AG: Did you have your… Yes?
Student: Yeah, I would like to know, who, besides yourselves, is a contemporary  influence in your writing?
AG: On me? Okay, well, very strongly, Chogyam Trungpa (Rinpoche) at the moment, pushing me towards improvisation, blues, or towards improvisation – like making a poem right on the spot, without relying on a pen, on a piece of paper.
Student; You already have so much, probably, so much clearly-studied discipline, you know, in the back of your mind, that that’s…
AG: Yeah, but I was afraid to go out in the water and swim. In fact, I didn’t actually compose onstage an original poem, without accompaniment from music but just straight compose a poem, until this year, for the first time, at the age of fifty, actually got up and had the chutzpah to start making up..
Student: What did you make up?
AG: I’ll read you the poem, because it’s interesting..
Student: What about (the one) in Santa Cruz?
AG: I did one with music, (but that was with music, so I always had a crutch, you know. I could sing the blues, or try and rhyme it, or there was always some kind of formulaic device to sustain it). But I never tried actually. I never had the courage to just get up and do a poem without a preparation, until a reading which I gave with LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in New York City, on July 13th, no, no, May 6th. (And someone later sent me a tape of it, so I transcribed it). The subject… We were… It was a benefit for the Eighth Street Bookstore in New York, which had burned down. And just before I got on the platform, Eli Wilentz told me.. well, they’d heard that there was a couple of people hanging around who had lit a match to some trash in front of the bookstore. So the poem I improvised at the beginning of my reading was..
“Spring Night, four a.m, garbage works by the glass windows, two guys light a match, smoke rolls over Eighth Street where spade queens walk lipstick looking for a taxi, pull out their handkerchiefs, coughing against the black dust rising from out of Imamu Baraka’s latest volume of poems. The Whole Earth Catalog up in flames, sizzling. Water pumps, methods for baking home-made yoghurt, crackling. Red fire spreading over San Francisco’s communal catalog. Herbert Marcuse exploding in flames, Howl fiery volume after volume over the precipice. Fire spreads through the Skira catalogs, Rembrandt‘s canvases curled around, holes appear in priceless Van Gogh. Golden statuary smoke-covered, smudged Venus de Milo. Up on the front shelves, in the embers, Andy Warhol’s Philosophy from A to B, Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical life, in ashes, William Carlos Williams’ poetry follows him to a white dusty grave. Shakespeare himself leaves not a rack behind.”
Well, all I did …like, in fact, it was an easy out, because I figured, well, it’s a situation, then all I’ve got to do, ’cause I know that bookstore well, is just run in my mind, while I’m up there standing, through all the titles or sections, and just sort of pick out a book or two, and then that.. any book.. like Rembrandt.. browning, canvases curled in flame.. any book will suggest itself.. like Marcuse exploding in fire, Howl, fiery ..any book that will come to mind will, automatically, suggest its own karmic fate in a fire. And so, actually, you can make a catalog, or list, poem, on the spot, standing up. So I got up and did that. And that was the first time I’d ever done that without music.
Student: (It) sounds like it was a really sort of freeing thing for you, and I’m trying to figure out..
Student: … what it was freeing you from?
AG: Well, the anxiety that I had to prepare a classroom lecture. The anxiety of thinking that I had to have something there on paper to rely on, that the mind wasn’t sufficient.
Student: Even though that’s what gets you (to) your paper in the first place.
AG: Yeah, but at least you’ve got time to halt and make mistakes, and cross things out, and consider it for several weeks, whereas if you… See, when you get up, you have to accept the first thing that comes to your tongue (otherwise you get tongue-tied, you get self-conscious). So you have to accept the first thing that comes to your tongue, and, naturally, the horror that everybody has (is) that it’s going to be their snot, their piss, their sweat, their self, their ugliness, their horror, their own personal..whatever. Self-conscious. So that the first improvised poem is always about snot, or something, or “green armpit poetry” (or if it’s not about snot, it’s about clouds and flowers, just as bad!). If it’s not something dense, it’ll be something so abstract and pink that it doesn’t make any difference anyway! So to get a human grist, (it) requires a certain un-self-conscious balance-of-mind, so that you’re not going to get into a circular feed-back nervousness and present just the worst anxiety-trips possible, which is what most people do at first – or the most idealistic, non-anxiety-trip possible – just to get a balance of anxiety, so it’s actual dense flesh…
So the whole point is you’ve got to accept the first thing that comes to your mind, without forcing it. Otherwise you stop, and then you think, “Well, will this thought be better, or that thought be better?”, or “Should I talk about the electric lights?, or, no (wait a minute) they don’t have electric lights” – so you never get the line out! You get everybody bugged, saying, “Get the hook and take him off the stage!”
Student: I understand that, but I think that there’s a difference between someone who’s had a lot of discipline and has all of the things that, you know, that somewhere along the line you’ve really developed..
AG: [suddenly, to student] Ronny?, how old are you, Ronny?
Student [Ronny]: Twenty-one
AG: Twenty-one. No discipline at all. How much discipline can he have? Make up a poem!
Student: Make up poem?
AG: Get up and make up a poem
Student: “The sweating dehydrated forest in this room. Let’s get out of here. I want to go to the trees”
AG: Right. He’s only twenty-one, so how much experience could he have?
Student: I still think there’s a difference, but..
AG: Well, no, actually..
Student: .. I understand what you’re saying.
AG: ..I think it’s a question of the attitude. See, he accepts his mind. He accepted his mind (just like a good meditator, in a sense). He accepted his mind. “Let’s go out, let’s go to the trees” – you know. Well, he said it, before he thought whether it was good or bad. Or he shrewdly knew it was alright, but he said it. But that’s part of the general intelligence, everybody’s basic Buddha-mind, it’s general intelligence, that he shrewdly saw in advance what he was saying and knew it was okay, because it came from him. What else could it be but ok because it came right out of him..? And it was real solid. “Let’s go to the trees”, which is, like, a funny line in poetry,”Let’s go to the trees” – And it was perfect, the “sweating lights”, you know, the sweating… so he did it, and it didn’t require being fifty years old and (being) an old whore-y poet. It just required an alertness and attentiveness to his own mind and a sort of.. that kind of funny, jive-y body-rightness of acceptance, of self-acceptance.
Student: I guess what I’m trying to do is balance the discipline from some of the poets that you’ve been reading (here), with the real spontaneous stuff that’s also been going on around here. And sometimes it’s hard..
AG: Well, yeah. I think that, as the West gets more and more accustomed to bardic utterance, or spontaneous utterance, there’ll be less anxiety about it, and there will be forms to fill out. It becomes like writing a sonnet..
Student: Just a different form.
AG: …after all. You just get up and do that – but involving the body a little more, perhaps. So it’s interesting that here (at Naropa) we have an academy that specializes in that, despite the heavy anchor-drag of my reading hours of Wordsworth on end! –
(Audio for the above can be found here, starting approximately twenty-one minutes in and concluding approximately thirty-four minutes in)