Spontaneous Poetics – (Philip Lamantia – 1)

Philip Lamantia – from the cover of his book Narcotica, published by Auerhahn Press, San Francisco, 1959

Allen Ginsberg’s Spontaneous and Improvised Poetics class (sic) held at Naropa Insitute, July 7, 1976 continues – [note from original transcriber, Randy Roark, “the recording is recorded a great distance from the speaker, which accounts for some of the difficulty obtaining a complete and accurate description” – however…]

AG: So I’ve been using as texts..various modern poets. So, where I left off, in terms of formation of lines on the page and the litany form of the poem.. (So), picking up some pieces – (the) litany form of the poem, formation of lines on the page, and break-up of lines on the page, and elements of breath-stop, the creation of poems that use a repeated refrain to build up a series of ideas, or construct lines out of.. So, disparate elements, that’s what we’ve been talking about in the last few days..

How many here have read Philip Lamantia? Raise your hands [class gives a show of hands] – Okay, so quite a few have. He’s a friend of Philip Whalen, and was a friend of (Jack) Kerouac. (He) was from San Francisco. (He was) born there and grew up there, went to high school, was a member of the anarchist-Buddhist mystical Gnostic circle of Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan¬†in the (19)40’s, and then, when he was thirteen years old, ran off to New York, around 1944, and looked up the Surrealists who were living in New York, and went to the office off Fifth Avenue, where there was a magazine called Viewrun by a poet friend of William Carlos Williams called Charles Henri Ford, and slept on the floor of View magazine for a couple of weeks while he was in New York, claiming that he was the American (Arthur) Rimbaud! – So he was a spiritually ambitious poetical thirteen-year-old. (“Discovered & published at fifteen by View). He now [1976] is the leading member of the American Surrealist group – or the group of Americans who call themselves Surrealists, representing the official imperatives of the Surrealist doctrine and practice (they have a magazine called “Arsenal” which has issues every few years, and, actually, this year, in May, they had a large exhibition in Chicago, so they’re still an active group).

Student: Where does that (magazine, Arsenal) come from?

AG: Chicago, I think

Student: Chicago?

AG: Chicago and San Francisco (and it’s available from City Lights in San Francisco, or Gotham Book Mart in New York, or other specialized bookstores in New York City). There’s also a collection of their work in the last City Lights Journal”, which is in the library. They generally refuse to publish with other poets. They don’t send poems out to poetry magazines or (Naropa’s journal) “Sitting Frog” because they want to have their work (be) an axe that just cuts through with their one central conception of poetry that comes from a specialized state of consciousness, that is not rational and not sub-conscious, but comes from some plane that can be compared to the hypnogogic vision that is half-sleeping and half-waking. Lamantia says (this) is a special place in his consciousness that he recognizes when it appears and (that) the lines that come out of it are true Surrealist lines.
All other writing he does, is not. Writing he does in automatic hand-movement state, or conscious state, is not true Surrealist. So, he feels (that) there is a definite place in the mind whence Surrealist imagery (a)rises.

All this being a side-issue to what I’m bringing this up for. He has a poem called “Morning Light Song” which shows the impulse of breath riding through, line after line, to a certain ecstatic state (somewhat in the form of the Christopher Smart or Whitmanic poems we’ve looked at – and somewhat in the same style as Anne Waldman’s series of poems that we were talking about last class, but here, in this “list poem”, the lines are intensified and stretched out with Surrealist-style imagery). So you get to see what he does with that form – (Allen begins reading Philip Lamantia’s “Morning Light Song – “RED DAWN, clouds coming up! the heavens proclaim you,/ Absolute God…”…”O poet of poets/Ancient deity of the poem – / Here’s spindle tongue of morning riding the flushes of NIGHT/ Here’s gigantic ode of the sky about to turn on the fruits of my/ lyre/Here’s Welcome Cry from the heart of the womb of words – Hail/ Queen of Night!/ Who giveth birth to the Morning Star. Here’s the quiet cry of/ stars broken among crockery/Here’s the spoon of sudden birds wheeling the rains of Zeus”…”Here’s my chant to you, Morning of Mornings, God of gods, light of light”…”That I hold converse with your fantasy. That I am your beauty/ NOT OF THIS WORLD and bring to nothing all that would stop me/From flying straight to your heart whose rays conduct me to the SONG!”) – That’s one long continuous apocalyptic breath build-up, and he’s using some weird combinations like “Here’s the spoon of sudden birds wheeling the rains of Zeus” (in some respects, absolutely nonsensical, yet always some kind of crisp clear oddity in the lines) – Made up of spoons? – “Here’s the quiet cry of stars broken among crockery” – So, although there’s a great deal of intellectual extravagance, it always comes down to “spoon(s)” and “crockery” (the”spoon” may have been a heroin spoon, actually).

I brought that up as an example of a good deal as far as deal of breath. Then, for parallel to (William Carlos Williams)’ use of aposiopesis, or hiatus, break, or perhaps, even, the cutting (the break, and then the continuing again somewhere else).”Aposiopesis” is a technical term, like “Those ships should be turned inward upon/…but I am an old man, I’ve had enough” – Remember that example?

There are two things I want to lay out with this poem (“There is this distance between me and what I see”) or use it as examples of. One was – it begins at the margin, and the lines are divided partly by vocal impulse, the vocal mouthing, and partly by mental cut, the cut of ideas. Some lines (are) long, some lines (are) absolutely short and abrupt, as if in the composition he ran out of idea and just began at the margin with another word – ran out of idea, began with another word, ran out of idea, then began with another idea and ran all the way over to the right-hand margin again. “There is this distance between me and what I see” is the title, (or the first line, the alternative title, “Still Poem 9”). He was, at the time, I think, preoccupied with the idea of achieving some divine vision (he was taking all sorts of drugs and doing all sorts of hermetic and alchemical experiments on himself and so he was giving himself direction in how to behave mentally). I’ll mark the beginnings of the line with (a movement of) my hand. (Allen begins reading Philip Lamantia’sThere is this distance between me and what I see” – “There is this distance between me and what I see/ everywhere immanence of the presence of God/no more ekstasis/a cool head/ watch watch watch/ I’m here/He’s over there… It’s an Ocean…/sometimes I can’t think of it, I fail, fall/There IS this look of love/there IS the tower of David/there is the throne of Wisdom/there IS this silent look of love/Constant flight in air of the Holy Ghost/I long for the luminous darkness of God/I long for the superessential light of this darkness/another darkness I long for the end of longing/I long for the/it is Nameless what I long for…” – He has the line broken as [Allen goes to the blackboard] – “I long for the/ it is Nameless what I long for/a spoken word caught in its own meat saying nothing” – The form there is really nice because you suddenly see the thought break off, jump down the line, and continue in another direction – “I long for the/ it is Nameless what I long for/a spoken word caught in its own meat saying nothing/ This nothing ravishes beyond ravishing/There IS this look of love Throne Silent look of love” – A continuous burst of energy, and, even when it breaks off – “I long for the/ it is Nameless what I long for” – the energy continues into somewhere else. It turns a corner and goes off in the other direction. I always thought that that was one of the best modern poems I’ve ever seen in terms of swiftness of mind and weird syntax. It’s an immediate transcription of thought, an attempt at diagramming the way his mind moves on the page. It also, vocally, to speak it, is tremendous, because, in a way, there’s no breath there – “I long for the/ it is Nameless what I long for” (or it could be “I long for the – pause -/ it is Nameless what I long for”), but I like it in one breath, and I heard him recite it and I think it was one breath that he used there. So the jump-down would mark, in terms of time – “I long for the/ it is Nameless what I long for” – a slight hesitancy. The forward push of the line a break in the speech, but not in the breath but the speech and then the continuation of the breath at the end. They’re all equal, each line, in some respect or other – “There is this distance between me and what I see/ everywhere immanence of the presence of God/no more ekstasis/a cool head/ watch watch watch” – The “watch watch watch” is one line, (the) “a cool head” is one line, “no more ekstasis” is one line – It’s just this mad rush of thought (or maddening rush of thought), but it’s one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of someone thinking speedy, and writing speedy, and laying out a really sort of ecstatic rush of confession of desire, even if (as in with Hart Crane), a totally mystical desire, which, in a sense, has no object – “O Answerer of all…” O great nothing”

(Transcriber’s note – “At this point, the tape [the tape he was working from] seriously deteriorates and is barely audible” – The audio recording in the on-line Archives at Naropa Institute, however, seems clear enough. The above is a transcription of the first thirteen and a quarter minutes of the audio here¬†– (to be continued..)

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