Spontaneous Poetics – (Whalen & Ginsberg on Literary Gossip)

Henri Rousseau – The Sleeping Gypsy – oil on canvas, 129.5 cm × 200.7 cm (51.0 in × 79.0 in) 1897 in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art

Student: I’d like to ask you and Philip Whalen what languages that you read poetry in besides English and in what ways you find it useful?

AG: I read Spanish – (Federico Garcia) Lorca and (Pablo) Neruda, and Saint John of the Cross, and various little odd things in Spanish – and I was influenced a good deal by Lorca’s “Ode to Walt Whitman” – the rhythm and sort of the general attack of it – viejo hermosa Walt Whitman,/he dejado de ver tu barba llena de mariposas,/ni tus hombros de lana gastados pro la luna..” – “Not for one single moment, beautiful  old Walt Whitman, have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies/your corduroy shoulder, worn by the moon./Your voice like a pillar of ashes,/ancient and beautiful as the mist” – So I got a little Spanish and a lot of French (which I learnt by reading the Louise Varese (translated) New Directions bilingual version of Rimbaud’s Season in Hell, while taking French in school. I would recommend that as a great way of getting into French!) – Rimbaud got built into my ear, and then from Rimbaud I went to a little (I had a little) (Charles) Baudelaire that I read in French, and a lot of (Guillaume) Apollinaire that I picked up in French (particularly the poem “Zone”, which, since very few of you have read any Apollinaire, you might check out – “Zone” (translated by Roger Shattuck in the New Directions Collected (Selected) Apollinaire.

Philip Whalen: Roger Shattuck did a very interesting book called The Banquet Years


AG: Yeah

Philip Whalen: ..which nails down the funny period of total fermentation and hoopla that started in with the people like the Douanier Rousseau, and going through Alfred Jarry, and.. I forgot who all else (is) in it.

Student: (Eric) Satie

Philip Whalen: Satie

AG: Yes

Philip Whalen: All sorts of funny people.

AG: There was a place called the Bateau-Lavoir (where) Picasso lived and where (he) was visited by Marie Laurencin who was a painter  – and I guess Apollinaire came through there. Their favorite character was Douanier Rousseau, the “primitive” painter  (you know? the painter of “The Sleeping Gypsy“?) – And so one day they all got together, and all these great literate intelligent Parisian 20th century innovators gave a banquet to Rousseau, naive Rousseau, toasted him, put him at the head of the table, and made him play his violin for them. So it was called “The Banquet Years” after that, I guess.

Philip Whalen: No, no

AG: I think it was from there, wasn’t it?

Philip Whalen: No, no there was some..

AG: No?

Philip Whalen: There was some other big political and literary ones.. The greatest account, and supposedly the most infamous account, of that particular banquet is the one that Gertrude Stein wrote up in The Autobiography of Alice B Tolkas, that made everybody mad, everybody in Paris who had anything to do with that place and time were enraged by her account of that particular occasion, and how drunk Marie Laurencin was, and what all else happened, who else got out of hand, and how Frédé at Lapin Agile brought his trained, but un-house-broken, donkey to the party, and so on.. it’s terrible mess..

AG: That’s a good book of gossip.

Philip Whalen: Yeah?

AG: What other good books of gossip are there?

Philip Whalen: Well, The Autobiography of Alice B Tolkas is a marvelous book of gossip about..

Student: (And Everybody’s Autobiography)

Philip Whalen: Yeah. That’s sort of a sequel to it. But it’s not quite as lively.

AG: The best (gossip) I ever read was Being Geniuses Together by Robert MacAlmon

Student: Yeah

AG: …which has been reprinted, re-edited, and added to, by Kay Boyle was it?

Philip Whalen: I think so.

AG: Being Geniuses Together is actually terrific – because that’s the real inside dope on who was screwing who, who ran off with what lesbian’s wife. MacAlmon was rich at the time, and was a friend of Hart Crane and a friend of Eliot and Pound and Hemingway (I think he figures in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Risesas one of the characters), so he really knew everybody and was very intelligent.. and wrote this thick, thick, thick brilliant detailed account…

Philip Whalen: He’s the guy that married Bryher

AG: Yeah he married Hilda Doolittle, H.D., the Imagist..

Philip Whalen: No, no, no , no. He married Hilda’s friend Bryher!

AG: No, I (was about to say) he married Hilda Doolittle’s girlfriend..

Philip Whalen: Yeah, yeah.

AG: …who loaned him a lot of money..

Philip Whalen: Hilda was married to that other fellow…Richard Aldington.

AG: That was one of the most influential (books) that I ever read – Being Geniuses Together. That’s what determined my particular attitude toward companionship in the Beat Generation.

Student: Who wrote that book?

AG: Robert MacAlmon [sic] – M-A-C-Capital A-L-M-O-N. Capital M-A-C, Capital A-L-M-O-N. It showed all the mistakes they made and all the sort of funny times they had.

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