this [1994] is the 20th anniversary of Naropa’s existence, and I’ve been teaching there every summer, since 1974. So it’s sort of like a combination of Eastern and Western thought. The common area is spontaneous poetry. That’s the tradition in Buddhist poetry, and that’s the tradition in (Jack) Kerouac‘s Beat Generation spontaneous bop prosody, be-bop prosody.

In the first break we see a selection of Allen’s photos, shots of him in New York (in his New York home and on the Bowery). The interview continues.

AG: When you split the atom, so to speak, a lot of energy comes out. When you split the form, when you break up in the form of poetry from very simple iambic or trochaic meters – da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da or da-da da-da da-da da-da –  “tyger tyger, burning bright”, ..when you open it up, you get a variety of rhythms and cadences – much richer, and a lot of energy comes with that – like my last sentence – “you get a variety of cadences that are much richer and a lot of variety comes out of that”, “a lot of energy comes out of that” – da-da da-da-da-da da-da – is different from da da da da da da da – “a lot of energy comes out of that” [Allen uses this phrase by way of syllabic illustration] – “a lot of energy comes out of that”. Well you could say ” a-lot of-energy comes-out of-that”, but, “a lot of energy comes out of that”. So you begin to get the different tones, as well as the more be-bop syncopated rhythms – da-da datta-datta da-da  “be-bop syncopated rhythms” [Allen indicates that as a syllabic phrase too]. So the open form is a richer and more natural set of rhythms. So it’s a question of laying it out on the page so people can see the divisions of line by the breath.

“These poems by Blake were sung by him in the 18th century..”  – (Allen is shown, on film, performing William Blake’s “The Tyger” in its entirety) –

AG: So we were looking for the rhythms of our own emotions as the rhythms that expressed our own feelings, our own breathing, because breath and feeling are very much identical, so it was a question of a sort of..more positive attempt to continue the work of older people rather than reacting against.. and one of the very odd things about..oh critical intellectuals, is that they think that everybody’s always reacting against something rather than trying continue work that had been done by previous generations. I would advise any generation after my own to continue the work that we have done in liberating poetry from conventional imagery and abstraction and grounding it in the real world and at the same time in actual feelings and actual speech (no matter what language) – that’s not an American invention – that’s a..that’s was really a European invention – from the Futurists in Russia, the Surrealists in France and the Dadaists, in making use of the actual operation of the mind actual speech, as the basis for poetry, rather than a set formula of  linear, logical, restricted form. There’s a.. Logic is only one part of awareness, it’s a very important part, but where it becomes, you know, formally to dominate feeling, body-feeling, breathing, everything, then, it’s pointless in poetry.  It has its place, to keep things together. In other words, if I write a poem about the horrible, salty, greasy food in Middle Europe..So there you…then the intellect comes into play in terms of experience and knowledge of menus and how to cook and macrobiotics and other things like that and some agriculture, agronomy, so that’s the intellect and all that, but the intellect doesn’t have to dominate the form, the form has to be dictated to by the breath and by the impulse of thought, the sequence of thoughts. And that’s what (T.S) Eliot began, but his followers quit.

(glimpses, priceless footage, of Allen in his 437 East 12th Street NYC apartment, his books (notably, an edition of Mayakovsky) and then he continues) 

AG: My mother was a Stalinist, my father was an anti-Stalinist  so I was innoculated early in the great wars on the Left so I went off to something else, which was an interest in.. realization that.. both sides were angry and had not controlled their own aggression so that the battle-ground would have to be one’s own personal egocentricity and aggression  – clearing house, you begin.. as Ezra Pound said, “Begin where you are said Lord Palmerston/ and dredged the harbor of Sligo” [the actual quote (from The Cantos (Canto 42)) is “..began draining the swamps in Sligo”] – that is to say, you begin where you are and clean out your own Augean stables, clean up your own act, as they say, before you start telling other people how to figure out the world.
You know there is a notion that the Beat Generation was rebellious. I would say that the mainstream culture was rebellious against nature and the Beat Generation was much more obedient to human nature and trying to propose some value and some openness and generosity and respect for nature and each other, some sacred sense of existence, so I wouldn’t quite call it quite rebellion, I think that was a bourgeois idea that anybody who didn’t follow along their way of destroying the planet was a rebel but I think that we were interested in a much more positive approach and were not particularly interested in arguing with people about right or wrong, we were interested in setting an example as poets, projecting our own vision as what was beautiful, what was harmonious, what was possible, and recording our own consciousness, recording our own confusion, recording our own perplexity, recording our sexuality, recording whatever.. our minds writing the mind. That’s not rebellion, that’s just candor.

(brief pause for sociological images (of “beatniks” and  “Beat Generation”) (to the soundtrack of “Bob McFadden”)

AG: Candor might be mistaken for rebellion but when candor is without aggression, as, for the most part, I think the work of Kerouac, Gary Snyder and my own, It’s not.. there’s wrath in it. I wouldn’t say there’s anger so much as just traditional wrath, but there’s also a very positive statement to begin with. Remember at the end of my most famous poem, “Howl”, it says “I’m with you in Rockland/where you’re madder than I am”, I’m, I’m..  it’s extending a hand of sympathy, it’s not extending a hand of hatred and rejection and rebellion. So I think..That aspect has not caught on in the world. People still think that in order to lead a virtuous life and clean up society you have to have anger, and that anger has caused the intolerance of the monotheistic fanatic fascists in Iran and the chauvinist demagogues of Serbia and Croatia and Greece and Macedonia.. everybody arguing over words, everybody destroying the very land that they want to claim as their own, everybody indulging in egocentric fits. Now, anger doesn’t like to be reminded of fits, so if you remind anger of fits, they say, “Oh, you’re rebelling!

(“Psychopathia Sexualis”…I’m in love with a horse from Dallas!” (Lenny Bruce) – early silent-movie footage, a few more AG photos)

AG: So we started with an idea of sacredness of person, and of each other, friendship, sacred friendship. Achilles and Patroclus, maybe? or some mixture of even homosexuality or affection between men, let us say, if not sexually, the idea of affection between men and affection between women, and then an opening of that, a confession of that and then friendliness towards nature, not destroying nature, exploration of the mind itself, use of drugs to facilitate that (like marijuana and psychedelics, which was immediately stamped out by the government which was using psychedelic drugs for war instead of perception and widening the area of consciousness), that brought in notions of ecology, sexual revolution, as I said, inter-generational friendliness in the arts (learning from the older poets rather than rebelling against the older poets, notions of inter-racial exchange (in that Kerouac was interested in African-American culture and rhythms and tried to absorb those into his poetry and honored and worshipped great black musicians, who at that time were illegally banned in New York City from playing – like at the time that Kerouac was writing On The Road, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Billie Holiday were banned from playing in night-clubs in New York by the police because they had been arrested for junk or marijuana or something and you had to have a police licence in order to sing or play a trumpet in a night club.

(black-and-white photos of jazz musicians – black-and-white urban footage – Jack  Kerouac is heard, briefly, reading from October In the Railroad Earth”)

AG: Well, Kerouac worshipped and learnt from the great heros of black culture and gave that over to white culture as a.. in a sense.. at the same time Elvis Presley was doing that in music too. At the same time we had to struggle against censorship of books so that we had a series of legal trials held between 1957 (my own trial for Howl) and 1962 (the trial of William Burroughs for Naked Lunch) and we won those. So we opened up literature – because, you’ve got to realize that, before that, in American you couldn’t print Catullus‘ poems without.. the more racy poems of Catullus were only allowed to be printed in Latin in the Modern Library edition (everything in English, but, when it got to the boy-love things, or girl-love things, it was Latin). The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter printed in the popular Modern Library edition had passages in Latin that were thought to be unfit to be read by Americans! So we had to break through censorship in books, and then we had to go through censorship in movies and break that down (and Andy Warhol, and many others, many people helped on that) to a point where, finally, Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris was picking up the butter or something, to grease himself up, love play.

[more glimpses of silent-film footage and AG photos concludes the piece ]

2013 update  – thanks to Iannis Kaspiris and the Vimeo platform – here‘s a clearer better-quality version of the footage – here

One comment

  1. So much respect for this man, they weren't rebellious, they just had freedom and expressed true feeling in ways that ideaologies made it difficult for everyone to do.

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