Spontaneous Poetics – (Voznesensky’s Thoughts)

Allen Ginsberg and Andrei Voznesensky in June 1985 in Allen’s New York City East 12th Street apartment – photograph by Hank O’Neal

Student: I’d like to get back to the echoes..the thoughts echoing densities of speech, or something like that. The thought that comes out has a certain density of substance.

AG: Okay, when you said that, what came into my mind was, “What does he mean, asking a question like that?”. And I heard it almost like a little silver flash – “What does he mean, asking a question like that?” -“What does he mean, asking a question like that?” – So I heard in my head a very thin silver flash – “What does he mean, asking a question like that?” – Vocalizing – “What does he mean, asking a question like that?” – The thin silvery word-slip that goes through the brain, in the back of… [Allen points to the back of his skull] right about over here, behind the ear, is where you hear it, in the skull behind the ear. I’d locate it in the little knobs, bulbs, right behind the… that’s where I hear it, physically. It’s not above here [points to his forehead], it’s down here around the mouth, or behind the mouth area toward the bottom of the head and in the back. That’ s where it occurs to me. I don’t know if this is a universal phenomenon.

Student: Lots of times I get the feeling of rhythm. which dictates a certain density of speech, but then there aren’t (really) any good words to go in that.

AG: Whoa..now, wait a minute. You’ve got this inside-out. I said the words you hear dictate the volume, vocable, vowel, and rhythm. And the words are abstract. You hear them like a little silver flash..

Student: Yeah

AG: …and when you pronounce them, them they have body and tone and different musical value and vowels and rhythm. And they come out in the brain pre-packaged. All you gotta do is put them in water, put them in air, and they expand and they take on full volume, like dried soybean curds, or dried beans, or something.  But you were just saying, you get rhythmic impulses..

Student: Rhythmic impulses

AG:… and vowels?

Student: Yeah, which then I try.. which try to find words…

AG:  Find words first?…really?

Student:  ..but often the words come out ridiculous..

AG:  Well, it’s a question there. That’s like (Andrei) Voznesensky saying (that) he thinks in rhythm.

Student: Yeah, that’s what..

AG: And he does, and then the rhythms slowly seem to accumulate words in his brain. but one thing he does… Now, okay, here’s something interesting in terms of composition. The Russian method of composition is different from the English – the American-English – method of composition, because the Russians say they hear duh-duh-duh-dah, dah-dah, dah! – a big Russian sound. Like a bell ringing. But it doesn’t have words, but it’s um-bah-bah-um, bah-bah-bah. So they don’t write it down. They don’t attempt to write it down. They travel with it. They move around with it in their bodies, and then they compose slowly in their head, and the words accumulate around the rhythm. So it’d be “kolon kolon kolon-nynah” [Editorial note: loose phonetic description]- which is the beginning of Voznesensky’s poem about Moscow bells [Editorial note – this would be his famous poem, “Goya”, perhaps?], the sound of the bells – “kolon kolon kolon-nynah”.
Now, he didn’t write that down when he first heard the rhythm, he walked around for weeks and slowly the rhythms accumulated words. Maybe like developing a photograph? There may be some unconscious words implicit in those rhythms which he has not yet made conscious, or which, like a photograph slowly developing, arrives inside his brain, the actual words, from the rhythms. I went traveling with him in Australia – this is Andrei Voznesensky, who’s a great rhythmist – and I did not know that about Russian poetry,  that they composed it in their heads, and when it’s all done, they write it down . Unlike us, who write it down, and then will revise and then revise – put it on the page in a thin, superficial, form – any word that comes, in a second -and making (make) a palimpsest of layer upon layer of more words and more words, until we get something out there on the page. There it’s all done in the head so it has a kind of spareness and quality that we don’t have, because ours is exteriorized. The only thing you can carry in your head is what’s memorable, what you can remember from one sleep to another, and if you can still remember it, then there’s some durability to it. Like it’s song – to remember a tune, day after day, that you composed in your head, then you know it’s there, (it’s) less effervescent. It’s more likely to be a common tune, that everybody’s ear can hear  it. So traveling with Voznesensky, he said he was writing a poem, and I said, “You got any notes on it?”, and he said, “No, it’s in my head”. And then, in the middle of an airplane trip, he wrote it out in my notebook, first draft, complete, “sprung like Athena from Zeus’ head” – it was amazing! I had never thought of such a thing, maybe a haiku? – but a full poem of 25 lines or 30 lines with rhythms (and cadences and everything) – he had it all there. So that’s another method of composition, which would require a whole different poetics almost. So the writing of poetry is physical in this way. Physical, metaphysical, in the sense that it involves consciousness, it involves voice, and it involves..

Student: (John) Milton used to write like that.

AG: Yeah. Milton dictated to his daughters. I exercise writing like that – dictating. on the spot, into a tape-recorder. Not much difference, in a sense, (than) (Jack) Kerouac writing all of Mexico City Blues, day-by-day, two or three poems, instantly, on the first cup of coffee and stick of tea in the morning. Two pages,

Student: Isn’t there a difference between that very first thought and carrying it around?

AG: Yeah, sure, an enormous difference. An enormous difference. Now what did Milton do?

Student: He was blind

AG: Yeah, he was blind and he dictated , but did he do it with forethought, or did he compose and then dictate?

Student: (He would cogitate) and work it out until it was perfect, and then he would wake his daughters up and say, “Okay”

AG: So he composed like a Russian

Student: He wrote about it.

AG: I think that’s the most interesting area  of poetics, to see, not how should you compose, but how do you compose, based on your physiology and mental processes, or based on the actual operation of your mind?, what’s the proper means of your composition?, what’s the best way for you to compose? And where you have standardized composition taught in the schools, where you compose as you have duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, and a rhyme, the old standard way, or your subject, verb and object, that’s a very pre-packaged, standardized, homogenized form of composition and it eliminates all the idiosyncracies and all the “things counter-original, spare (and) strange” that Gerard Manley Hopkins was just talking about – the entire variety of human consciousness and all the variety of articulation that mouth can (utter) and that body-rhythm is capable of,  and the pen-and-paper, and typewriter, and the dictaphone [sic], and Uher (tape-recorder), and Sony cassette (recorder) are capable of registering, all these variations. So that’s why it’s, in a sense, a disaster in some ways, a disaster, for a young kid to be taught poetry, to be taught stress, rhymed poetry, too early, because then they think that’s poetry and they always identify that with poetry and don’t realize that there’s a vast world of interior verbal phenomenon, picture phenomenon, that goes on, that’s just waiting to be transcribed, and that everybody, really, is a poet, because everybody has a vast world of consciousness moving within them, and everyone has language moving within them, everybody has secret thoughts and direct, absolute, perceptions, big as any Buddha. It’s simply that the mind becomes limited to thinking that the proper mode of discourse, or the form that is, socially. appreciable, is “Jack and Jill went up the hill/ To fetch a pail of water…

Student: Allen

AG: “Tell me not in mournful numbers…”

[tape ends here – to be continued]

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