Spontaneous Poetics – (David Cope)

David Cope, Ann Arbor, Michigan, February 1995
– photograph by Allen Ginsberg c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

AG: [Allen reads from the then freshly-published poetry-collection, The Stars by David Cope] – “Nada Press, Big Scream, 698 48th Street, South East, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49508 – The Stars by David Cope, copyright 1976. All rights reserved for the author. Acknowledgements – Some of these poems have appeared in Big Scream, Windows in the Stone, and in two previous collections – Neon Eyes and The Clouds – So this is, like, coming out of the sidewalks of…

“Walking, driving, everything is business, nothing is still. Across the river/ the city gleams. Voices roar in the metal traffic./  This is an American poem, accept no substitutes. No Surrealism or/ Symbolism. This is the asphalt under your feet.”
Monday Morning – “But two old friends appear out of the crowd and were standing in the /rain, yacking. Still I gotta go, and going up the hill wave them good-bye,/ turning to see faces on a city bus staring blankly into the misty city.”
Baseball – “The farmboy’s proud of his white uniform with a red trim. Under the/ white lights he and another play baseball. They’re dazzling on the green./ A hit! The crowd stands up, mouths full of popcorn. The ball goes high/ over the lights at the field’s edge into the/ dark river beyond.”
“An old woman leans against a tree, alone in the cemetery, the wind at/ her back. Now she turns back to her car, the highway, home, coffee with/ friends.”
Crash! – “The cars lie, one on its side, a rear-wheel still spinning and the other/ upside-down. The bodies are scattered across the cornfield, bent and/ broken on the frozen ground. Two ambulances pull up. The attendants/ arrange and cover the dead.Cars pull over to the side of the road./ Everyone shuffles, eager to help, hands in pockets.”
“Lines of headlights extend to the horizon. Horns honking, flashing lights/, and overhead the high thin poles are silhouetted before the lavender/ sky.”
American Dream – sort of like an Objectivist poem drawn from the newspapers, maybe?. This is the 1970’s – American Dream  – “The house was all in flames, orange billows bursting up into the sunlight./ F.B.I. agents and police were laid up behind walls, sheds, and  other/ buildings, armed with MI6’s and rocket-launchers. The firemen were kept/ back. The battle had gone on for some time when the first exploded/ throughout the house. One of the bodies could be seen inside the house,/ loaded with ammunition belts, the bullets exploding from the heat.” – I think that’s the Los Angeles Patty Hearst shoot-out/ Donald DeFreeze shoot-out. But it’s an interesting treatment of the newspaper phenomena – the reduction of that to a series of clear, precise, images.
“The evening streets are full of ghosts pleading for mercy. Sunset washes/ the windows red and they flash over the river. The night comes on, all sirens and bowling tournaments.”
Detroit – “Twilight. A white bar-owner thinking a black dude’s breaking into his car/ shoots him down on the asphalt lot. The bar’s in flames. Patrons scatter./ The sirens begin. Police arrive and the crowds all over the street/ chanting. Gas masks, electric megaphones, rifles, bottles, swinging clubs.” – A complete riot in ten lines!
Lunch Hour – “Waiting for a bus, some laid-off workers shoot craps. This one’s won./ He’s dancing around, slapping at the losers.” – The weirdest language, but absolutely perfect speech – “He’s dancing around, slapping at the losers.”
“Two men are shouting outside the courtroom, waving their arms,/ pointing to sheafs of paper clutched in their fists. Police appear and/ escort them out, still shouting, half dragged down the marble steps.”
“If I turn out the light it will be dreams tonight.”
The Line Up – “Arriving customers take a number. There is the expression of permanent/ boredom, shuffling feet. Children are given dimes to start up the hobby/horse. Yawns. Everyone stares at the floor or at the clerks. There are no/ conversations. A man walks off with a package. The jostling for his/ counter-space begins.”
“Going to see friends, all the lights are out on the expressway. A semi-/ files into our lane, not seeing us and we’re skidding, slamming on the/ brakes.” – That was fast for getting into that situation, getting into that nightmare – four lines!

Well, back to (Charles) Reznikoff. So, you see, it’s still being done. Or, what we have, really, is a universal system of notation, in a way. Merely trust your senses. Mindfulness of what you actually see. “Direct treatment of the object”, as (Ezra) Pound said in his “How To Read”,an essay called “How To Read”, which I guess..where would that appear? “How To Read”?

Student: The ABC of Reading?

AG:…No, there’s some suggestions for how to condense and present, rather than refer to things, but present directly what you see, in (the) ABC of Reading, but there’s a little short pamphlet, “How To Read”, I guess in Guide to Kulchur, maybe?, no, (selected) Literary Essays. At the beginning of (selected) Literary Essays in the library, see a little twenty-page essay, “How To Read”.


  1. Thanks, Peter. This must have been one of Allen's lectures around 1976 or 1977 at Naropa. He also read a lot of these poems during his trip to China later, and I'm now working with Chinese poet/scholars who appreciate these early objectivist-style poems. Photo: I imagine backstage or thereabouts at Hill Auditorium, A2. Allen read Howl there in 1995, Kaddish in 1996, and was scheduled to read in 1997, but of course that never came off. Lovely memento here of his kindness to me.

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