Spontaneous Poetics – (Reading List 5) (Vachel Lindsay, John Ashbery, Guillaume Apollinaire)

Vachel Lindsay, only nineteen people (in this class) have read. He wrote a poem called “The Congo”. How many here know “The Congo”? How many don’t know of “The Congo”, have never heard of “The Congo”? We don’t have it here, but, basically, it’s a powerful rhythmic thing that everybody would enjoy. They used to teach it in grammar school, but…
[Allen quotes from the poem to show why, unsurprisingly, it’s fallen out of fashion] – “Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room/Barrel-house kinds, with feet unstable..” (continues down to) “Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghost burning in hell for his hand-maimed host/ Hear how the demons chuckle and yell/ Cutting his hands off/ Down in  hell” – Well, that’s part of it. There’s three sections. It might be here actually [turning to the Norton Anthology]. Let’s see if it is here. That’s always worth going into. Because it’s such a great piece of circus rhythm.
Also, “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” is another. “The Congo” by Vachel Lindsay and ” “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” – [turning to Student] – I think we have a Complete Lindsay (t)here – [Allen reads from General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” – “Booth led loudly with a big bass drum…/(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)/ And the Saints all cried out loud, “He’s come.”/(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” – it goes on for thirty or forty lines like that] -[Allen, returning to Student] – No, I don’t believe they do have Lindsay in the Norton Anthology, so that’s a problem, they may have it in Shaking the Pumpkin, or something. [editor’s note: Allen is confusing Milton Klonsky’s anthology, Shake The Kaleidoscope with Jerome Rothenberg’s Shaking The Pumpkin anthology here ]

Student: No, it isn’t in there either.

AG: Well, there should be a whole book of Lindsay in the library. I think we got it last year. So, “The Chinese Nightingale” by Vachel Lindsay, also, “Booth Enters Into Heaven”, “The Congo”. He also did a very famous poem that’s in lots of anthologies about factory-windows (and why they) are always broken . Do you know that? Sort of like a children’s song – “The Factory Windows Song”

John Ashbery – The easiest way to get into Ashbery’s earliest poems is in the Don Allen anthology, a short poem called “The Instruction Manual”. It’s a very early, very easy reading. (And a whole booklet, bibliography (has been made up), has that been passed out already?

Student: Yes, Allen

AG: Today?

Student: It’s assembled here. I’ll pass it on tonight to (the) credit students…

AG: Ok.Guillaume Apollinaire. Apollinaire is actually the first modern, modern poet in the sense of setting international style – dropping punctuation marks, using Surrealist run-on lines, [pre-Surrealism] inner thought-forms, mixing rhyme and non-rhyme, long and short lines. T.S.Eliot  basically modelled his own Waste Land style on the Apollinaire style. If you want to know the background of T.S.Eliot, you gotta read Apollinaire (assuming you’ve ever read T.S.Eliot, who I didn’t put on this list, oddly).

Student: Yes you did.

AG: I did? Huh?.. Oh I did put him on. Fifty-one, okay. Everyone’s read Eliot, practically, but few have read Apollinaire (or less than half) and Apollinaire’s poem, “Zone” – Z-O-N-E – is the great modern model. One interesting thing to do is to compare the style of “Zone” with the style of (The Beatles) “A Day in the Life” on the Sergeant Pepper’s album. I think “A Day In The Life” is equally good. I think it (“A Day In The Life”) is a great modern poem and it’s in the style of Apollinaire’s “Zone”. Also “For the Marriage of Andre Salmon” is a nice poem by Apollinaire – easy to read. These are open, modern, poems. Do you know his work at all?  And…yeah?

Student: Is there a (good) selection of translations?

AG: Yeah, well, there’s whole books. I would recommend Roger Shattuck’s translations, by the way, Roger Shattuck’s translation of “Zone”.

Student: That’s not the one in my edition (here)…

AG: Well, Penguin books would probably have an Apollinaire. New Directions has a Selected Apollinaire – and we have that in the library, I think

Student: Do you know how the last line (of “Zone”) is translated?

AG: “Sun’s neck cut.” – “Soleil cou coupe.“…Yeah, well –   “Sun’s neck cut.” – “Soleil cou coupe.”. “Neck of sun cut” (in other words – “Sun’s neck cut”), I think is Shattuck’s translation

Student: The one I read is “Farewell, farewell, beloved sun”!

AG: Yeah, well, that’s why I’m saying read Roger Shattuck’s translation! “Soleil cou coupe.” – “Sun’s neck cut”, not “Farewell, farewell, beloved sun”! – Good God!  – The greatness of Apollinaire was that “Sun’s neck cut”, just (at) the end .He goes on with the poem, and, all of a sudden, he jumps a line and ends the poem “Cut the neck of the sun” or “Sun’s neck cut”.

Anne Waldman: I’ve seen that – (and an equally flat)  “The Sun’s leaving the horizon” (as the translation)

AG: Uh-huh. ““Le Pont Mirabeau” is a(nother) nice one. “Mirabeau Bridge”, on Mirabeau Bridge – “Sous le pont Mirabeau coule la Seine/ Et nos amours” – “Under the Mirabeau Bridge, the Seine flows as well as our loves flow”.

So at least those three poets to check out. In other words, what I’m giving you is easy interesting reading for some idle winter’s night in Alaska..

Student: Samuel Beckett has translated from Apollinaire.

AG: Yes, he did. (And)  I think he translated “Zone”.. but the Beckett translations, I don’t know if they’re easy to (find), where you can find them? What I’m trying to do is to suggest things that would be available, (especially of those poets that nobody has read), just things you can get your hands on, that you can look at and get into, get a taste, get a taste of Melville, get a taste of Apollinaire…

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