Expansive Poetics – (Kaddish)

Allen’s August 13 1981 Naropa class continues

AG:”Kaddish“, (which is a long poem, celebrated, and it’s supposed to be sort of a kind of terrible masterpiece), is really just writing what I hadn’t been taking into account. Just a release of particulars that may have occured to me at one time or another but I never particularly strung together and made any kind of coherent exhibition of (to myself, or others).  So it was a recognition of feelings that I had to(ward) my mother, as well as images. When I wrote down that line –“with your belly of strikes and smokestacks”, I didn’t quite know what I meant. But, while I was writing it, I started crying, realizing it meant everything – political (and) historical and personal. The rest of that litany there is pretty pettifoggingly literal – “with your eyes of lobotomy/with your eyes of divorce/with your eyes of stroke” – (that’s just naming simple abstract facts).

(But) The other line I thought was great was “with your eyes of Czechoslovakia attacked by robots”..”(With) your eyes of false China”… Actually what I was thinking when I said “Czechoslovakia attacked by robots” (I wasn’t thinking of Hitler and I wasn’t thinking of the Communists), I was thinking of Karel Čapek‘s  play “R.U.R”, which is a description of the revolt of the machine – Robots – It was a book that my brother was reading when he was in college when my mother was crazy, in 1938. I just associated that with my mother coming home from the hospital. So, “with your eyes of Czechoslovakia attacked by robots” – I meant “R.U.R” (Rossum’s Universal Robots) – I had no idea that it was political in that way. But it was such a strong line, I can’t read it in Russia – or Czechoslavakia [Editorial note – this is 1981] – It was forbidden in Czechoslovakia to translate that line.

Student: Well, that’s the old connected historically…

AG: Yes, that’s  what I was saying.

Student: Yeah

AG: It is still connected totally historically. That’s why I cried when I wrote it down because I didn’t know what I was saying in advance. While I was writing it, just after, instantly, in a flash, I said, “Wow! – what is that? – where did that come from?”- What I was explaining  is that it came originally from an experience with my brother, my brother’s reading.

Student: Yeah. Modern art does that, too.

AG: Well, yes, most of modern art is that, attempting that, yeah..  The virtue of this kind of poetry (is that) you could call it the acme of expansive poetry because you allow your imagination to expand and allow your mind to extend as far as it wants inquisitively, you can exaggerate all you want, you can indulge in hyperbole (in the most fantastic hyperbole or exaggerated metaphor), you can exercise your humor in the most fantastic way, it’s all-inclusive (you can include anything you’ve got in your mind, as Walt Whitman includes everything that he has in his mind), so it’s democratic, it can jump from the grand to the tiny, from magna- to mini-, from mega- to mini- –  “Lightning flash flint spark”, as Philip Whalen wrote –  “lightning flash flint spark” – it allows you to map the extent of  Big Mind, and exhibit Big Mind to others –  so it has a kind of bodhisattva feeling – it allows you to indulge arrogance all you want without any pay-back. You can include disparate elements, as (John) Keats wanted to with his “Negative Capability“, you can allow your totally ordinary mind – “With the fingers with which I am writing this poem in Prague” – it allows you to be playful all you want, which is also a great thing (as in Mozart), allows pathos (as with the (Robert) Desnos‘ example of “My love who doesn’t even listen to me”. It allows joy without cause – unexplained, unobstructed, causeless joy – allows free play for causeless joy – Energy itself. Pure energy. Unborn Joy.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at  approximately sixty-nine-and-three-quarter minutes in and continuing to approximately seventy-four-and-a-quarter minutes]

For more on Allen and “Kaddish” – see here 
and his reading here

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