Expansive Poetics – 2 (An Anthology of Twentieth-Century International Heroic Poetry)

Allen Ginsberg, continuing from yesterday

AG:The procedure for this class that I thought would be best would be (that) within a week the entire anthology (The Naropa Anthology of Twentieth-Century International Heroic Poetry) and its indexes will be xeroxed. It’ll be handy (and) workable, in that the front will have an index (and table of) contents, according to country, and then (arranged) within each language and country chronologically. The back will have this purely chronological list with a bibliography saying exactly what books we got the poems xeroxed out of, and where you can find the poems, and the poems that go next to it, and the poems that come before and after it chronologically, so that you can have a way of locating where we got our material and so you can go check it out for yourself. It’ll be up to you to go read more of all the poets that you want to deal with, the ones that you like.

The class assignment will be to take, each term, one poet, and read all (the way) through him (or her), from beginning to end. Take, absorb, his complete works, someone who turns you on totally, read all the way through him, someone you haven’t read before. Write a paper on it, pointing out his beauties (what you like about it), and his particular tricks (as you can figure them out), and his life development and philosophy, and (the) tricks..what he learned and how he did it, and then write a poem in his style, write a heroic poem, of three or four pages, in his style. On other words, the idea is to get you totally.. not totally, but get you acquainted superficially, give you a taste of this whole Western world of literature (because, mostly this is Western poetry, I haven’t been able yo do the research on modern twentieth-century Japanese, Chinese, African, Indonesian (and) Balinese (poetries), there must be fantastic resources and richness there too. So that will maybe get added in, as we get more people who know more about it).

But the idea is, for you to get a survey of all this so that it gets enough in your bones so that you can do it too, that you can see how it’s done (because, oddly, it turns out to be a real simple mind and (a) very simple trick that they all do. They just exaggerate everything, take everything and exaggerate it in a humorous way and combine words in a weird way, just as the mind pops up with them, so they arrive at a kind of original personal humanity, very enthusiastic, upbeat and expansive).

And it’s also amazing how parallel or similar the method is. What Anne Waldman calls “list poems”, (or what Walt Whitman called “catalog poems” – poems which are simply lists or catalogs of anything that comes up in your mind on any specific subject you start writing about. Like Anne Waldman’s “Fast Talking Woman” [sic – “Fast Speaking Woman”]  or Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” – “the varied carols I hear”, and then he just lists all the different carolers – or “Howl” –  “who..” did this, “who..” did that, who did this, who did that. So it’s a simple trick, actually. The amazing thing is to do it without repeating the first word in each line. If you can do it by jumping off and then making a logical zig-zag that the reader can follow all the way through to some astonishing end without having to repeat the same word over and over, like “who..”.
The only problem is that the anthology might (wind up) be(ing) somewhat expensive for those of you who are eating crusts of bread and living in the gutter.

AG: It may wind up about fifteen bucks to do a xerox. The form of the xerox will be loose. I think we’ll get it with three punch-holes so that you can put it in loose-leaf books, because the anthology is not finished, and we’ll be adding on to it, and putting things in. So the construction of it is still going to stay loose, I don’t want to close it up. Another thing that we should try and do is, if you know of any material from your own specialized study, or your own area, that fits in to this general category, once you get a little familiar (with ir), try and get xeroxes of that, and bring it in and we’ll look it over and see if it fits (particularly in languages that are not much covered). Or if you know any rare, brilliant, long poems..

The poems I tried to work with were rare, brilliant, poems of about three to five pages length. The length of a piece of (T.S. Eliot’s) “The Waste Land”, the length of William Carlos Williams’ “(The) Clouds”, the length of (Federico Garcia) Lorca’s “Ode to Walt Whitman”, the length of Kenneth Koch’s “Fresh Air”, the length of “Howl”, maybe – five to eleven pages. In a few cases, where I couldn’t figure a poem, or I didn’t want a poem that was that long, there’s certain poets, like Phillippe Soupault (or) Blaise Cendrars, who have written a series of short, brilliant, weird, little, imaginative, dream-like poems, that all fit together as one sequence, or one style, one block. So I put in a little block of their poems. So there are some short poems in it. In a few cases, like Emily Dickinson, there was something so weird about her mind and her phrasing (that) I wanted one sample. So I put in just two little brief poems of hers, just to remind you, among the precursors. Thomas Hardy, the same, just one poem. In other words, a few people I just threw in for good measure.

So what it boils down to is not necessarily an objective anthology of world poetry. It’s a personal anthology, aimed at a singular direction, which is imaginative explosion and imaginative expansion (to respond to the request of the student who said that what I was teaching all along was getting to be too grounded, too dry, too sane, too sensible).

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately fourteen-and-three quarter minutes in and running to approximately twenty-one-and-a-half minutes in – It may also be accessed via the Internet Archive here and here via Open Culture]

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