Allen Ginsberg-Brian Shields 1987 Dallas Radio Interview

BS: Welcome to People – Brian Shields – KRLD News. This week on People, we’re talking with Allen Ginsberg. Now if you haven’t heard of Allen Ginsberg, one wonders where you’ve been for the past 20-25 years. Allen Ginsbeg is, of course, a poet, one of the best-known poets, really, of this part of the 20th Century. He has written extensively and has been involved in politics and political movenents as well, and we’d like to..

AG: And artistic movements

BS: And artistic movements. In fact, one of the great leaders of artistic movements in this century. Thank you very much for joining me today

AG: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here. I have lots to do in town, actually, I came down for a number of reasons, one is for the opening of my photographic show, on the 15th, I think it is, that’s tomorrow night, (or Thursday), January 15 [1987 – sic], at the Dallas Museum of Art, (from 7 to 9, I think it’ll be). I’ll be doing a poetry reading in relation to a series of photographs that are being hung in the museum, work that I’ve done, snapshots, over the last 40 years, ((the) first one is 1947, a self-portrait, and the last is 1986, (a) portrait of William Burroughs).
BS : So what sort of things keep you busy these days?
AG: Well, I’ve been working with some Dallas musicians, including Bugs Henderson and a producer here, Michael Minzer, We produced.. This year (I) came down earlier, (and) worked with Bugs Henderson’s band doing the blues number, and then worked with the Garland (Chamber) Symphony Orchestra and did a version of (William) Blake’s Nurses’s Song,and that came out on a record called “Made Up In Texas”, which is being distributed now in most of the independent record shops So you can get that. It’s a lot of Texas musicians (including me, I’m not a Texan, I’m just a solo-ist with a bunch of Texas musicians), but it’s, like, a compilation album, and I have two really nice works on it. I was really pleased. It’s about the best thing I’ve done recording – singing blues, (which I always wanted to do – as an old Jewish intellectual, naturally, I always wanted to sing black blues! – like Al Jolson, or somethin’!) And then, singing William Blake, (as a sort of Gnostic intellectual, I was interested in making mantra out of William Blake’s songs. So that I have this chorus.. and it’s a chamber orchestra, working on that Blake text, with a tune that I made up.  Then, at the same time, I’m lecturing at.. today I lectured at TTU (Texas Technology University) on “Poetry, Culture and Power Politics”, pointing out that everything in the world these days, and evermore, and ever since, and in the past, has been subjective, from Einstein backward and forward. We’re people, and we’re subject, and its through our eyes we see the universe. It’s nobody else’s, but us. We don’t see the universe through microscopes or telescopes, because we have to look through our eyeballs at those, so, actually, everything is person, everything is subject, everything is subjective . Or as Einstein said, “the measuring instrument determines the shape (the appearance) of the phenomenal world”. So I was lecturing on the Imagination and how it really determines how we see the world, whether you‘re in the Oval room in the White House, trying to double-cross the Iranians and theContras and the Sandinistas, or in our own bedrooms, trying to make love to our wives, or double-cross them, it still is (always is) a subjective world that we’re working with.
BS: Where does poetry fit in with all of this? I mean it seems that sometimes that poetry is almost a forgotten art , people don’t think of modern poets that much, where does poetry fit in in this realm?
AG:  Well, in my world, it fits in from the point of view that I just put out two books of poetry. Last year, I had Collected Poems (1984) – which covered the years from (19)47 to 1980, and is called “Collected Poems”, and this year I have another book called White Shroud, which are the poems I wrote from 1980 to 1985, and that just came out from Harper and Row and I was doing some book-signings (and will be signing books at the museum when I give that poetry-reading/lecture with my photograph show)..

BS: I guess I was asking a slightly more esoteric question..Where do..

AG: I didn’t finish my own personal..

BS: Ok. Go for it.

AG: I didn’t finish my personal answer. And then, I did a thirty-year retrospective volume of the poem Howl, which is the best-known poem I wrote, which has the original texts with.. in a facsimilie, from the original manuscripts, and transcriptions, and it is sub-titled “..Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by (the) Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, (an) Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts..” (that’s a mini-anthology of texts that fed into my own style, from Christoper Smart to Hart Crane to William Carlos Williams to Kurt Schwitters, the Dada-ist) – and it also has a lot of photographs that I took in the (19)50’s – and a bibliography.
So what does all that amount to? – (and) on a larger scale? – (It’s) that poetry is just simply, really a representation of our own imaginations, of what we see in the world, and how we interpret it. Ronald Reagan getting up and reading from a script in the White House is pronouncing his own prose-poetry, (written, scripted for him, presumably by a Mr (Pat) Buchanan, or someone else, another script-writer), So that’s their imaginative version of reality, and we all have our own. But the government, ultimately, is of words. You know, you get up and pronounce words, and they’re made into laws, or they’re made into speeches, and they influence people. And in the long run, poetry has a (the) longest influence. The projection of the poet’s imagination, the statements of the world, or the description of the world that the poet gives, in the long run, lasts much longer than the politician who’s trying just to manipulate your mind. The poet is trying to give a candid account of how he really sees the world. The politician is trying to give a non-candid, somewhat deceptive, version of how he wants you to think he sees it, which might be different from the way he (actually) sees it. So, if the politician’s poetry is self-contradictory, you find his cover-story, or his imaginal story, falling apart in mid-air, like a snake uncoiling himself in mid-air, as we see happening now [1987] in the White House, with the contradictory images of tall-in-the-saddle simultaneous with pay-off-the-hostages, pay-off-of-the-hostages, the contradictory image of not one cent tribute, but everything for defense and the alternative image of we’re-actually-cowards -“why-don’t-we buy-them-off- and-get-our-hostages-back”, the contradictory image of “we’re living by the rule of law”   and then the alternative image – “we’re secretly doing deals with the Contras”, the contradictory image of “we don’t believe in building up the national debt” and the alternative image of spending and spending and taxing and taxing in order to buy a huge military-industrial complex, located in.. Dallas Texas, probably!  So, where does it all wind up? If you want, not the objective truth but the subjective truth, you gotta ask the poet. If you want a subjective lie, you gotta ask the politician

BS: Granted, You’ve released all of these books and you’re putting out these books, but aside from you, and maybe one or two other people, where are today’ s poets? Why aren’t we hearing more of them?

AG: I think you probably hear more poetry in the airwaves today than you ever heard through the voice of Bob Dylan or the replays of old John Lennon, or some younger poets, like I heard a little folk-singer named “King” today, who was singing songs that sounded like Woody Guthrie, topical songs. But if you listen to Dylan, or, even say, The Talking Heads or Blondie(Chris Stein, those people), Joe Strummer (The Clash)..

BS: Lou Reed

< AG: Lou get some legitimate poetry. I ‘ve even put out a record with John Hammond Senior, the old producer, put out an album called First Blues a couple of years ago, already out of print [recently (2013 re-released by Ginsberg Recordings] and the poetry I’m singing on that, Airplane Blues, this local, made-up-in-Texas album that we just put out, that’s in ..the text of that I thought good enough to put in this new book of poems White Shroud. So, there’s lots of poetry. The classic poetry which is lyric poetry, (lyric, with a lyre, stringed instrument plus words), lyric poetry flourishes now in.. tv-world, as well as a kind of a pictorial poetry when you have a video-music, when you get collage, or jump-cut, or montage, picture..pictographs (of course that’s not verbal, but), there’s lots of good lyric (and there’s lots of lousy lyric, and soap-opera lyric, and dumb lyric, and sadistic lyric, and jerky lyric, and dopey lyric) – and (but) there’s also some really sharp lyric (if you listen to Leonard Cohen and others)

BS: Is there a danger that perhaps poetry or the poet who we think traditionally reads his work has been co-opted by this world of music and rock n roll and this whole commercial world?

AG: Well you’ll remember there was.., people worried about the danger of the poet who just writes it and doesn’t read it being co-opted by the reader (the poet who’s good at reading it) .Then there’s the worry that the poet who’s good at reading it is going to be co-opted by the poet who gets up and sings it – but I don’t think Dylan has done anything except enrich(ed) the whole field, and turned people on to look at the words more – and more acutely. Dylan has made everybody smarter about words, I think, you know, just raised the whole level of consciousness of language among younger generations, for the last twenty years. Before that, nobody actually listened to the words of songs, or knew how to examine carefully double-entendre and symbolic meaning, and interpret (like you interpret the Bible?), interpreting the words of lyrics. Now people do that. So I think that there is more of an awareness

BS: You talked a moment ago about how it’s the role of the poet to give a subjective view of the world and also you talked about the fact that, in your view at least, it’s the human being that must be the person that we measure things against. What do you think about the popular attacks on this philosophy, the philosophy of humanism, that are so pervasive now,  coming especially from the Christian right and those people. What do you think of those attacks?

AG: Well, they’re a lot like the old Stalinist view – that there’s one truth and Stalin is their leader and he tells them, or the Communist Party is the leader, and you go along with that ideology, and any other view is, like, un-patriotic, or un-natural. So you have the new Right, and the patriotic Right, wrapping themselves in the flag, like scoundrels (remember that old saying, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”?) In Russia or America, it’s the same thing, you have these guys saying that they have the one and only authoritative view and that comes from the voice of God and they’re talking for God (they’ve got the nerve to say that they’re talking for God!) while never defining who that “God” is, except by their interpretation of an old book. And so it’s the same mirror-image of Stalinism, and that’s why they’re involved in this Anti-Communist crusade. It’s like they’re looking into their own mirror-image and (are) scared of the devil! (they believe in “the devil”, and they believe in absolute evil, and, the worst part is, they believe that they are absolutely good). And so it’s that same kind of polarization – black and white – that you get under the Communists. So I would say it’s another form of what we dislike in Communism. What we dislike in Communism is that authoritarian flavor – book-burning, moralist hypocrisy, double-talk about patriotism, making use of the flag to wrap their own subjective mania in. The worst part however is this egocentric assumption of divine authority. You know, there may be something sacred in this world, and there may be something divine in this world, but for any singular person to assert that he’s got a direct line from God, and to talk as if  he’s the voice of God is, in a sense, the worst pride and the worst sin.

BS: We only have a couple of minutes left. I’d like to get you to assess, if you could, very briefly, the work that you’ve done. What have you done that you are most proud of and what should we look for out of Allen Ginsberg in the future?

AG:  Well I would say being able to reproduce in a flash the actual texture of my own mind and maybe communicate that in single lines or mages or dreams. Like, I was working on little 17 syllable one-line declarative sentence-poems. [Allen proceeds to read a few – “136 Syllables At Rocky Mountain Dharma Center”] – “Caught shoplifting ran out of the department store at sunrise and woke up.” –  So that gets the whole transition from dream-state to waking to realization to relief – or “At 4 a.m. the two middle-aged men sleeping together holding hands” – Surprise ending!  – or “A dandelion seed floats above the marsh grass  with the mosquitos” – or “Tail turned to red sunset on a juniper crown a lone magpie cawks” – or  “In the half-light of dawn, a few birds warble under the Pleiades” – No, it’s getting in a flash, a huge space of time, or a little natural event, like the cool air rising above marsh-grass that would sustain a dandelion-seed among the mosquitos flitting around, or the space-gap between the little bird, warbling at dawn, and the vast Pleiades above – getting that glimpse of the sense of, the sensation of, space.

Also being able to record frankly what’s going on in my mind and setting, maybe, a touchstone for candor, or clarity of, what do you really think when you’re alone at night in the dark, talking to yourself, nobody listening, what do you really say to yourself? I’d like to hear what Jerry Fallwell really says to himself? I’d like to hear what Ronald Reagan really says to himself. Well at least you can hear what I say to myself, what any great poet says to himself. As Bob Dylan once said  “To live outside the law you must be honest”. And you might apply that to the White House – “Even the President of the United States must someday stand naked”. [the exact quotation – from Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” – is, of course “But even the president of the United States/Sometimes must have to stand naked”]

BS: Very briefly, what are your goals for the future?

AG: To stand naked to my death bed. And to continue singing, continue taking images for the photographic eye, so that people in the future can look back into their telescope, into this time now, or past time, see in a picture what was going on, and to make a telescope out of poetry, so that people can look into my heart and the heart of the later part of the twentieth-century, so that young kids in the twenty-first century will be inspired to be candid and frank and genius-like in their generosity towards others.

BS: There are a thousand more questions I’d love to ask of you, but, unfortunately, we’re out of time. Allen Ginsberg. Thanks a lot for joining me today…

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