Allen Ginsberg’s 1978 lectures on Meditation and Poetics at Naropa resume with this July 24th, 1978 class
AG: I wanted to start off on (Charles) Reznikoff today. How many here have read Charles Reznikoff? Just since this term or before? How many have read it before? [to Student] Where’d you get to read Reznikoff ? (I forgot your name).
Student: In libraries.
Student: And bookstores. New York.
AG: How come?
Student: Because I try to read all I can.
AG: What led you on to him?
Student: Interest. And I try to read all the poets. Reznikoff is one (of the poets I liked to read) some or all (of).
AG: And you were teaching American poetry? Has anybody else read any Reznikoff? Yeah? From what?
Student: George Oppen came to San Francisco (and) turned everybody on to him ..He was.. (visited) our school (and brought along the) book, (Charles) Reznikoff’s By The Waters of Manhattan
AG: Yeah, uh-huh, I think that was remaindered at one point, maybe, (in) the New Directions (edition)?
Student: Um-hm. And a lot (of….)
AG: Actually, he used to have… well, he was a lawyer who mainly studied (and) practiced as a consultant and a legal researcher, so he spent his time looking up cases and doing legal research into older cases and comparing cases for other lawyers, sort of a Biblical scholar, looking up cases. So he spent a lot of time, like a Talmudic expert, in libraries. checking up dusty tomes.
And out of that he composed a number of books, like Testimony and Holocaust, which are compositions drawn from old legal records – peoples’ stories in their own mouths, from their own mouths, taken from testimony in Court (or in Nuremberg, for that matter, for Holocaust, for the Nazi trials) – records of people in concentration camps for the book, Holocaust – and records of victims of industrial accidents and sweatshop conditions and Union suits for the immigrant(s), anecdotes, taken from the record,for the book, Testimony (which has just  been reprinted by Black Sparrow Press). He put his own books together.
[turning to Nanda Pivano, who is in attendance] – Do you know his work, Nanda, at all? Where’s Nanda? Do you know (Charles) Reznikoff’s work at all? No? – Well, Nanda Pivano here is a specialist in American Literature, a professor from Italy, who, as a general specialist (and even a specialist-specialist in, say, (Ezra) Pound, my own work, Beat work) would know, more or less, what the lay of the literary land is, but Reznikoff has been so obscure as a writer that Seniora Pivano isn’t familiar with his work, and most people are not. I think I may have mentioned I was up teaching at Yale and nobody had ever heard of him. They’d read a little bit of (William Carlos) Williams (Williams’ “Yachts” in the anthologies), an enormous amount of A.R.Ammons was digested (but) no Reznikoff at all, no rumor of his existence.
Well, since I’ve been teaching here, I’ve been using him more and more for focus, for some kind of a concreteness. Yeah?
Student: Didn’t they [Reznikoff and his group] also get sort of suppressed by McCarthyism? – the three Objectivists – (George) Oppen and (Charles) Reznikoff and (Louis) Zukofsky, like they (got hit), to some extent, by McCarthyism, at a time when they might have just become available, in the ‘Fifties?
AG: Maybe. Thereby hangs a tale. I think the CIA influenced almost all literary appreciation and publishing during the (19)5o’s and (19)60’s. And, in fact, I’m involved in some research in that for the P.E.N. Club – Poets, Essayists, Novelists – preparation of a large-scale white paper on influence of the F.B.I and C.I.A. on book-reviewing, publishing, and the whole intellectual atmosphere in the (19)50’s and (19)60’s.
I don’t think there was directly a problem with Reznikoff, because he did, all along, have some publication by James Laughlin (who is an Objectivist poet himself) (and) who runs New Directions press. So Laughlin published Williams, Pound, Oppen (I think) (and Carl) Rakosi (who’s (another) one of the Objectivists)
Does everybody know who the Objectivists were, or has everybody heard of that? Raise your hand if you have not. [A significant number of the Students raise their hands] – I’m sorry ( – a brief review). This applies, then, to what we’re talking about…
There are whole schools of poetry in the United States from 1905 on, centered around the activities of T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, Louis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, somewhat Wallace Stevens. Pound was a sort of theoretical energy-center of it, but he lived in Europe and did his research there. William Carlos Williams was the American rock. Louis Zukofsky, a brother poet of both of them, who lived in Brooklyn and taught in Brooklyn Polytechnic High, edited in the (19)30’s an issue of Poetry – A Magazine of Verse, called “An Objectivist Issue”. Pound issued various anthologies of “Imagists” (one was called an “Active Anthology” . There are several books that give some accounting of all these activities of the (19)20’s and the (19)30’s. You get some of it in Pound’s literary letters. You get some of it in Williams’ letters and Autobiography. You get some of that literary Bohemian Imagist Objectivist history in a terrfic book called Being Geniuses Together by Robert McAlmon (which was edited and revised and reissued by a friend of his, Kay Boyle, in the last few years). Literary criticism by Pound and by Williams will give you some background.
The Imagist school begins it. Led by Ezra Pound (and) articulated most finely by him. If you want some idea of his theories, read the first twenty pages of Collected Literary Essays by Ezra Pound – the essay “How To Read” (I think I’ve mentioned that to some of you). Walking here, I was thinking I should recommend that because it’s right on to our subject, and our subject is, basically, the practice of “Imagism”, “Objectivism”, “Activism”. Those are American schools of poetry.
So, for background on that, the essay, “How To Read” in the Collected Literary Essays by Ezra Pound. The beginning. Also some of the prefatory pages in Pound’s ABC of Reading. You all got that? I’m giving you a list, a reading list for later reference or present reference.
Also, a book that Robert Duncan (sic) mentioned in class, Pound’s editing of the literary papers of Professor Ernest Fenollosa called The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, republished by City Lights.
[Audio for the above is available here, beginning at approximately one-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately ten-and-a-half minutes in ]