Philip Lamantia – Part 3

Philip Lamantia ( 1927-2005)

Allen Ginsberg on the poet Philip Lamantia continues 

AG:  And the last one is from the next period, “Blue Grace” …1963 – types, handwrites, both.Then Robert Lavigne, the painter, was here this summer, who’s a friend of almost all the poets, who painted and drew all the poets and who’s the person addressed in John Wieners “Poem For Painters”. The Hotel Wentley Poems (which we’ll take up later, if we can find them! – they’re in the Don Allen anthology) – Painter Robert Lavigne painted a painting called “Blue Grace”, which showed a blue angel stepping out of.. a blue angel stepping.. the image is stepping out of an automobile.. I forget what.. but I think the idea was “blue grace stepping out of  a  hundred white cars at once” .a figure.. it was a painting of blue grace – just like the image of the face blue also – you know that color of your shirt violet or bluish – like really pretty oil-painting.

[Allen reads Lamantia’s “Blue Grace”] – “Blue Grace/ crashes thru air/ where Lady LSD hangs up all the floors of life for the last time/ Blue Grace leans on white slime/ Blue Grace weaves in and out of Luneburg and “My Burial Vault” undulates/ from first hour peyote turnon/ Diderot hand in hand with the Marquis de Sade…” – Diderot and (the) Marquis de Sade, you know?  – Denis Diderot, the Encyclopedist of the French Revolution – Diderot, Voltaire and others, great sort of orators, writers, who.. sort of bringers of light, but they were the ones who did all the theoretical philosophical work, made a great Dictionary  – “Diderot hand in hand..” – so it’s the Enlightenment, really –  “..hand in hand with the Marqui s de Sade/ wraps up himself in a Mexican serape” – It’s true – see it’s the – the French Revolution and the American Revolution – breakthroughs of liberty.. libertarian, based on illuminated philosophy, the Marquis de Sade, the liberation of sex, Diderot lead to that, the liberation of intellect and emotions and natural life, and that led to de Sade, and that led to revolution, and that led to Constitution (hall) signing a new constitution, a new country law, starting a new country, a new constitution (except Lamantia’s probably checking it out (“at (Constitution Hall, Philadelphia 1930″), or saw it, Philadelphia). So, actually, it makes sense – “Diderot hand in hand with the Marquis de Sade/ wraps himself up in a Mexican serape” – the Mexican Revolution too – “Blue Grace turns into the Count of Saint-Germain/ who loves forever/ cutting up George Washington/ dream of pyramid liquefactions from thighs of Versailles/Blue Grace intimidatesNeville Chamberlain/feels up Fillippo Marinetti…” –  Neville Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of England during Hitler. He made the Munich peace pact with Hitler that allowed Hitler to go into Czechoslovakia (and then in to) conquer Europe – Marinetti 1905 Italian Surrealist..or Futurist, Marinetti, wrote a poem (in his Manifesto) about factories hanging – a great modernist, you know, image of you know.. civilization – “factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke” – Filippo.. Filippo Marienetti”.. Marinetti, the Futurist manifesto was is famous.. –  “and other hysterics of the phallic rose” –”Blue Grace feels up.. other hysterics of the phallic rose” – (In other words) that Futurism was a real macho phallic.. Airplanes will conquer nature. The only thing interesting is machines. Sort of a little bit.. all this whole new-wave heavy-metal thing, where everyone’s interested in.. electronics, computers, is another phase of the original Futurist, visionary Futurist thing of nature being replaced by the great heavy steel machines and it was marvelous. And if you go to the Museum of Modern Art and see Futurist paintings, you’ll see paintings of machines revolving in the arcs scientifically plotted out (so, it’s, like, a man on a bicycle, and you see the bicycle wheel a hundred times going through space) – “Blue Grace dressed up as automobile sperm” [Allen continues] – “My Claw of the future..”…”floated from Texcoco” -Texcoco – Mexico City, (where Trotsky was murdered). “Prince of Bogata” – a great combination – “the Prince of Bogota” itself is great – “the Prince of Bogota caught redhanded/sniffing forty cans of Berlin ether”….”Blue Grace under dark glasses/ getting out of one hundred white cars at once!”….  “K & K and the Russian poets..” – that was Khruschev and…

Student: Kennedy?

AG: No, there were two Russian leaders, K & K, Khruschev and.. Kosygin maybe – Khruschev & Kosygin and the Russian poets Voznesensky & Yevtushenko  – “suck blue grace’s opulent – because there was a movement in Russian poetry in the “50’s just like ours here  (like, a protest movement), with young kids, who were threatened by Khruschev actually. – “K and K and the Russian poets/suck Blue Grace’s opulent morsels back and front/The nicotene heaven of Bosch’s painting/emanates the thousand beaties of/ Christopher Maclaine’s toolbox..” –  ” Christopher Maclaine was another Surrealist poet in San Francisco about that time – “Man./the marvel/of masturbation arts,/intersects Blue Grace at World’s Finale Orgasm Electro-Physic Apocalypse!” – “World’s..” –  every word capitalized – “I sing the beauty of bodily touch/with my muse, Blue Grace” –  Spring (19)63.

That’s not the end of his really great things – the others are “The Agents Have Returned Among Us” – “The Voice of the Earth Mediums” – They get better and better actually. “What Is Not.. Strange” ‘which ends  “”DO A KUNDALINI SOMERSAULT!”

Student: How does he make his living?

AG: Er he’s got money somehow, I don’t know – family? – mysterious.

Astromancy – at the very end of this is one very great poem  – “Coat of Arms’, no  – “Astromancy” – I’ll jump ahead to just this last, this very last one – Astromancy – This is where he gets, I guess the most overtly..1966.. ‘Sixties.. freak-out political change of planet biological change of mankind, fresh planet  – Astromancy (like necromancy or mantically prophetic (reading..) – “The stars have gone crazy/and the moon is very angry…”…”Instead I see America/as one vast palinode” -Palinode?, what’s a palinode? – it’s a form of poem that goes around.

Student: Is it anything like “palindrome”?

AG: No, (not a) palindrome, no -“that reverses itself completely until/ Gitche Manito actually returns-Gitche Manito (the Great Spirit of the Indian, American Indian(s) – “the lucid panorama I telescope/ as, on this summer night’s/torpor it passes from under my eyelid and/ grabs you, earth returned/ into the middle of Aquarius, one millennium forward” – (So that’s) a beautiful prophecy poem, So you see there’s a great lightning bolt here (in) Lamantia, of tremendous transformative intelligence, learning, playfulness, sound, divine..sort of..frenzy, (hip-ness, above all – ”ONGED”), and “nights of nine-to-five discipline”), experience, dope, sex, hermetic magic, classical Surrealism (so he’s connected with…) So, a really great American poet, unfortunately, unknown.

Student: When was that last piece?

AG: This is 1966 at latest.. I think that the book., This is the last poem almost the last poem in the book and it is 1966,”Secret Freedom”
Then, since then, there’s another City Lights book(Becoming Visible), that’s is terrific, in which he combines the Surrealist method with 1980 visits to Hopi land in Northern Mexico..Northern Californian, Arizona..And visiting, (he) went around with his wife Nancy Peters

Student: Can you get it at the bookstores?

AG: Yeah, probably. I’m sure we have it in the library. We have in our library here.

Student: What are some of those prophecies?

AG: Hopi prophecies

Student: Oh Hopi 

AG:  Yeah Then there’s several of his books in Don Allen’s series (of) Grey Fox Press, at that time…  How d’you like him? You looked pleased

Student (I do)

AG: I think he’s great. Everytime I read him I get more (of) a charge about him – it’s a nervous system (like), it’s so hip, you know, sort of futuristic.

Student: Did you ever hear him read?

AG: Did I hear him read? Yeah, I’m sort of following his.. cadences.. my voice is different but he’s got a.. it’s more delicate, Italianate, he has a more..tenor, tenor but very tact(ful) like very good on consonants, and some personal thing of his own (which) is like, you know, completely his own body his own intelligence (which) is really terrific when you see it displayed in.. It’s built into the way the poems are laid out on the page, and once you’ve heard any of his (in) the right cadence(s), you then pick up the taste for his style.  I think he’s a very individual stylist, a great stylist

Student: Is he really down on Imagism?

AG: Oh yeah, he’s written a very interesting essay in an anarchist magazine, Arsenal, Chicago magazine, Arsenal, (I have that around if you’re interested), about five, nearly eight years agoin which he puts down Pound Williams and myself, that tradition, saying that it is tying’s cutting it off from poetry, tying it down to the literalness of this world (and that he’s not of this world (and that) poetry should be free of obligation to this world, poetry should be free..imagination need not be tied down – (and he’s quite true there, I think), that the imagination could be completely liberated,so, you know, the anarchistthing is liberation from..from everything, from any constraint, from any restraint, you know, free, freedom of the imagination, (which is actually great, I had no argument about that).

There is another Zen way of Ordinary.. there’s the Imagination Mind, or the Surreal Mind, and then there’s the Ordinary Mind.

Student: Which are the same thing?

AG: Well, ultimately, I suppose they are  I would say they are and Zen people would say they are  but on the other hand, the Surrealist aesthetics would say no no no, there’s too much, too much, you know, trying to see, cosmos in a flower. (Of course, I’m..“Here I am in Mexico City, eating a tomato” – that’s where they join together – that line, with “I’m Onged in Mexico City eating a tomato”.With “a tomato”, the ordinary mind object becomes Surrealist, simply by…)

Student: There’s a whole blackness here or something.

AG: Yeah, real extraordinary. He’s got..They share a lot.. the Italians, see, so he shares a lot with Gregory because Corso’s method is also with this sort of opposites joined together and incredible conceptual knots and kinks and things that you might think when you were high but presented perfectly,  like little archetype thoughts like.. Gregory has a lot of stuff like that, you know, “the star is as far as the eye can see and as near as the eye is to me”, so sort of basic archetypal mental thoughts that you might have that are.. almost anybody who has an eyeball has. How many did not know Lamantia’s work?  [show of hands] – It’s amazing, because he’s really rich, as a poet, been around a long time, and he’s one of the major.. he was one of the major initiates of..of the change in poetry of the (19)50’s

Student:  He gets plenty of publicity?

AG: Well it’s partly his own making because he’s reclusive, a little. Like (19)73 or (197)4, when Joanne whatever her name was, Hag.. (Joanne Harcourt-Smith) (was) hanging around with Timothy Leary and he was in jail. We did a benefit for him.. with a guy named Melton..Chris of the people who was in the..  O I don’t know.. one of the big bands out there..Melton, Barry Melton

Student: (Barry Melton) Country Joe and The Fish

AG: Yeah.. So Barry offered to do it, and I offered to do it, and we did it, and we did it right in North Beach, three blocks from Lamantia’s house, and he agreed to do it, but then, about a week before, he said, “No, I.. I will only read with Surrealists” (that’s the Surrealist thing – to stay pure). So he has stayed pure, it’s his his. his ecological system, personal ecology.

He is married to Nancy Peters, who is now, for the last ten or fifteen years, the chief editor and assistant at City Lights. So he’s plugged right in to the whole literary publishing social scene right in San Francisco, and hears all the gossip from Nancy, and knows everything.

Nancy’s also quite a poet (and) is a very elegant woman who used to be Don Allen’s secretary for years, so she’s one of the most powerful women around and not very well known. And so she worked with Don Allen, worked with Lamantia, Ferlinghetti, worked for me, she’ll..take my manuscripts and see them through the printer, and then check out all the spellings and punctuation, and ask me if I want acknowledgments this way or that way, and send me my royalties, and ask the aesthetic question(s), which is.. to make the book – she’s my editor, so she’s, actually, a great editor.

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