The Lion For Real – (Three Renditions)

Another from Michael Minzer and Hal Willner’s The Lion For Real – the title track. The musicians on this one – Arto Lindsay, guitar, Michael Blair, guitar (& glockenspiel), Gary Windo, tenor sax,  Rob Wasserman, bass, Beaver Harris, drums – sound effects by Richard Fussco.

Allen’s sleeve note:
[“Soyez muette pour moi, contemplative Idole”] – “Be mute for me, Contemplative idol’, epigram from Tristan Corbiere‘s last stanza, “Rhapsody of a Deaf Man”.[“Rhapsodie du sourd] –  Retrospective account of a “mystical experience” 1948 described elsewhere (Paris Review Interviews – Writers at Work -3’d Series, Penguin, NY, 1986). The Lion representing Divine Presence. I then thought it necessary to break through the wall of reality & confront God Eternity Death face-to-face. Five years later Tibetan Lama Dudjom Rinpoche advised me, “If you see something horrible, don’t cling to it; if you see something beautiful don’t cling to it”. Ironic Quatrain structure  switching to prayer last stanza roughly follows Corbiere’s poem’s dynamics. Gary Windo’s circus sax announces the poem’s burlesque symbolism. Beaver Harris’ s drum follows the drama.”

Allen Ginsberg recording “The Lion For Real”

The Lion For Real

I came home and found a lion in my living room
Rushed out on the fire escape screaming Lion! Lion!
Two stenographers pulled their brunnette hair and banged the window shut
I hurried home to Patterson and stayed two days

Called up old Reichian analyst
who’d kicked me out of therapy for smoking marijuana
‘It’s happened’ I panted ‘There’s a Lion in my living room’
‘I’m afraid any discussion would have no value’ he hung up

I went to my old boyfriend we got drunk with his girlfriend
I kissed him and announced I had a lion with a mad gleam in my eye
We wound up fighting on the floor I bit his eyebrow he kicked me out
I ended up masturbating in his jeep parked in the street moaning ‘Lion.’

Found Joey my novelist friend and roared at him ‘Lion!’
He looked at me interested and read me his spontaneous ignu high poetries
I listened for lions all I heard was Elephant Tiglon Hippogriff Unicorn
But figured he really understood me when we made it in Ignaz Wisdom’s

But next day he sent me a leaf from his Smoky Mountain retreat
‘I love you little Bo-Bo with your delicate golden lions
But there being no Self and No Bars therefore the Zoo of your dear Father
hath no lion
You said your mother was mad don’t expect me to produce the Monster for
your Bridegroom.’

Confused dazed and exalted bethought me of real lion starved in his stink
in Harlem
Opened the door the room was filled with the bomb blast of his anger
He roaring hungrily at the plaster walls but nobody could hear outside
thru the window
My eye caught the edge of the red neighbor apartment building standing in
deafening stillness
We gazed at each other his implacable yellow eye in the red halo of fur
Waxed rhuemy on my own but he stopped roaring and bared a fang
I turned my back and cooked broccoli for supper on an iron gas stove
boilt water and took a hot bath in the old tup under the sink board.

He didn’t eat me, tho I regretted him starving in my presence.
Next week he wasted away a sick rug full of bones wheaten hair falling out
enraged and reddening eye as he lay aching huge hairy head on his paws
by the egg-crate bookcase filled up with thin volumes of Plato, & Buddha.

Sat by his side every night averting my eyes from his hungry motheaten
stopped eating myself he got weaker and roared at night while I had
Eaten by lion in bookstore on Cosmic Campus, a lion myself starved by
Professor Kandisky, dying in a lion’s flophouse circus,
I woke up mornings the lion still added dying on the floor–‘Terrible
Presence!’I cried’Eat me or die!’

It got up that afternoon–walked to the door with its paw on the south wall to
steady its trembling body
Let out a soul-rending creak from the bottomless roof of his mouth
thundering from my floor to heaven heavier than a volcano at night in
Pushed the door open and said in a gravelly voice “Not this time Baby–
but I will be back again.”

Lion that eats my mind now for a decade knowing only your hunger
Not the bliss of your satisfaction O roar of the universe how am I chosen
In this life I have heard your promise I am ready to die I have served
Your starved and ancient Presence O Lord I wait in my room at your

Eric Drooker illustration of “The Lion For Real” from “Illuminated Poems”

By way of contrast, from his 1959 San Francisco State reading (referenced yesterday) an unaccompanied version – see here 

A few months before, Allen had read the poem at Columbia, his alma mater, dedicating the poem to his old professor, Lionel Trilling. This was the occasion that produced the derisive (and misguided)  contemporaneous report by Trilling’s wife, Diana, “The Other Night At Columbia: A Report from the Academy”, published in the Spring 1959 issue of the Partisan Review

From that notorious essay – “Clearly I am no judge of his poem “Lion in the Room”[sic], which he announced was dedicated to Lionel Trilling; I heard it through too much sympathy and also self-consciousness. The poem was addressed as well as dedicated to Lionel; it was about a lion in the room with the poet, a lion that was hungry but refused to eat him; I heard it as a passionate love poem…”

She, of course, heard it wrong. As Allen explained (in a May 12, 1959 letter to his father),     “I dedicated it to him as a sort of ironic gesture since he’s the Analyst or Professor who sees “no value” in the experiences of the Lion which is supposed to be God, not Lionel Trilling as (Diana) apparently mistook it. Rather (an) ugly mistake, I must say”.

Here’s a third (1973) rendition a Salem State College’s prescient Jack Kerouac Conference (Allen points out that the poem is addressed to Kerouac). More on that conference here and here

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