Investigative Poetics – 1 (Ed Sanders)

A new Naropa transcript “Investigative Poetics” – Allen Ginsberg sits in for Ed Sanders‘ June 9, 1977 Naropa class. He begins by speaking briefly on Sanders, giving a little of their (shared) background, recalling the ‘Sixties, and Ed’s legendary Peace Eye bookstore.

AG: I’m curious, though, how come you’re here? or, what’s the.. what’s your particular interest in this class? Are people here because they know of Ed Sanders work? or.. how many here know his work already? How many know it from (knowing) him as a poet? And how many know of him from The Fugs? So, in other words, most are pretty familiar with him. Is there anybody here who has not heard of any of his work, but is just interested in the concept, “Investigative Poetics” (which is, in itself, interesting). Well, you came to the right place.
The notion of “Investigative Poetics” is something I think that Ed invented out of the work of other people before him and out of his own wit and experience in the political movements of the late (19)50’s and early (19)60’s. He was one of the first pacifist activist anti-war performers. He came from the Catholic Worker Movement, originally, and worked with Dorothy Day, back in the late (19)50’s. I think he was originally from Kansas City and got turned on by “Howl”, I think, actually, and a lot of Beat literature, and then decided to come to New York and see the big Bohemian Village, and then, immediately got involved, because he was sort of scholarly to begin with, got involved with classical studies, so that he can read Egyptian hieroglyphs as well as Greek and Latin. So he’s a scholar. And an activist – he got involved with swimming out and climbing on top of the first Polaris submarines in New London harbor, back in 1960. So he’s actually been on the spot – been awake and on the spot – and naked in the ocean of actuality for some time.

When I was in India in (19)62, I had never heard of him or anything, I think, but I got rumors of, and then a letter from him, about his magazine, which was called Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts, which was, at that time, such a funny notion – and bold. Because nobody had got that far in a title – to be so overtly iconoclastic and comical, and at the same time very elegantly. That is, “Fuck You” – (slash-bar) – like a(Charles) Olson poem or something – and then “A Magazine of the Arts” (not “Fuck You – A Magazine” – I keep seeing it, actually, vulgarly described as “Ed Sanders’ magazine “Fuck You“”, but  it’s not that. It’s “Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts“).

Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts, Number 1 (Feb/April 1962)

So everybody got turned on by that. Everybody in the San Francisco and the Black Mountain and the New York School, who were wondering what was the next step, after the big poetry renaissance that was solidified by Don Allen’s anthology of 1960 (that was recommended to you today for the “Projective Verse” text) . And I think Ed (Sanders) provided the next big impetus from the sort of academic, classical accomplishment of literary revolution to, like,another push into the (19)60’s, with that title of total frankness and humor. So it was a humor, or “mind-zap” on.. not only on poets, but on the readership, and for readers, and on professors, because his idea was to have “Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts” (legitimate), with contributions by (Charles) Olson and Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov and myself and Peter Orlovsky and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), so that it would be absolutely necessary for all bibliophiles and all university libraries to order “Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts” lest they miss out on this item (which is now worth, like, two hundred dollars a copy for the first issue [this is 1977].  And he knew it, and they knew it. So he was taking advantage of the cultural situation, with a great deal of confidence in the fact that it was a wave of the future, a wave of the present, that was cresting – a wave of frankness, humor, mental revolution (or consciousness revolution), a revolution of words, certainly.

His concept was “word-zap”. That is, a sort of psychedelic, or mind-manifesting notion thatthe word could zap your mind, or zap your brain, and actually make brain changes, or neurological changes, or changes of perception (ultimately changes of behavior, thus changes of history). Make changes in history. Actually, his word was “zap” – that word, “zap” (which is used a lot in gossip columns, or even out of the White House now!) – that verb. The use of that verb was Sanders’ contribution in his early LEMAR newsletters, which he edited, or (in) Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts.

He had a whole bunch of little mimeographed quasi-political quasi-literary activist publications which emanated from a backyard back-house on Avenue A, between 12th Street and 13th Street on the Lower East Side (which (location), oddly enough, I can see at present from my kitchen window, in the apartment where I now live in New York). I think he moved there in (19)62, or (19)63, or something, and set up the Peace Eye bookshopon 10th Street between Avenue B and Avenue C (which was about half a block from where I was living, so that we were neighbors). That was the beginning of the amphetamine crisis, so there were a lot of amphetamine heads hanging around his bookshop because it had an Egyptian Horus eye on the window, and the amphetamine heads of that era were naturally attracted to anything that looked a little bit mystical, particularly on an old butcher shop which had Hebrew kosher lettering on it, re-named “Peace Eye” with an Egyptian sign.

One thing that was weird about it was the place kept.. you couldn’t tell whether it was speed-freaks or undercover police, (but) the place kept getting ransacked. I think once  burnt out, and, a few times, ransacked, busted into. And there were all sorts of goons occasionally hanging out, posing as Hells Angels, or Peace Eye nudnicks, or enforcers (peace enforcers), or wandering itinerant minstrel guerrillas, or whatever.. But a mixture of weird riff-raff and juvenile delinquents, as well as Tuli Kupferberg, or myself, or Peter Orlovsky, or Frank O’Hara, or LeRoi Jones, coming by, because he had a good bookstore, carrying all the City Lights books and the Totem/Corinth books and all the back copies of Yugen magazine, all the little iconography of the late (19)50’s, of poetic and prose revolution, plus a lot of Marxist analysis of the Rockefeller interests, (and) whatever material that was around of left-wing newspapers., or Masses and Mainstream, or.. publications of what later became NACLA – N-A-C-L-A. Does anybody know that? The National..what’s the

Student: North American Council on Latin America

AG: Yeah, I think a Harvard-based research group, or a Cambridge-based research group, run by a man named Michael Klare (and others, I think, working on it), advanced intellectual Marxists, who did real research into, say, Honeywell and its corporate structure and its napalm products, or napalm-like products, or Dow Chemical, or into the Rockefeller empire in Latin America.
So the (Peace Eye bookstore) had little NACLA books, or pre-NACLA books, and there’s a whole variety of literature which never got carried very clearly or extensively in the University bookshops around Columbia or NYU (which you can find now [1977] – in the little red Maoist bookshops all over Berkeley or Chicago or New York. I don’t know if there’s one around here).

Student: I don’t know

AG: Is there any place where you can get that kind of political analysis literature around here? In the big cities you can (find it). And it’s useful, actually. I used to go around, whenever I’d give a poetry-reading, carrying with me..I think it was NACLA, or some similar organization, had put out a book on the military contracts that universities had. So, every time I’d be in Illinois State, or Norman, Oklahoma, or some little university town, I could always look up in the book and find out, “well, this (university) has a contract to research jelly petroleum to spread on ocean waves so that the other swimming torpedo couldn’t swim and would be burned”, or, the Bechtel Institute (in Cleveland, I guess?), had a contract in their (Ohio’s) Mathematics Department to determine the arc or curve that a projectile might take if you were firing it from a hundred miles at sea onto a jungle, or if you were weighing it down with thousands of little pellets, so it would burst out and defoliate an area the size of a football field. What kind of.. Would it be better for it to come straight down, or come at a thirty-degree angle, or something?

In other words, there was a lot of technical information that was researched by radical scholars who weren’t part of the establishment academic structure (in the sense that they could not get government or private grants to research such matters, and so had to collect money from rich hippie radical millionaires to finance those projects). And so there was a  vast underground of sort of semi-underground, but high-class, scholarly literature. So Ed Sanders carried all that in the Peace Eye bookstore.

But we noticed that the place kept getting busted. The police kept coming in, looking for grass, around (19)64 or (19)65, chasing people, (even) trying to plant heroin! There always was some problem. We got a little paranoid, thinking, “well, it’s just the local narcs [narcotic officers], or.. it couldn’t (surely) be a big plot against us? – or.. it couldn’t possibly be directed from Washington? – or.. how were.. how could we prove it anyway, that we were being persecuted, or that he was being persecuted. And once, there was a break-in into his.. he had that little apartment in the rear, through an alley-way (you had to go up through an alley on Avenue A, into the backyard, and then into a little, old, stone, brick, three-story, cold-water apartment, where he had a three-room flat, where he kept copies of Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts – and I think  his set of poems called “Peace Eye”, that City Lights published – and the LEMAR Newsletter, which he edited – “Legalize Marijuana” (Actually he started that too, with Michael Aldrich from Buffalo, in the early (19)60’s – they started LEMAR, which was research into the law and into the history and sociology of marijuana repression, and they circulated that information. little literary essays by (William) Burroughs (and) myself, or Charles Olson, on the subject, all, in a sense, “investigative poetics”) – making use of all the new rhythm ‘n blues, rock ‘n roll, Beatnik, zap, language , with the slogan – “Total Assault on (the) Culture” – I guess you’ve heard  that?

The reason I’m talking about all this is I’m setting up the stage. There was a break-in into his house, where he kept all his stuff, and all his magazines and files and mimeograph stuff.

[to be continued]  
[Audio for the above can be listened to here, starting at the beginning and continuing for approximately the first fourteen-and-three-quarter minutes]

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