Spontaneous Poetics – (Henri Michaux)

Henri Michaux

Student: I wanted to ask you about Henri Michaux

AG: Yes

Student: And Ed Dorn, and James Tate

AG: Henri Michaux, Ed Dorn and James Tate! – Well, once I was standing on a street corner in Paris, talking with Henri Michaux and Gregory Corso. And, let’s see, it was 1965 probably, and we’d known Michaux since (19)58). He’d come to visit. He lived around the block in Paris from Rue Git de Coeurwhere we lived. He lived on Rue Segur near the Seine, on the Left Bank. He came in. I’d left a note saying we were American poets. We wanted to meet him and we lived around the block. And he came in one day and knocked as I had my foot in the sink, washing my feet, which he thought was very funny behavior on the part of American poets, probably typical (American) behavior We gave him a copy of  Corso’s Gasoline, and he looked at it and then kept repeating, like a mantra, “mad children of soda-caps, mad children of soda-caps”. He liked that line, instantly. The reason he was interested in meeting us – and vice-versa was that he had done a lot of experiments with mescaline and we were probably the first of the American poets that had any literary background, who approached him to discuss it sort of sanely, without excessive enthusiasm, but just trying to check out what was going on. And I remember him saying, “I’m not so much interested on what visions people have while on mescaline, I’m interested in what they do with them after, what they do the next day with them”. In other words, descriptions of terrific experiences and visionary imagery is..  after a while gets boring, after everybody’s got a vision, and everybody drops acid a hundred times, visions change  every day, so what?, finally. It’s just like you tell your dreams over and over again, which would be interesting if you were able to work with it  or anything, but just to say, “Well yesterday I saw this fantastic astrological combination, which indicated that my own shoe-style is absolutely right, because it points towards the east”, or something. The fiftieth time, it gets boring. So he was interested in what do people do afterward, what kind of earthly existence do they build on the basis of their visions? – or, to what extent is there some reconciliation of visionary perception and ordinary mind every-day dish-washing attitudes? So he said he was interested in what people did with visions after.

He was a very shy, reclusive, guy, so the thing that sticks out in my mind was that we met on the street-corner where our two blocks intersected, and were sort of hopping from one foot to another discussing matters, amazed to meet him, and, all of a sudden, a lady came up and pointed her camera at us, so, Michaux (realizing that we were famous “American Beatniks” that had been written up in Life magazine) said, “Oh, this lady is for you”, because he was very shy, and he moved away (he didn’t want to be photographed, or not photographed with us, or he thought that maybe it’s a plot, that we were trying to trap him into getting a photograph with us for publicity reasons). And I felt a little bit.. This was Paris and it was his own territory, so I assumed it was some French photographer trying to get a picture of him, and said, “Well, this must be for you, Monsier Michaux”. And then the lady said, “Would you all please move aside? We’re trying to take a picture of this building!

(tape ends here – and then continues)

AG: ..which was great..  I thought, if he’s that paranoid that he thinks we’re going to …or that we’re that creepy that we’re actually going to bring along a photographer to secretly try and get our picture taken with him without telling him, if he’s that paranoid to think that ill of us, it’s going to be awful hard to explain this away. But, fortunately, the lady did it. So..
(I saw him this January, actually, again. I had a long afternoon with him and Gregory Corso and Gregory’s girlfriend, Jocelyn (Stern) who was pregnant…

PW: Still

Michel Bulteau

AG:  – well, was pregnant. (Now she’s) has the baby, called Orpheo.. Orpheo Max Corso – and Michaux recommended a younger French poet called Michel Bulteau – B-U-L-T-E-A-U – who was wandering around. He’s a long thin kid with long hair, (a) tall thin kid with long hair and a kind of sleepy expression (like an American suburban hippie beatnik still living, in the basement, with his parents and going out to smoke a lot of grass). So he’s one of the few younger French poets that’s a big dope-fiend and wants to work with rock n roll groups, and lives with a kind of degenerately decadent vampire-y-looking girl. with purple painted under her eyelids and sequins all over, to speak as his mouthpiece, who pushes him  (he’s very silent) and goes around making dates for them. So Bulteau came to America and wanted to meet Andy Warhol. He wanted to meet Andy Warhol and Patti Smith. Because that was the younger generation that Michaux picked up on. He was that much alert at the age of seventy-eight or something.

He had a new book out called Moments  M-O-M-E-N-T-S – … and they were just moments on different drugs, including ritalin  (one on hashish, one on ritalin, one on mescaline). So he gave me the book and showed me which experiment was with which drug. (He) says he doesn’t take too much any more because he’s getting old – too wearing . He was recently involved with a lot.. with nitrous oxide and (with) ether. He got interested in that… later.. for the first time.. I guess in the last ten years Do you know his work at all?

Student: Yeah, I’ve read Miserable Miracle and …Ordeals of the Mind (The Major Ordeals of the Mind). I’ve read the Collected Poems. My favorite book of his, I think, a great, great book is Ecuador – A Travel Journal

AG: Ecuador – A Travel Journal ?

Student: (translated)  by Robin Magowan and..

AG: Robert McAlmon?

Student: Macgowan, Macgowan..I think.. In any case, it’s a travel journal about going to Ecuador and it’s written with mordant genius

AG: Mordant genius? Biting genius? – It’s speaking with mordant humor?, biting humor?

PW: I thought he said “warped”.

AG: Warped?

Student: Well, it’s warped too!

AG: “Mordant warped teeth”?

Student: Sometimes  It’s kind of a pleasurable black humor. And it’s hard to get the book. I talked to a guy named..  the guy who translated  Mount Analogue? (by Rene Daumal)

AG: Simon Watson-Taylor?

Student: No, the one who just won the National Book Award for..

AG:Richard Howard?

Student: Roger Shattuck. He thought Ecuador was one of the finest, most important books he’s read of poetry

AG: How many here have ever heard of Michaux?  Heard of Michaux? And how many here have read any Michaux? – At least about a dozen. How many have never heard of Michaux, or read any Michaux? – okay

Michaux, a French poet – M-I-C-H-A-U-X, Henri – H-E-N-R-I . The Collected Poems [Selected Writings, actually] of his (are) available through New Directions, and I’d recommend the prose-poems dealing with Monsieur Plume – P-L-U-M-E – I guess plume and pen  – the other old feather pen . Monsieur Plume, who is a kind of Coyote figure who rises and vanishes and appears and disappears and goes through Chinese Charlie Chaplin adventures constantly (like being eaten by leviathans and popping out the other end of machines and being destroyed simultaneously by vultures and hippopotamuses and coming up out of the sewers of Paris again. “The Life and Adventures of Mr Plume”, which you can find in Michaux’s Collected Poems and I think we have in the library here a City Lights version of. Miserable Miracle – Miserable Miracle (Miracle Miserable) – it’s an account of his experiments with mescaline – Miserable Miracle – He grew basically out of an intelligent, 20th Century, French, SurrealistDadaist high-class literary mind and got to be one of the most humane of all French personages, like a kindly old man – very secretive for being, at the moment, I guess, the most celebrated French poet alive – lives quietly by himself and doesn’t see very many people and doesn’t go out to parties – and plays around with his ether and laughing gas and sees young poets.

Student: Mr Octavio Paz thinks he’s the best.

AG: Well, he’s probably the most open and the most interesting of living French poets.

Student: I just thought I’d get that on the record.

AG: Okay. Yeah

Henri Michaux’s Images du monde visionnaire (Images of a Visionary World) (1964)

Henri Michaux. Untitled. 1960

Henri Michaux – Untitled (ink drawing), 1960 – from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art

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