Allen Ginsberg on John Wieners – part one

Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, John WienersandDavid Meltzer in North Beach, San Francisco, 1958 – Photograph by Gui de Angulo (included in “Literary San Francisco – A Pictorial History from its Beginnings to the Present Day” (edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy J Peters), 1980

Today, from 1982 and Allen’s “Literary History of the Beat Generation” Naropa class, Allen on John Wieners (tho’ he begins with a somewhat lengthy background-setting, Frank O’Hara, the Cedar Bar, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Yugen.. Given the length of this piece, we’ve decided to (somewhat arbitrarily) split in into two sections. So here’s the first section and the concluding segment we’ll run tomorrow.

AG: How many know (Michael) McClure‘s work?

Student (1): I’ve been to a couple of his readings, and…

AG: Right. Raise your hands again [show of hands]. And how many know (John) Wieners work? [further show of hands]. So, I’m going to start with Wieners, because that’s less. Wieners, in a way, is one of the greatest poets around, or, certainly, the most Romantic, and doomed, poet around, compared to everybody else, and he’s not very well-known..

Student (2):  More than (Philip) Lamantia?

AG: Excuse me? – better? less known?

Student (2):  No, more Romantic and doomed?

AG:Well, Lamantia isn’t doomed at all. Lamantia’s healthy.

Student (2): Well, okay.

AG: You know, he had a couple of  habits of this and that..  but, basically, he..he’s an old man, you know, he’s a happy old man

Student (3): Going out with Jesus, and…

Student (4): He’s not that old!

Student (5): He’s well-known in the Cambridge, Massachusetts district

AG: Yes, Wieners is known in Cambridge because that’s his..

Student (2):   So how come he’s doomed?

AG: Well, you know his work at all?

Student (2) : I guess not. He was in Larry (Fagin)’s anthology. [poet Larry Fagin was also teaching at Naropa at this time] –  We went through it once.

AG: Well, I would like to take up Wieners in detail because I haven’t really worked with him very much, worked on his work or talked about his work much and I think he’s a great poet, but too little known. And I got a letter from an ex-student here who saw him at a reading in Boston..a couple of weeks ago who said that he was completely silent and withdrawn and looked out-of-it. So this kid went over to say, “hello, I know your work, and I’m a friend of Allen Ginsberg’s, and I’ve studied in Naropa and read a lot of your work and I like it”, and Wieners just sort of turned away and, you know, hid himself. He’s been sort of out-of-action for a number of years, although he’s still writing, but he was one of the greatest of the poets around San Francisco, and in New York and Boston, from the mid (19)50’s on, and he was specially favored by (Robert) Creeley and by Charles Olson, who thought he was among the most gifted of all the poets and so he was published in the Black Mountain Review, in the late (19)50’s, when Creeley was editor, as I seem to remember, and he was published in Evergreen Review, and he was invited by Olson and Creeley to be one of the main pillars, among the elders, at the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference, which was the.. have I mentioned all this? …well, in (19)63 and (19)65 – In (19)63, in Vancouver, under the auspicies of Warren Tallman (the professor who was here this summer (1982) for the Kerouac festival)  who was a professor at the University of British Columbia, while I  was in India, there was a general invitation sent out to about a dozen poets to come together, for the first time in about five years – (Robert) Creeley, (Charles) Olson, (Philip) Whalen came, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, myself, Margaret Avison from Canada, a bunch of Canadian poets (who are well-known among Canadian poets now, like George Bowering and Victor…?..who else?.. George Bowering and Victor Coleman, among the Canadians..let’s see, who else was around? – there was a sort of big gang, and it was sort of a model for Naropa, one of the models that the Naropa Poetics Department was organized around. Then, in 1965 at Berkeley, the person who is now known as Baker Roshi, the Zen master Baker Roshi, who was the head of the..of Berkeley’s Adult Extension, of the University’s Extension, that did special conferences, worked with Olson and others and organized another conference, this time (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti, Michael) McClure, (Gary) Snyder, myself, (Philip) Whalen (I think he was in town), (Robert) Duncan, (Charles) Olson, (John) Wieners..Anne Waldmancame, I think as a student, Ed Sanders (chosen by Olson because Sanders knew Greek and classics, and they had gotten high together on acid in..Cape Cod (was it?),Gloucester, near Gloucester

Student: Olson took acid?

AG: Yes. Yes, Olson, Yeah, sure.  Well I brought Olson to  (Timothy) Leary‘s house in Divinity Street in Cambridge, when Leary..  in 1960-1961, when Leary was making his experiments. Olson was one of the first poets that worked with Leary – and Olson’s first comment when he got high (on psilocybin, it was) was.. he looked over at Leary and said, “If you ever want to get away from the police you can stay over at my house.” As soon as he got high, that was the first thing he said, the first perceptive remark – “If you ever needed an escape you could come know, hide out with me”!

Student: “Just bring some stuff”!

AG: No, no, no, that’s the whole point. It was.. It wasn’t “just bring some stuff” at all, it was a totally generous recognition that Leary was dealing with some gnostic material that the culture would reject and that it was treading on dangerous water but it was virtuous activity and so we could take refuge with him. Because, I mean, with just one glimpse of that consciousness and he realized that the culture was going to persecute Leary, like a heretic, you know, it was real serious, it wasn’t, you know “so I can get high with more”, like some classical understanding that this was a heretical consciousness for the Western world (and) that the police were going to come after him.

So, anyway,  Wieners of Olson’s favorites, both from.. because they’re both from New England (Wieners is from Boston. He lives presently [1982] at 44 Joy Street)

Student: Joy?

AG: Joy Street.  So, I first ran into him at the Cedar Bar, when the Cedar Bar was a great classic Cedar Bar, off University (Place) and Eighth Street (in New York City), during the time that Frank O’Hara was hanging around there with (John) Ashbery, and many other poets – Kenneth Koch. (Jack) Kerouac was going in and out. LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) was hanging around there then, Peter Orlovsky and myself, the Living Theatre people (Julian Beck and Judith Malina)

Student: I’m a little confused by this. I thought the Cedar Bar was a 1940’s bar. Is that true? And it was already pretty set then

AG: Yes, (19)40’s. I don’t know if it went all the way back that far. San Remo, yeah. I don’t think I started going to the Cedar till much later, till I got back from Europe in (19)57, but, well, no, I must have, because I met O’Hara there before, (19)53-54

Student: Franz Kline..

AG: ..was in the Cedar Bar, so, yes, it must have gone back to the (19)40’s. Let’s see, either coming back from San Francisco, going on the way to Europe in (19)56, it must have been, (19)56-57 (see, I was in San Francisco from (19)54 to (19)57, so I didn’t hang around the Cedar Bar during all that period – and I did get in there and the San Remo (19)52-53 before I left New York. That’s when Abstract Expressionist painters in the New York School were there. But there was one night (there) in 1957. I had come back, with Peter (Orlovsky), from San Francisco, where we had all collected, that is (Gary) Snyder, (Philip) Whalen and the San Franciscan poets. Then Robert Creeley had showed up there. And Gregory Corso had come from Boston where he was. So that it was like a big gang. And you can read about that in Scratching The Beat Surface by Michael McClure, a new book that came out this year [1982]

So, Wieners had come down from Boston and showed up in the Cedar Bar, with Ed Marshall, another poet, whose work is in this Don Allen anthology, New American PoetryThey were both gay. They were both from a sort of gay hustler’s benzedrine maybe-a-little-bit-of-junk scene (or maybe they hadn’t had junk yet, but I think, probably, they already had), were into dope of all kinds up in Boston, but at the same time, they were real Bostonians, real New England lace-curtain Irish, and I think Wieners had met Olson at a poetry reading or a lecture and they’d immediatey had some kind of great recognition scene and were poetic lovers ever since, I mean..mental lovers. Wieners had just had a long love-affair with some young friend, called Dana, I think, who had put him down, or had left, or disappeared, and he was sort of on the rebound from that. I think it was – my history is not very good either, but I think it was earlier, an earlier time, it might have been between then and 1960. I just met him that one afternoon in New York. He had come down because Robert (Creeley).. I guess, everybody was getting in contact with.. all those poets were getting in contact and coalescing. I was coming back from San Francisco. He came down from Boston. So we were meeting in the ambience of Frank O’Hara. Frank O’Hara knew Wieners poetry and thought it was very good, and Frank was sort of the arbiter of taste, a social arbiter (like his approval of Gregory Corso around that same time really clicked Gregory Corso in to everybody else’s consciousness – I mean, (Jack) Kerouac and (William) Burroughs and I liked Gregory, and I’d read with him already in San Francisco, we’d known each other since 1950, but once O’Hara dug him, Ashbery checked him out and then Kenneth Koch checked him out and James Merrill checked him out and John Hollander checked him out, and I remember the critic Richard Howard (I don’t know if you know him he’s the sort of big critic now, translator of French, writes for very respectable journals as distinct from ourselves who write for  sort of underground or home-made or new, partly-new, journals, Richard Howard said  that, “well, Frank O’Hara’s taste’s impeccable and of course Gregory’s a great poet” – “if Frank says so”!

Frank O’Hara, John Button, James Schuyler and Joe LeSueur, New York, circa 1960 – via John Button papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Student: He wrote some poems about..

AG: Yeah, yeah. Well, everybody was writing poems about everybody else. The whole idea that O’Hara had, which everybody else shared, was expressed in a little manifesto called “Personism” – Surreal-ism, Dada-ism, Person-ism. Anything we do.. because we are poets, anything we do is poetry. So you can put down your laundry-list or what you had for breakfast and that’s poetry. As a serious.. It was a serious Whitmanic-Williams move and based on the same principles as Abstract Expressionist painting, or the new painting, the new school of painting in New York, which was that the actual gestures of the body are poetry, that ordinary mind, ordinary life is poetic, and that friendship is poetic, and that whatever happens.. so that maybe to that group of people, or anybody who.. anybody who appreciates the beauty of his own life, or the ultimacy of his own life, I would say..

Student:  Also the conversational tone. He mentions the telephone and calls someone up on the telephone and writes a poem – the conversational tone is the way I always think of it, not as an art impulse. You talk in the tone as if you were talking to someone over the phone or having a conversation in the street or, you know, just directly talking to someone. He writes poem-conversations..

AG: Yes, right,  Person-ism, yes. And he wrote a little manifesto about that, saying that, for (Amiri Baraka) LeRoi Jones’ magazine, Yugen in 1959 or (19)60. Yeah, phone-conversation is like a good typical example (of) what he would mean by our own lives are.

Student: I sometimes think of the whole New York School as this gigantic telephone (communication).

AG: Yeah

Student: Is that O’Hara or Wieners you’re talking about?

Frank O’Hara (1926-1966)

AG: Frank O’Hara

Student: And LeRoi Jones’ magazine?

AG: Yeah – The Personism manifesto has probably been reprinted [it has] in his Collected work, his Collected Poems, or something.  It’s in the Don Allen anthology, I bet [it is]. You know, in the back of the Don Allen anthology is a great set of essays on theory [Allen searches in the Don Allen for O’Hara’s “Personism” essay] – Actually, it sticks in my mind, so it must be an important statement. Well, I don’t know if this is it [it is] but it will say – “I am mainly preoccupied with the world as I experience it and at times when I would rather be dead the thought I could never write another poem has so far stopped me. I think this is an ignoble attitude. I would rather die for love but I haven’ t. I don’t think of fame and posterity (as Keats so grandly and genuinely did), nor do I care about clarifying experiences for anyone or bettering (other than accidentally) anyone’s state or social relation, nor am I for any particular technical development in American lanuage simply because I find it necessary. What is happening to me, allowing for lies and exaggerations, which I try to avoid, goes into my poems..” – “What is happening to me goes into my poems” – “I don’t think my experiences are clarified or made beautiful for myself or anyone else, they are just there in whatever form I can find them.What is clear to me in my work is probably obscure to others and vice-versa. My formal “stance” is found at the crossroads where what I know and can’t get meets what is left of that I know and can bear without hatred. I dislike a great deal of contemporary poetry – all of the past you read is usuall quite great – but it is a useful thorn to have in one’s side. It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail, or conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial. Or each on specific occasions, or both all the time.” – But what he says, “”I am mainly preoccupied with the world as I experience it” … “I don’t care for fame” – I guess, the key statement is “What is happening to me goes into my poems” – “What is happening to me goes into my poems” – “What is happening to me, allowing for lies and exaggerations which I try to avoid..””What is happening to me  goes into my poems” – That’s all, it’s real simple – “What is happening to me goes into my poems”. There’s no intention beyond that, no save-the-world, no attempt to make it beautiful (he says), so it’s really a very relaxed way of going about it. But sort of like Action Painting is sort of what’s happening, you know, what happens when the guy gets in front of his canvas, that’s all, it doesn’t doesn’t have to be a picture of anything, it’s what happens when the guy does..starts messing around. It might be different every time.

Student: What about the idea of poems as things. (“No ideas but in things”)  Is he also putting into his poem his thoughts as things that happened to him?

AG: Well, yeah, I don’t think he would make so many distinctions (and) theoretical comments as I would – as I do! – and the only reason I do it is I’m teaching poetry..trying to say something about it, probably in vain. I mean, when you read something like that you realize how stupid most talk about poetry is. Because he’s really just very straightforward about it, he’s just having a good time writing down what he wants to write. Sometimes it’s the essence of what happens and sometimes vice-versa, he says at the end. However, he dug.. I guess he was the coolest guy around, in that sense, the most relaxed, and the most friendly, in that sense “cool” (I don’t mean “cool” in the sense “without feeling” because he was full of feeling, and friendly feeling, sociable, and so, social arbiter)…had a big apartment..later..had a big apartment on..East Broadway, I guess it was, across from St Brigid’s Church…on 9th, between 8th and 9th, in the East Side [ Editorial note: Allen is getting his geography a little confused here – he means Broadway not East Broadway and Grace Church not St Brigid’s Church – the reference is to the O’Hara apartment at 791 Broadway, which he moved into following his move from 441 East 9th] – a loft where there were parties, occasionally and, for some reason or other, everybody..He was one of the real centers of attentiveness by everybody, partly because he worked for the <Museum of Modern Art, so he was in connection with all the artists, and had been for a long time.

Student: You’re talking of Frank O’Hara?
AG: Yes
Student: Oh, I thought you said John Wieners
AG: No, all this time Frank O’Hara.. Personism..
Student: I’m sorry. I left the room
AG: When you came back I was reading from his manifesto

LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka)

LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) was another center, a center of black and white culture mixing it up and at the same time editing an putting together all the different, disparate schools of poetry in one magazine called Yugen – and LeRoi Jones and Frank O’Hara both advised Don Allen in preparation of this book (The New American Poetry) – and I was another center putting together the San Francisco and New York and Beat connections and there were several others that Don Allen.., people that Don Allen mentions that were good advisers, people that knew everybody else. So, say, when Frank O’Hara and LeRoi Jones and I were all together at a party, and all our friends together, that really was a great phalanx of people, because LeRoi had.. there was Langston Hughes from the (19)20’s at his parties, and Ornette Coleman, and Don Cherry, and..well, all the modern musicians, the new wave of musicians of that 1960 time – (19)58-59-60. Then with Frank O”Hara, there would be all the painters and all his friends like Larry Rivers, all the poets that were known as “New York School” here, Schuyler, James Schuyler, and others, and then, with me, there’d be some representation from (William) Burroughs or (Jack) Kerouac, or the San Francisco poets, (Gary) Snyder, (Philip) Whalen, (Michael) McClure (whom I knew but Frank didn’t) and (Robert) Duncan.
And Jones had a…  Evergreen Review was carrying all these people at this point, was printing.. Le Roi Jones’ small, really, shitty-looking magazine Yugen (it was actually pretty, but shitty-looking from the point-of-view of the elegance of uptown culture like Kenyon Review or the Partisan Review). He had this marvelous little magazine, tiny thing, of about sixty, forty to sixty pages, where the first pieces of“Kaddish” were published, Peter Orlovsky’s first poems were published, “Heaven”, I think was published ((Jack) Kerouac’s “Heaven” poem), (Charles) Olson “Maximus Poems” were there, new (Robert) Creeley poems were there, I think Denise Levertov also, (Robert) Duncan. So it was a tremendous range, all the poets being published for the first time, or published together for the first time, and not published in the regular quarterlies or reviews. So it was like a wide-open moment.
Into that scene, say (1967) coming down from Boston with friendship with Olson and with Creeley, with connection to Frank O’Hara, showing up at the Cedar Bar with.. where I showed up that night with Peter, was John Wieners and Ed Marshall, and I had no idea who Wieners was or anything, except I’d looked at Ed Marshall’s long poem, written I think on a.. some kind of green or pink onion skin (paper), “Leave The Word Alone”, and it really astounded me because it was this whole thing about his family. It was completely personal and direct and tragic-sounding. And he said that Creeley was going to publish it in Black Mountain Review number seven (which he did), which was the last issue of Black Mountan Review, of which I was the West Coast editor, bringing in work by Kerouac, Huncke, Burroughs, Whalen and myself. So, then 1958-9, back from Europe, visiting San Francisco, John Wieners was living at the Hotel Wentley, where also Bob LaVigne, the painter friend of Peter’s and mine.. (who was like a painter who was involved with a lot of the poets in San Francisco) (lived). They were having tragic love affairs and living the life of an artist’s bohemian life and being companions and, you know, working together, painters and poets, in this little htel on Polk..Polk Gulch, as it is called, Polk and Sutter, San Francisco, above a Fosters Cafeteria, where originally I had met Peter and Lavigne, and where Neal Cassady hung around a lot. So this is now several years later, from (19)54 to (19)59, so there’s quite a bit of water under the bridge already. Wieners has come out and lived in San Francisco and become part of the whole San Francisco cultural..on the San Francisco cultural stage, and so he wrote.. he was already somehow tragic and lost (sort of like Hart Crane or someone) and I remember that he came over to McClure’s house (McClure living on Fillmore Street in the black neighborhood) and read aloud ” The Hotel Wentley Poems, which were still unpublished (which I taped! – so I still have a tape of it somewhere) and it blew my mind, (it) made me cry, because it was just so beautiful and so…helpless (some kind of vulnerable helpless.. but also so modern!  completely personal and completely modern with some of the underground Romantic scene of San Francisco there…junkie scene, making out with blacks, with black queens in Chinatown sort of, like something that had never been done really, really down…  I guess it was the hip element that..that is grass and negros and Chinatown and whatever.. junk and.. that interested me, because it had all that apparatus of.. or all that stage scenery, but the heart involved was so beautiful and so heart-broken – heartbroken. So, here’s a copy of The Hotel Wentley Poems…

AG: (to Student) – Where did you get it?

Student: (The) library

AG: Oh

Student: I was really surprised that it wasn’t on reserve

AG: Well, it’s supposed to be. This is second edition. First edition, December (19)58. I guess, maybe he read it from this book, put together by Auerhahn Press that time, with drawings by Robert Lavigne, a drawing by Lavigne of John Wieners as he looked at that moment, when he was writing those poems. So, Wieners was writing these poems in the Hotel Wentley and Robert LaVigne was drawing him, and so one of the poems is called
“A poem for painters” written while this drawing was being made.
So, the first edition, revived, goes back to the original text – “A poem for record players” “The scene changes/  Five hours later and/ I come into a room/ where a clock ticks./ I find a pillow to/ muffle the sounds I make/I am engaged in taking away/ from God his sound./The pigeons somewhere/ above me, the cough a/ man makes down the hall,/ the flap of wings/ below me, the squeak/ of sparrows in the alley./ The scratches I itch/ on my scalp, a landing/ of birds under the bay/ window out my window..”
– er, this is the original script – in other words, there’s some repetitions and faults, and so he decided to go back for his second edition to the original manuscripts and have it absolutely exact.. so does that correspond..? it’s not in the Don Allen..(anthology)? The Don Allen will have probably the early edition.

Student: What’s it called again?

AG: Well this is.. its part of “The Hotel Wentley Poems” but (we’re) not there yet. There’s a number of them – See I have one.. what page are you?

Student: (refering to the Don Allen pagination): 365

AG: (leafs through book) – Yeah we’ll get to that. Ok – “..the landing/ of birds under the bay/ window out my window/ All dull details/ I can only describe to you,/ but which are here and/ I hear and shall never/ give up again, shall carry/ with me over the streets/ of this seacoast city,/ forever; oh clack your/ metal wings, god, you are/ mine now in the morning/ I have you by the ears/ in the exhaust pipes of/ a thousand cars gunning/ their motors turning over/ all over town” – Sort of like, he must have been high on amphetamine or something. It’s like dawn and some kind of apocalyptic event :”..clack your/ metal wings, god you are/ mine now in the morning/ I have you by the ears/ in the exhaust pipes of/ a thousand cars gunning/ their motors turning over/ all over town” –  There’s some slight element of, like, gangster paranoia somewhere in the middle of that.

“A Poem For Vipers” – “I sit in Lees. At 11.40 PM with/Jimmy the pusher..”  – and it’s the first time I ever saw anybody use “Jimmy the pusher” in a poem, I mean like, real, a real talk somehow – “At 11.. ” “I sit in Lees” – that’s a Chinese restaurant, I think – ” At 11.40 PM with/Jimmy the pusher. He teaches me/ Ju Ju, Hot on the table before us/shrimp foo yong, rice and mushroom/chow yuke.” – “chow yuke” is a standard San Francisco.. chopped vegetables and meat – “Up the street under the wheels/of a strange car is his stash – The ritual./We make it. And have made it/For months now together after midnight./Soon I know the  fuzz will/interrupt, will arrest Jimmy and/I shall be put on probation./The poem does not lie to us. We lie under/ its law, alive in the glamour of this hour/able to enter into the sacred places/of his dark people, who carry secrets/glassed in their eyes and hide words/ under the coats of their tongue  – “under the coats of their tongue” is strange –

John Wieners in Boston, MA, 1997 – Photograph c. Jim Dunn

And then,”A poem for painters”-“Our age bereft of nobility/How can our faces show it?/ I look for love./ My lips stand out/dry and cracked with want/ of it.? Oh it is well./ Again we go driven by forces/we have no control over. Only/ in the poem/comes an image  – that we rule/the line by the pen/ in the painter’s hand one foot/ away from me..” – that’s that drawing he was making – “Drawing the face/ and its torture./ That is why no one tackles it/ Held as they are in the hands/ of forces/they cannot understand/That despair/ is on my face/and shall show/ in the fine lines of any man/ I held love once in the palm of my hand./ See the lines there.” – I like that line “I held love once in the palm of my hand/ See the lines there” –  “How we played /its game, are playing now..”…”Showing light on the surface/ of our skin, knowing/ that so much flows through/ the veins underneath./The cheeks puffed with it/Our pockets full” –  “The cheeks puffed with it/ Our pockets full” – not quite sure what that means, but I always liked it – “Pushed on by the incompletion/ of what goes before me/I hesitate before this paper/scratching for the right words/Paul Klee scratched for seven years/on smoked glass to develop/his line, Lavigne says: Look/ at his face! he who has spent/all night drawing mine./ The sun/also rises on the rooftops/beginning with violet/I begin in blue knowing why we are cool..” –  (“I begin in blue knowing why we are cool”, that’s the original, the revised version – “I begin in blue knowing what’s cool”) –

My middle name is Joseph..” – now this is the Boston lace-curtained Irish visionary -“My middle name is Joseph and I/walk behind an ass on the way to/what Bethlehem, where a new babe is born/Not the second hand of Yeats but/first prints on a cloudy windowpane/ America you boil over..” – So, you know “the second hand of Yeats”? refering to the poem “The Second Coming”. Everybody know that? Anybody not know Yeats‘ poem, “The Second Coming”? Raise your hand if you don’t –

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ the falcon cannot hear the falconer/Things fall apart/The centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everyehere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned,/The best lack all conviction, while the worst,/ Are full of passionate intensity.” –  Well, “the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity”, like the moral majority – Surely some revelation is at hand/ – Surely the Second Coming is at hand..” [Allen continues reading Yeats’ poem] – “That twenty centuries of stony sleep/Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle” – “rocking cradle” (Christ) – “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?.

So that’s Yeats’ most famous poem, prophesying.. the neutron bomb or somethin’ – So, “Not the second hand of Yeats/ but first prints..” – P-R-I-N-T-S  or P-R-I-N-C-E, take your choice (but it’s spelt P-R-I-N-T-S) -“first prints on a cloudy windowpane”…”America you boil over”.. “Oh  stop/ up the drains/ We are run over..”.. “Let  us stay with what we know./That love is my strength, that/ I am overpowered by it”….[Allen continues, reading the entire poem] –  “At last. I come to the last defense/ My poems contain no/wilde beestes, no/lady of the lake, music/ of the spheres, or organ chants./ Only the score of a man’s/ struggle to stay with/what is his own, what/lies within him to do./ Without which is nothing./And I come to this/knowing the waste/leaving the rest up to love/and its twisted faces,/my hands claw out at/only to draw back from the/blood already running there.”
This (is) the end of the version in Don Allen, and (in the revised version) there’s two more lines – Oh come back, whatever heart. you have left, It is my life/ you save. the poem is done.” So that’s June 18 (19)58.

Student: What is that ending?

AG: In the Don Allen anthology?

Student  “..hands claw out at/only to draw back from the/blood already running there.”

AG: Oh – well let’s see – Well, “Without which is nothing… And I come to this, knowing the waste, leaving/ the rest up to love..”  – However, regardless of that, he had.. he was making out with hustlers and guys that were rejecting him, people who were already wounded, people that were so messed up, like, junkies, among others, so that he’s “leaving the rest up to love” but then he’s also.. his experience of love has been “twisted faces” and his hand clawing out for love – “only to draw back from the/ blood already running there”. So that- sort of like making out with already-wounded.. wounding and making out with already-wounded lovers, in a sort of heavy gay scene which is described actually in the next poem.  Well, not.. let’s see now – next is ” A poem for early risers” – yeah..well, it’s another one that’s not in the Don Allen anthology, I think, let’s see. .

[to be continued… tomorrow. Audio for the above is available here, starting at the beginning and ending approximately forty-one minutes in]

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