AG: A poem (by Edward Carpenter) that I’ve always liked is “From Turin to Paris”
He’s riding in the train from Italy to Paris and it’s a long detailed description of the entire train trip. I got turned on to that kind of travel-detail poetry by a book that Kenneth Patchen lent me called “Voyage Trans-Siberian”
by Blaise Cendrars (which was translated by John Dos Passos in the (19)20’s, actually – an odd combination). It’s a travel diary poem, a poem travel diary, which is a whole genre which I’ve used a lot. I published a book called Iron Horse, which is the account of a 40-hour train trip (from) Oakland to Chicago (and then from) Chicago to New York by bus. Yeah?
Student: I’ve seen that book. Why did you do it with that kind of 3-D, kind of…
AG: I didn’t do that. That was printed up in Canada by a bunch of real hip printers
(who) made a very beautiful job out of it. Actually, if you flip the pages of the book, the train moves and recedes, comes up and goes in the distance.
Student: What was the name of that book that you just mentioned, I mean, the name of the poet?
AG: Oh, ok. Blaise Cendrars – C-E-N-D-R-A-R-S. “Voyage Trans-Siberian”. Trans-Siberian Voyage. God knows where you find it now.
Student: There’s a Selected Works of Cendrars out in New Directions.
Student: I think that poem’s in it.
AG: Ah! Then also one of the St Marks’ (Poetry Project) mimeo presses
has printed up a whole book called Kodak by (Blaise) Cendrars, translated by Ron Padgett, which I’ve put in the library. If you want to taste Cendrars. It’s like little Kodak snapshots – Kodak. Around-the-world Kodak snapshots (again, travel poems). Check that out in relaton to this or what I’ve been talking about (the Cendrars’ “Trans-Siberian”, or travel photography)
The reason I find (Edward) Carpenter interesting is that it’s this 19th Century version of later 20th Century Imagism, or Surrealist Imagism. It’s got roots (its) in (Walt) Whitman and then it gets more condensed and exact when you get up to the Surrealists and later to the American Objectivists. Here it’s more prosy, but full of detail. It’s the weirdness of the detail that comes up.
[Allen begins reading Edward Carpenter’s “From Turin to Paris”, beginning with Part 1 in its entirety – “Tireless, hour after hour, over mountains, plains and/ rivers/ The express train rushes on…” through to “And still the train rushes on, and the fields fly past/ and the vineyards”] – Part 2 is a landscape description. Part 3, more landscape description, ending, speaking of the train, “It flies – rolls like a terror-stricken thing down the great/slopes into the darkness – and night falls in the valleys”.
Student: Is Carpenter British by birth or American?
AG: He was British. Carpenter was British by birth. Part 4 [Allen continues with the poem, reading part 4 in its entirety – “Here too then also, and without fail, as everywhere/else/ The same old human face looking forth..”…”And the inhabitants of opposite hemispheres exchange/glances with one another for a moment” – and the concluding section, section 5 – “The night wears on – and yet the same steady on/ward speed…”…”The rising of the sun, for a new day – the great red/ ball so bold rising unblemished on all the heartache and/suffering, the plans, the schemes, the hopes, the desires, the/despairs of millions. -/ And the glitter and the roar already and/ the life of Paris.”] – There’s really nice little vignettes here and there. Odd but genuine Whitmanic afflatus, that Whitmanic universal.
Student: You spoke about.. you used the word “prosy” in a somewhat negative way. Would you say something more about that (that happens to be my offense!)
AG: “Somewhat” – not “too”. I didn’t mean it too negative. I forgot, how did I use it?
Student: You were saying it was somewhat, his description was somewhat, prosy.
AG: Yeah, a little bit. There’s a lot of generalization in it.By “prosy”- I used it wrongly, I meant it isn’t real crystal-clear sharp, line by line by line (like (William Carlos) Williams, or, more or less so, like (Charles) Reznikoff). There’s a lot of philosophy introduced (though the philosophy seems to be based on some kind of direct perception that’s pretty fundamental – of the rising of the dawn and the moving of the planets and “the despair of millions”) – There’s some sort of genuineness about it. I think that was the (sense of the) word that I used in relation to (the) general – “afflatus” (like in lifting a spirit, or expansion of spirit, like in Whitman, by whom he was influenced)
Student: There’s something about the rhythm that isn’t.. I mean.. I was wondering whether you were saying something about the rhythm being a little more prosy.
AG: No, no. It’s actually quite an elevated poetic rhythm. It’s not as realistic as Reznikoff or Williams. The breath impulse is romantic(al) like in Whitman. It’s still a hang-over of the divine abstraction of (Percy Bysshe) Shelley and Hart Crane, sort of. Yeah?
Student: When was it written?
AG: I guess around 1890, 1900, 1910 maybe? I think this book was published in 1908, so this is probably late 19th Century. I don’t know when it was first writ.
Student: When was he first around?
AG: Well, let’s see…somewhere in the (18)90’s, I think. Late (18)80’s or (18)90’s. When did Whitman die?
AG: So this is probably 1885? when he went to see Whitman [1877 and 1884] – 1880 perhaps? [Toward Democracy was published in 1883] Yeah?
Student: One thing I noticed was that he put in his descriptions of someone.. what he.. he described what he felt that they were thinking of someone else, like the Chinaman..
AG [quoting Carpenter] – “(T)he dainty-handed Chinaman”
Student: ..yeah, who mentally, I forget exactly what it was, but he judged people as he walked by, and the old woman who raised her eyebrows at certain things.
Student: That didn’t seem very…
AG: Yeah, except that he is very expressive about his own judgment, and he generalizes, and that’s a little different than, a good deal different from, Reznikoff, from a later 20th Century method, where it gets harder and harder, more and more objective. That was like the surgical mind of (Ezra) Pound or (William Carlos) Williams influencing everybody to cut out everything but what you could actually see. Except there’s a way of including your own subjective judgments simply by realizing that they are your own subjective judgments and putting them in the poems just like objects, just like trains, hard-ons, angers. And they’re just facts too. “To be in anger you good may do but no good if…
Student: ..the anger’s in you”.
AG: Yeah. Something like that. It’s a phrase by (William) Blake – “To be in anger you good may do, but no good if the anger’s in you”. It’s something like that.[The actual quote, from “Auguries of Innocence” – “To be in a Passion you good may do/But no good if a Passion is in you”] – The question of realizing, or being mindful of, your subjectivity, or not being mindful, being lost in it and thinking it’s the whole world, rather than seeing your own subjective rush, or detailed noticing, or cry, or feeling, as one object among many objects in the entire panoramic spectacle.