Allen in the ‘Sixties – Portland State College Readings

Allen Ginsberg, April 23, 1969, at Portland State College – Photograph from Viking (PSU Yearbook, 1968-69), courtesy Portland State University Library’s Special Collection

The big news last week, the discovery, initially, by Portland State University archivist, Christine Paschild, (with additional assistance by PSU library technician Carolee Harrison) of a remarkable collection of reel-to-reel audio tapes (275 hours, now transfered to digital format and made publicly available) – the historic and extraordinary Oregon Public Speakers Collection, featuring the voices of such singular cultural (and counter-cultural) figures as Robert F Kennedy, Carl Sagan, Linus Pauling, Stokely Carmichael, Toni Morrison, and… Allen Ginsberg.

Allen’s contribution – two visits to the Oregon campus, at the heart of debate, and profound concern, over the growing escalation of the Vietnam War. The first, a reading (recorded on May 22, 1967), introduced by Gary Koeppel (Allen, in the Q & A session that follows,  provocatively notes that then-Presidential-contender, Kennedy, might, actually, benefit, perhaps, from the consciousness-expanding experience of taking LSD!), the second, participation, (along with poets John Anderson, Robert Sund, and Robert Bly), in an SDS reading, some two years later, in resistance to the war. (Allen, at the request of Bly reads “This Form of Life Needs Sex”, but otherwise takes care not to repeat any poems he might have read on the campus on the previous occasion).

The 1967 poetry reading is available here
The 1969 SDS anti-war reading is available here

And more details:
The May 1967 reading begins with an approximately five-minute introduction by Koeppel, “comment(ing), very briefly, on two facets of his (Ginsberg’s) poetry” – “the first, is that (which) is referred to in the cheap and vulgar press as its “obscene” qualities, the second, is the term which critics have used to recognize the major mode of his poetry, it’s confessional strain” – “and I believe these are not unrelated questions.”
Allen begins (approximately five minutes in) – (“let me know if you can’t hear me at any point”) – with a chant. “I want to begin, generally, as I begin poetry-readings, with an interesting poetic text – the Prajnaparamita Sutra..” – “it’s a text used by Tibetan Buddhists, (and)  Japanese Zen Buddhists, for chanting. Almost all schools of Buddhism accept this as a statement of ultimate reality. It’s.. Sino-Japanese first, and then English (so you get the import), Sino-Japanese, as taught to me by Gary Snyder. The translation into English is by Roshi Suzuki of the Soto temple in Page Street, San Francisco. The text is available in the most recent issue of the San Francisco Oracle 

Following ten minutes of chanting, (at approximately fifteen minutes in), Allen reads his poem (to Harry Fainlight) – “Who Be Kind To”

followed by “Uptown N(ew) Y(ork)” – (“The yellow light of Budweiser signs over oaken bars./”I’ve seen everything” – the bartender handing me change of $10..”..”If I had my way, I’d cut off your hair and send you to Vietnam..”), “Portland Coliseum” (“Brown piano in diamond/white spotlight/Leviathan auditorium..”), First Party At Ken Kesey’s With Hell’s Angels(“Cool balk night thru redwoods..”) and “This Form of Life Needs Sex” 

At approximately thirty-minutes in, Allen begins an extensive reading of “Beginning of A Poem of These States” “This is a record of an auto-trip in a Volksvagen that I took with Gary Snyder, in, let’s see, it would be Fall 1965, covering… the beginning of a long poem, so it’s called “beginning” of a poem of “these states” (taken from Walt Whitman), beginning then with the Canadian border, starting, down towards San Francisco, on the other side of the Cascades..” – (“Under the bluffs of Oroville, blue cloud September skies, entering US border..”) – Then (at approximately forty-one-and-a-half minutes in)  – “continuing the same poem, one section, ( then, I think, chant a little and have an intermission), “on the road”, to Los Angeles from San Francisco. Let’s just continue this, through America”)

At approximately forty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in, Allen concludes the first part of his set with a chant – (“I’ll end, chanting to Shiva, the “Hare Krishna” mantra probably best (then take a break for ten minutes or so and come back, read for another half hour or so, as long as we have the hall for an hour, continue). I wanted to read the “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, which is the main poem of this set) – From approximately forty-eight-and-three-quarters to fifty-three minutes in, Allen chants “Hare Krishna (“to Krishna, the god of preservation, an aspect of Vishnu, the preserver, from the Bhagavad Gita“)

The second set begins with a brief announcement- “Mr Ginsberg will be reading poetry tonight and lecturing on the subculture in the DCA Building from 7.30 to 9.30. The program is part of an on-going seminar on the psychedelic movement. There will be a small admissions charge for students and faculty. Mr Ginsberg has been kind enough to agree to try to answer some questions at the end of this reading, as long as we have some time. He will take as many questions as he has strength for, but I ask you to be a little kind. He has been meeting with faculty and students since noon.. We want to give him a little time to rest.. Mr Allen Ginsberg.”

Allen follows this with his own announcement – “How many.. were there anybody here who heard any of the other readings I gave in town? – because I don’t want to repeat material.” – “So, next then, “Wichita Vortex Sutra” – between Los Angeles and Alburquerque, so we continue with.. geographically, we’ve gotten from Omak to San Francisco, San Francisco to Los Angeles, and now Los Angeles to..  a few sketches on the way to Alburquerque – [Allen then reads, uninterrupted, nearly half-an-hour (from approximately fifty-five minutes in to approximately eighty-four-and-a-half minutes in), from “Wichita Vortex Sutra” ]

At eighty-five minutes in – “Mr Ginsberg  will try to answer some questions. If you want to ask a question, will you please stand and we’ll try to get (to) it.It’s a little difficult trying to get it, coming the other way, without a mike..”

AG: I had a few statements I wanted to make.

“Mr Ginsberg will make a few statements without questions.”

AG:  The picture.. I understand that there was some confusion or feelings about the picture that was on the front-page of the campus newspaper. I.. It’s, apparently, a legitimate art work done by Richard Avedon. It was published in a book, and I think it was reprinted in other college newspapers, and so, as far as I’m concerned, I was delighted to see it, naked and all. So it wasn’t any insult to me, because that was me, and I’m certainly not insulted by myself, and I hope nobody else is. So I don’t see how anybody really could be insulted by oneself, certainly, with no words attached to it even, just standing there. So, that’s sort of charming, I thought. I thought there was a news.. there was one section of.. a thing which said that I.. (which, I thought, was rather, in a sense, freaked-out) which was that a letter had been sent to me, requesting me to “go easy”, or something.. I don’t.. No letter was sent to me (that I know of) . I didn’t see any, didn’t ask for any. I have an agent that takes care of all those arrangements, so, I just arrived here happily.

Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg – Richard Avedon, 1963 – Photograph c. The Richard Avedon Foundation

Fortunately, there’s no great mob-scene either.We have no trouble with crowd-control. People were driven out after the first hour of poetry. So everything worked out nicely tho’ there was anxiety about the reading – which always shows you how our anxiety is a mass hallucination. I mean, that’s the whole scene, (as) simple as that. I think the whole Vietnam War is a mass hallucination, of a similar nature – just anxiety being acted out – and the problem, then, is control of anxiety, and self-awareness (which I don’t think is a speciality of our government at the moment), so I think, like, politically, what would be necessary,
ultimately, is to be aware of people as aware of themselves, and vote for someone who’s aware of themselves (if he’s free enough of his awareness to be able to be in politics!) – and there were some people – like (Mahatma) Gandhi (who made their mistakes too) – Anybody got anything you want to ask, or know?
The other statement (that) I had to make was..  well, (that) I gave my blood to be tested, by the way, (to) see what happens, with the LSD in me..

Student: (Do you miss (John) Kennedy?)

AG: Yeah, I missed… yeah, I think so. I felt more affection for him than I did from (Lyndon) Johnson, or I felt the possibilties of affection. Also, the obvious thing of there being sex in The White House, finally, after many years of aged XX.  But I don’t necessarily trust the policies that he had, nor trust his brother, Robert.  I don’t think Robert is hip enough yet. I think what he ought to do us take some LSD and then he’d be more qualified to run. He’s got enough children already so he doesn’t have to worry about his chromosomes. I think, actually, that would be quite a thing, if he took LSD and ran with Martin Luther King as a Vice-Presidential candidate would be… . Otherwise we’re going to be stuck (someone was telling me) we’re going to be stuck the next time round – big choice offered to us, to our consciousness,  is a combination of (Nelson) Rockefeller and  (Ronald) Reagan (Reagan for Vice-, Rockefeller for President – that unlikely.. haiku), and, I guess, (Lyndon) Johnson and (Hubert) Humphrey, again, (or something like that), and that’s no choice, really, for anybody any longer, that’s not even politics, any longer, so I.. between here [May 1967] and the elections. I think something should be done by all you upstanding, righteous-thinking citizens to make your democracy work – with or without LSD!

Student: (Have those poems you read from been published?)

AG: [1967] – No, very little of it has been published. A lot of what I was reading from was manuscript, hand-script manuscript. The “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, the last long poem, was published in the Underground Newspaper Syndicate (UPS), beginning in the Village Voice, and then in a pamphlet put out by a young man named Van Aeistyn up here in Eugene (Oregon), Ed Van Aeistyn, Coyote Press, (with James Koller), so that’s available through City Lights.  Another section, (which I didn’t read, if you want to hear another short section, there’s one that I would like, actually, to read), is a prefatory piece to that longer one, which is “on the road” from Wichita to Lincoln, on the road from Lincoln to Wichita. It’s much shorter, and there are one or two statements in it that are interesting. Lincoln, Nebraska’s the home of William Jennings Bryan. Bryan opposed the Gold standard. I understand he had interest in Baby Doe (Tabor‘s) Silver Mines. He was the… he defended the Biblical interpretation of the Bible of the creation of Man (the Biblical interpretation, as opposed to the evolutionary interpretation – which was outlawed in Tennessee schools up to this week!) – and so there was the famous Scopes Monkey Trial (which you may have seen the movie of  – (Inherit The Wind)) – and there’s a beautiful poem written about him by Vachel Lindsay, there’s a dormitory named after him at Nebraska U(niversity) in Lincoln. [Allen concludes the reading, reading from this section of “Beginning of A Poem of These States’]

William Jennings Bryan at The Scopes Monkey Trial, 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee

The second reading (Allen at the 1969 SDS anti-war reading) begins approximately thirty-seven minutes in (Allen concluding the evening, following a poem and “pornographic” short-story by John Anderson, a miscellany of poems read by Robert Bly (including one by Bill Knott), and a selection of poems read by a belatedly-arriving Robert Sund (including a poem by Pablo Neruda, “Ode to the Table”)

AG: “Robert Bly has asked me to read a poem that I read two years ago when I was here (“This Form of Life Needs Sex), it’s short.. I’m reading poems, the rest of the poems I’m going to read are poems I didn’t read the last time around here” – starting with (at approximately forty-one-and-a-half minutes in), Wales Visitation”, “a text written in Britain in the fifth hour of an acid trip”, followed by “a last poem and a chant, I guess, or more Blake?”- “To Poe” – (a) record of an airplane trip from Albany to Baltimore (where Poe died, or was dragged through the streets on election-eve, intoxicated or alcohol-poisoned, dragged through the streets and voted as a dead-man’s vote by party hacks of that day (in the nineteenth-century).

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Following this (at approximately fifty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in) –

AG: Should we finish now? Finish now? It’s eleven-fifteen, everybody getting fatigued, I guess. What do you want to do,  more poetry or sing? Sing, I think. Sing (William) Blake, so you have both. More Blake..
Student: “Who Be Kind To”.
AG: I read “Who Be Kind To” last time. I’d prefer not to do things I did last time. Otherwise,I’d get bored with my own corpse!
Student: (A chant?)
AG: We’ll get to a chant (but, first,).. the blossom.. – The Introduction to “Songs of Experience”, you know, the piper, by William Blake (“Piping down the valleys wild..”) – [Allen and Peter Orlovsky perform four songs from “The Songs of Innocence and Experience” – the Introduction, “The Shepherd” (“How sweet is the Shepherd’s sweet lot..”), “The Blossom” (“Merry, Merry, Sparrow..”) and “The Echoing Green” (“The Sun does Arise..”)

William Blake (1757-1827)

We’ll end with Raghupati rājārām a mantra of some kind – Raghupati– a mantra that was used by Gandhi for uniting black and white, uniting Hindu and Muslim, rival consciousnesses, in political action –”raghupati rāghav rājārām – how does it go? – “patit pāvan sītārām..” – So, it’s in the line of Krishna again – “patit pāvan sītārām” – and then with a chorus, “sītārām, sītārām, sītārām, jai, sītārām”. So, if you want to pick up on that at any point, it’s easy to remember and chant. Then I’ll repeat it again – raghupati rāghav rājārām,/patit pāvan sītārām/ īśvar allāh tero nām,/sab ko sanmati de bhagavān (“īśvar – lord – what’s in a name? – all same are self god)

Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram performed by Pete Seeger at The Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta, India, circa 1963

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