Allen Ginsberg & Michael McClure – 1976 Naropa “Retrospective” Reading

Allen Ginsberg & Michael McClure, circa 1965.
Photographer unknown

We’ve been featuring of late transcription from Allen’s 1976 summer-session teaching at Naropa Institute – Spontaneous Poetics. Alongside of that (and alongside all the other classes) there was also a lively reading-series at Naropa that year (which Allen actively participated in), perhaps the highlight of which was his own June 16 reading with Michael McClure (the introduction is by Anne Waldman).

Courtesy the remarkable Internet Archive, we have the audio (in two segments) of this unique collaborative event. The poets decided, rather than having two distinct sets, to intersperse their poems, and to look back, retrospectively, to the (19)50’s and to the legendary San Francisco where they first met.

The tape begins with a detailed description by Anne Waldman of the special conjunction of the two poets (first meeting at a cocktail party hosted by Ruth Witt-Diamant of the San Francisco Poetry Center, held in honor of the Center’s original benefactor W.H.Auden). Following her detailed listing of previous collaborative Ginsberg-McClure occasions, the poets begin. Allen is the first to speak (approximately 3-and-a-half minutes in).

AG: Michael and I decided that, for the evening, it would be interesting to go back historically and read some of the same texts that we first read together the first time we read together, so I’m going this evening we’re going to.. alternate readings, beginning with  a very brief presentation by myself and then a brief presentation by him, and then longer trading back-and-forth, five- and ten-minute sections, improvising the time as we go. So I’ll begin with a sample of a poem that I read in San Francisco in 1955. I read it here with (Chogyam) Trungpa (with Anne Waldman) last year (the) complete text of “Howl”, but, just as a  sort of starting-point, I’ll read a thirty-five-line version of Part One of “Howl”, (which I reduced for the occasion), and Michael will be reading a text called “For The Death of 100 Whales” (an early ecological cry, dating back to the mid ’50’s), that he read at the same reading, in 1955 San Francisco..which a small gallery, the Six Gallery, which was a converted garage on Fillmore Street, where (Kenneth) Rexroth was the introducer (and) Gary Snyder read his first “Berry Feast”  text and the first part of “Myths and Texts”, which he’d already begun. Philip Lamantia read poems by a dead hippy peyote-suicide in Mexico, John Hoffman, (from the) early 50’s, Philip Whalen read “Sourdough Mountain Lookout” poem which is now in the Don Allen anthology. I read “Howl” Part One for the first time. (Jack) Kerouac was in the audience passing out wine and Neal Cassady from this area (Denver) was also helping pass out some grass. This is like a 1976 cartoon-esque reduction. 
[Allen begins this reading with this edited version of his classic poem, “Howl”]

Michael McClure begins his reading (as announced) with “For The Death of 100 Whales” [the text is available here, leading off a small self-selected collection of McClure’s poems] and follows it with “Poem” (‘linked part to part toe to knee eye to thumb motile feral…”) and “Night Words: The Ravishing” [the texts for both these poems can be found here]

Allen takes over (approximately sixteen-and-a-quarter minutes in) – “So this first half we’re going to continue reading stuff from the (19)50’s, and I’m going back now to 1953, to New York, before coming out to California, before coming under Buddhist influence – “My Alba” – I was reading Ezra Pound who had a little morning wake-up song, and I was working in New York as a market-researcher, trying to fit into 1953’s..propriety” – [Allen reads “My Alba]
“Kerouac was writing, where he was staying with Neal Cassady around 1953, that he had been reading The Diamond Sutra, reading about Sakyamuni Buddha, and I went to the New York Public Library to look up Buddhist pictures in old Chinese picture books and found a.. Southern Sung painting of Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, who had been practicing austerities, coming out of the mountain, so it’s called “Sakyamuni Coming Out Of The Mountain”, the picture, and I wrote a description of the picture to send to Kerouac to show him that I was keeping up with him on Buddhism (and, at the time, actually, I was keeping up on a weird American form of Zen, as practiced by William Carlos Williams, who said, “Pay attention to what’s close to your nose”, “Keep your mind focused, and fixed on “No ideas but in (the) things” themselves”). So I was interpreting Sakyamuni’s experience of having sought for austerities and an abstract enlightenment (except his picture shows him as follows..)” [Allen then reads Sakyamuni Coming Out Of The Mountain“]

“Then a longing to go see old companions. I wrote a poem, mapping in the imagination (“the land of blessedness exists in the imagination” – so, thinking of that, I said, well, I’ll imagine what I want to do. I’ll invent a vehicle so that I can go, get out of New York, get away from my market-research job, and come to..Denver!” [Allen then reads “The Green Automobile“]

Next is McClure – a 1951 ballad (after William Blake) – “My mother said to me tonight that I am dead ten years..” – followed by (from 6 years later), the “first third” of his “para-journalistic poem”, his “Peyote Poem”, and one more “little poem” [“The Robe” – (“Sleepwalkers… Ghosts!, Voices/ like bodies coming through the mists of sleep..”)]

Allen picks up the narrative. “At this point I went up to San Jose, from New York, through Mexico to San Jose, California, staying with Neal Cassady and his wife, and spent several months writing little poems and getting mail from William Burroughs, who was just putting together the “Doctor Benway” routines of “Naked Lunch” , which he sent. So (I) wrote (a) short poem – “On Burroughs’ Work“” [Allen reads “On Burroughs’ Work].
“In that same situation – “Love Poem On  Theme by Whitman” [Allen reads “Love Poem On Theme by Whitman”] – It was more imagination, actually, because it never took place. So the alternative was sadness. [Allen reads “Song” (“The weight of the world/is love..”)] –

McClure next reads “a couple of sections” from his long erotic poem, “Dark Brown”. Allen, not to be left out: “Well, despite my lack-love, I was beginning to make-out too!” – Malest Cornifici Tuo Catullo – an English-American language rendering of the quantitative vowels of the Catullus poem – [Allen reads “Malest Cornifici Tuo Catullo”, followed by (“so then the retrospective on the poverty-tragedy previously) “Dream Record, June 8, 1955“)] – “Dream Record, June 8 1955 (is) a dream vision of the late Joan Burroughs“. “Then..moved into Berkeley and wrote a poem which I chopped in half and published in two separate parts in different books, one in Reality Sandwiches and one in Howl, so I’ll put them together. They were written on the same page, but they were.. they seemed.. at the moment, at the time when I edited it, to be in..of different subject-matters, but, by hindsight, I see that they were related, so I can put them together, having survived that time” – [Allen reads “A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley” and “A Supermarket in California”]

Michael McClure concludes the first half of the program with “a couple of beast language” (“from the early ’60’s, not the 1950’s” – from Ghost Tantras) – beginning with recitation of a few lines from Chaucer

Anne Waldman announces a ten-minute break (and gives news of upcoming John Ashbery-Dick Gallup reading). After the break, Allen continues:

AG: To confirm the breakthroughs, psychological discoveries, entrances into our own body that both Michael and I were talking about – which is like Charles Olson, the poet in ..Maximus Poems, saying, “I have a feeling that I am at one with my skin” – is that the phrase? – “I am at one with my own skin” Michael.. inhabited his own nerves and his own body – and I – “Yes, yes,/ that’s what/ I wanted/ I always wanted,/ I always wanted..”

Sather Gate Illumination – Sather Gate is Berkeley. This, being 1956, exploring that new sense of self-possession – [Allen reads “Sather Gate Illumination” and “Tears” – “this brief “Tears” will be the last thing that I’ll be reading, and then I’m going to read.. ten minutes each. I’ve done a set, Michael will do a set of ten, I’ll do another set of ten. And in this last, I’ll read poems from the last two months, a song from the past year, and poems from the last few days (sic). Another jump in time, a leap.. great.. (missing) gaps of time.”

Michael McClure introduces his set reading (briefly) from Jaguar Skiesbefore tape concludes.

Internet Archive breaks down the reading into two tapes. This second (shorter) segment begins, picking up with Michael McClure reciting from Jaguar Skies – “A Breath” – (“HOW/ SWEET/ TO/ BE/ A/ ROSE/ BY/ CANDLE/ LIGHT/ or/ a/ worm/ by/ full/ moon.”… “Nature loves/ the absence of/ mistakes”) before Allen comes in (approximately 35-40 seconds in)

AG: “What I’ll do is sing… I want to read… three poems written in the last couple of weeks and then (I’ll) sing two songs (so I’ll get all this ready) to proceed – “To My Father”, or “Of My Father, Louis” – [Allen proceeds to read a very early draft of two sections of “Don’t Grow Old (Section 1) – (“I read my father Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” (sic).).” – and (Section 4) – (“Will that happen to me?/ Of course, it’ll happen to thee..”) – followed by a(n) (unpublished) dream transcription – (“This last poem, written two nights ago, I’d like to dedicate to the illustrious prose-writer William Seward Burroughs Junior, who is here – a dream I had of a condition that he recently dreamed – “I came out in my business-suit…”)

So, two.. to finish, two quasi-.. two Buddhist presentations – Guru Blues, (an old favorite around Boulder, at this point, which is, 1975 –  a dream, actually the first stanza’s another dream, literally, the first and last stanzas which are the same, written in dream-state, and then copied on waking) – [Allen proceeds to sing, accompanied by harmonium, “Guru Blues“] – and immediately follows it (likewise accompanied) with a rousing rendition of  “Gospel Noble Truths”

Allen’s set concludes approximately fifteen-and-a-half minutes in.

Michael McClure concludes the reading with “one last poem”  (following a detailed introduction) – reading his long poem, “Antechamber” – (“I  am a mammal patriot…”).

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