[Our transcription of Allen Ginsberg on Charles Reznikoff (from 1978) continues]
AG: Gregory Corso had never read (Charles) Reznikoff and he picked this up in my house the other day [The Collected Poems of Charles Reznikoff] and spotted a line and said, “Who is this?” The stanza was: “As the papers twisted and opened, tormented by fire/Darling had stood out in the writing against the flame” – And then the line that Gregory noticed – “Darling had stood out in the writing against the flame/for a moment before the ink was grey on black ash that fell apart” – “for a moment before the ink was..” – this is a burning piece of paper with writing on it – before the ink was grey on black ash that fell apart”. Now,the quality of direct observation there is amazing, and that was what Gregory was noticing. That, whoever this poet was, he actually saw the paper burning, the ink and the greying of the ink on a burning piece of paper. Have you ever noticed that? When you burn paper with writing on it? how the ink will turn? Well, what a subtle, subtle piece of exact observation, which only comes from actually being there and then copying from life.
So, the whole poem, like a novel –
“(12) The house was pitch-dark./ He entered his room. Books and papers were heaped over the/floor./He stuck a candle in a corner, and on his knees began to go through the papers./He must finish that night: the next night the others would move in./ Yes, here was the bold handwriting, the bundle of letters tied together,/ He took these into the kitchen. He did not need a light:/ he ought to know the way, had walked it so often./ He crammed all into the stove and lit a match./The fire ran over the surface and died out..” – (That’s all a pretty good piece of observation – “The fire ran over the surface and died out”) – “He tore the letters into bits and lit match after match” – (That’s also good – it’s so real) – “until nothing was left but brown pieces with black, crumbled edges./ As the papers twisted and opened, tormented by fire,/Darling had stood out in the writing against the flame/ for a moment before the ink was grey on black ash that fell apart./ Here was the bedroom where she had been sick./Her teeth fell out; before the end her nose rotted off./ He uncovered a bunch of dried flowers and white gauze -/ her bridal veil and bouquet left in the rubbish./He went back to the kichen stove. The gauze flew up in a great flame, but the flowers remained – blackened stalks./ Now he was through. He closed door after door softly behind him.”
– Utterly suffering, grounded and real. Utterly grounded and real suffering, or utterly suffering and real and grounded.
What other poet is so interested in reality? I don’t know any other poet who’s so interested in what actually happened as Reznikoff. (William Carlos) Williams is interested in it, in certain fragments of what happened, but Reznikoff has a funny kind of beginning of an empathy, appreciating the nose rotting off in a way that very few people are able to include as part of their poetic mentality.