Spontaneous Poetics – (Burroughs, Voznesensky & Kaddish)

Student: Does the thought come to the mind scored?

AG: Pardon me?

Student: Does the thought come to the mind [as per late Williams] broken (say) into three lines..?

AG: Hmm – okay, let’s take that up in a minute. That’s an interesting question.

Onto (first, though), the next consideration – which would be distinct from units of vocal phrasing, mouth phrasing – units of mind-thought (which is another element that comes in, when you write – because your notation of what you’re saying is a notation of what you speak, but it’s also, really, if you’re writing silently at your desk, a notation of the thoughts in your mind, not what you spoke at all, but thoughts). Now, oddly, thoughts, as they run through the mind, at least in my own brain-pan, seem to run in units, roughly parallel to breath, roughly parallel to spoken speech. I sit and sort of drowse and hear words running through, phrasings, running through my mind. “It would be nice” – okay – “it would be nice” – and then I had a glimpse of the trees outside – “It would be nice to be outside”. “It would be nice to be outside” doing what? – So that’s the next thought (that) comes up” – “riding (in) the country with Diane Wakoski in her new car” – so that’s a nice long one (that) came all at once from a flash – (she drove me up (once) hitch-hiking)..

So how do thoughts arrive is the question. Or, how do verbal thoughts arrive in the mind? – and is there any way of notating on the page the actual sequence of verbal thoughts as they come to your mind? Now, I don’t know how other people’s consciousness works – and, apparently, every consciousness works differently. The balance of the arrangement of rhythmic pulse, rhythmic intelligence, verbal intelligence, picture-intelligence, maybe smell-intelligence, body-English, is maybe a different balance in different brain-pans. (William) Burroughs thinks primarily in pictures, so that his process of notation is actually sitting at a typewriter, looking into the middle distance, seeing pictures in his mind, not hearing words, and then choosing words to describe the pictures. Have I talked about that in relation to Burroughs here? this term?

Student(s): Yes

AG: Well, it was one thing that I’ll repeat again, because it was my enlightenment on Burroughs’ method.
I’d known him for twenty years. I was once in Tangier, sitting in his room, watching him write a very beautiful passage, which, I think, was included later in Naked Lunch, about fish-boys in Venice, in the canals, metallic fish-boys in Venice, and then he stopped and he actually had his hands poised over the typewriter, thinking. And I said, “What are you thinking about Bill?” And he said, “Hands pulling in nets from the sea”, or, I guess, “Hands pulling in nets from the sea in the darkness” (which I thought was some kind of cosmic image of the hands of God, pulling in the souls from the sea, or something). And I said, “How did you get to see that? Where did you get that?”. And he said, “Oh, (I’m) just remembering, in the morning, when you go down on the beach in Tangier, fishermen are pulling in the nets from the ocean, and I just saw their hands pulling in the nets from the sea”. So it was just a very everyday, ordinary, picture – but isolated. He saw it in his mind as just the hands pulling the nets, and got a strange kind of perfect poetic isolated beauty, as if it were in the cosmic ocean. And he takes advantage of that sense, of course. I mean, shrewd. So he thinks in pictures, and so his notation on the page is notations of pictures, and, as you notice, the pictures are always changing slightly – dissolving from one picture to another – and there’s always this transformation of his images, which they cut in and out – pictures cutting in and out of one another, or dissolving one into another, or fish-boys dissolving into the prows of boats. There’s a lot of tricks in Burroughs like that, where, as in a very early image, two boys, lovers, two boys sitting on a park bench in Mexico City, with the musky smell of Mexico City garbage, shit, around them – both of them have hard-ons, and they sort of lean toward each (other) – “Time jumps like a broken typewriter. The boys are old men, their teeth fallen out. They leap back from each other with horror” – I guess it’s a picture he saw. It’s the sort of thing that would be a visual thing. “Time jumps like a broken typewriter” is also particularly visual. It’s a picture he got. How else? He wouldn’t have arrived at that except through suddenly getting a little flash of his broken typewriter, the letters all jumbled, a sudden lurch. So Burroughs thinks in pictures. So I guess his page probably reflects that he’s transcribing pictures. I think in words, primarily, which always shocks and dismays him, because he thinks that’s real low-grade mentation!)

Student: Anne (Waldman) says something about Burroughs seeing whole pages full of words in his dreams, waking up, and transcribing them.

AG: Yeah. Sometimes whole pages full of calligraphy (which are not words) also. There’s a number of pages in The Exterminator which are reproductions of that – calligraphy, similar to his friend, Brion Gysin‘s painting. But it’s still picture, because he’s seeing a page of words . I’ve had dreams like that, seeing a page of words – not a whole page but stanzas-written-in-fire in my dreams! And then (I) woke up and couldn’t find them! I couldn’t remember. What did I say? Ezekiel-like flames..Student: Like Blake.

AG: Yeah. Blake said that he was just etching pictures that he saw, right on(to) the page.

William Blake – The Ghost of A Flea (circa 1819)

So the question is, how do you think? And then, depending on how you think, what’s your appropriate form of notation? So that’s again a question of almost Buddhist meditative mindfulness, of observing the brain-pan, observing how your consciousness actually works, and transcribing it, and finding what it is (that) you’re transcribing – pictures or words.

Andrei Voznesensky and Allen Ginsberg

In an elevator in a Moscow apartment, (Andrei) Voznesensky asked me what language I thought in, and I said, “French, Spanish, sometimes, mostly English”. And he said, “You do? I think in rhythm.” And I suddenly realized he does. Knowing his poetry, there’s a kind of rhythmic shoulder-urge back and forth and a hand movement. He probably gets the rhythm first and then fills in the words. Not really a metrical scheme, but a series of urges, which could be expressed by hand and shoulder, or movement of the body, by body-English, and many great poets do have that. I have, occasionally, that impulse, and get, what I guess would be the equivalent of Greek rhythm running through my head and my body – usually in the form of sound – dah-dah dah-dah-dah,. dah-duh-duh-dah-dah, dah-duh-duh-dattaduh, dah-duh-duh-dah – dah-duh-duh-dah-dah, duh, de-dah – which I could analyze, I suppose, but I never bother to analyze it, I just try to reproduce (it) in the words. I have a long poem that I’ve been sitting around cooking for about ten years about “blasted be Congress and death to the President, cursed be the Supreme Court, goddam finks!’ – dah-duh-duh-dah-dah, dah-duh-duh-datta-duh, dah-duh-duh-dah-duh, duh-dah-dah! – as, sort of, like almost a dance-rhythm. Then the rhythms in the second part of “Howl” are like that, and some of the rhythms of “Kaddish” are derived from original rhythmic pulsations in my body, not the mind, but it’s the inner ear, I guess you could say, just like musicians hear. The basic rhythms of “Kaddish”, a long poem, are derived from hearing the Kaddish read aloud in Hebrew, hearing a pulsation of duh-dah-dah-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh.. let’s see “V’yisnaseh, v’yishador, v’yishalleh, v’yishalloi, sh’meh d’kudsho” – Yeah?

Student: Does the word “Kaddish” translate as anything, or is it a name that has to…

AG: It’s a Hebrew name for the Mass for the Dead. Kaddish, saying Kaddish, saying ceremonial prayers of the dead with a minyan, or group of nine adults.

The rhythms in “Kaddish” came as partly derived from a night on metamphetamine at somebody’s house who was preoccupied with Jewish studies, reading me the Kaddish – sounds from the Hebrew, plus a lot of Ray Charles that I’d heard for the first time that weekend – What’d I Say” – remember that? – “It’s alright” repeated – “It’s alright, it’s alright, what’d I say, duh-dah-dah, what’d-I-say – “Magnificent, mourned no more, marred of heart, mind behind, married, dreamed, mortal changed – Ass and face done with murder/ In the world, given, flower-maddened, made no Utopia, shut under pine, almed in Earth, balmed in Lone, Jehovah, accept./ Nameless, One-Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless, Father in death. Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I’m hymnless, I’m Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore/ Thee. Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, nor light or darkness, Dayless, Eternity – /Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some of my Time, now given to Nothing – to praise Thee – But Death/ This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Wonderer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping – page beyond Psalm – Last change of mine and Naomi – to God’s perfect Darkness – Death, stay thy phantoms!”

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