AG: I want to follow that up [that reading and discussion of Wordsworth’s “..Tintern Abbey”] with a poem of my own related to that, taking off from Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”, approaching a similar problem, or taking a similar approach to the problem – in this case, how to deal with phantasms, thought-forms, furies, monsters, of an acid trip, in poetry. First of all, how to deal with the problem of in that exalted, or high, state of acid or psychedelic space – how to write poetry to begin with, how to approach poetry. Is it possible to approach poetry? Is it self-contradictory? – and what would be the path to stabilize the poem, so that it wouldn’t just become hodos chameliontos, the continually changing chameleon of mind-trips.
Student: (Where is it self-contradictory?)
AG: Pardon me?
Student: (I don’t quite get why it would be self-contradictory.)
AG: Well, I see that it was more, my approach to it, originally, was self-contradictory because – taking an acid trip, and then wanting to gain something, bring back a poem, maybe a poem about God or something, see God and bring back a poem! – pay your mind, see God, bring back a poem, cash it in to The New Yorker, get a hundred dollars, take the money and run back to the next..universe. Certain earlier poems did have that problem in that..(in a poem called “L.S.D.” (“Lysergic Acid”) in the book Kaddish, which was 1959).
So here, ten years later, that problem (of self-consciousness) somewhat is resolved.
Also, the problem, that everyone may be familiar with, of, you get high, one way or another, (and you have) guilt in making a work of art, feeling that, why try and reproduce the universe when the universe is already here? In other words, why imitate it? What is this big art business? do you just want to be a big egotist? just to write a poem? It’s all clearly spread out before you. So that’s a typically self-conscious (and, actually adolescent) view of art, based on an egocentric view of art to begin with. Sure, if your art’s egocentric and your motive’s egocentric, why bother?
So this poem somewhat cuts through those and resolves a lot of those problems. (It’s) done somewhat in the landscape and style of Wordsworth, (in this case, Black Mountains in Wales, near Lord Hereford’s Knob – that’s a mountain in the Black Mountains in Llanthony Valley, which was a place where Eric Gill and a group of 1920 communard socialists, (a) Christian communal group had a fine-printing establishment – they made big hand-made books (that was part of, like, the hand-crafting back-to-nature movement of the (19)20’s, similar to what we had in the 1960’s. Capel-Y-Ffin is a little chapel in there)
So this is written in the fifth hour of an acid trip.(I) might as well discuss it in advance. The strategy here, then, or the attempt here, was, rather than bring back God, just (to) look out of my eyes and see what was in front of me – instead of chasing it in a fashion. And I had to find some center. I wound up doing a little bit of zazen by then, so I was actually doing some breathing, or centering myself on breath. So my mind became somewhat immoveable and no longer prey to fantasy. So, a return to breath, and the breath becomes the symptom in the poem, finally.
[Allen begins reading “Wales Visitation”] – “White fog lifting and falling on mountain-brown/Trees moving in rivers of wind/The clouds arrive/ as on a wave, gigantic eddy lifting mist/above teeming ferns exquisitely swayed/along a green crag/glimpsed thru mullioned glass in valley rain -/ Bardic, O Self, Visitacione, tell naught/but what seen by one man in a vale in Albion/of the folk, whose physical sciences end in Ecology,/the wisdom of earthly relations,/ of mouths and eyes interknit ten centuries visible/orchards of mind language manifest human…” – (in which I was referring to that “green to the very door” – “orchards of mind language manifest human” – but that’s too abstract, so I got down to earth again – “of the satanic thistle that raises its horned symmetry/flowering above sister grass-daisies’ pink tiny/bloomlets angelic as light-bulbs -” -(I was just following thought-forms that rose) – [Allen continues reading] – “Remember 160 miles from London’s symmetrical thorned tower/& network of TV pictures…”….”my skull and Lord Hereford’s Knob equal,/All Albion one./ What did I notice? Particulars! The/vision of the great One is myriad -/smoke curls upward from ashtray,/house fire burned low,/The night, still wet & moody black heaven/starless/upward in motion with wet wind,”
What I would compare for Vipassana aspect, that is, the insight. Wordsworth has “green to the very door” and “sportive wood run wild”. My equivalent physical perceptions were the little thistle raising “its horned symmetry/flowering above sister grass-daisies’ pink tiny/bloomlets..”, that little “horned symmetry”. And “sheep speckle the mountainside, revolving their jaws with/empty eyes.” – If you’ve ever looked at sheep..exactly.. “revolving” and “empty eyes”, in the sense of… because this was the acid making everything seem empty – I could say “unborn” eyes (unborn – you couldn’t fathom them, anyway) – I liked “sheep speckle the mountainside”, I thought that was the best piece of external detail noticing
Student: (Although why “speckled” instead of “dotted”? – “sheep dotted (the)..”)
AG: Mountainside. Well, because they speckle it. Because, looking across the mountainside, on the other side of the road – they were “speckled” (more speckled than “dotted”) – “speckled”, in the sense of, you might be speckled with freckles, you know, not just black dots there, all different colors)
Also I thought for Vipassana perception of detail, the wind, whose “softest breath/ moves every floweret in the stillness on the valley floor” – (There’s a lot of little flowers being moved by this one wind) – “(T)rembles lamb-hair hung gossamer rain-beaded in the grass” – (because that takes an almost-microscopic, closely-detailed eye,to see – the lambs leave their hair behind on the thorns, and on the grass, as they rub – Its hangs, gossamer, trembled by the wind, and beaded with raindrops. You’ve got to look close to see that.
The ideal of that was a line of Wordsworth’s that I heard that was given to me or pointed out to me by Louis Zukofsky (who was a friend of (William Carlos) Williams and (Charles) Reznikoff). who pointed out this one very interesting line in Wordsworth – “the star-shaped shadow of a blossom, cast on a stone” – in a field. He’s walking in a field, and he mentions “the star-shaped shadow of a blossom cast on a stone”. What does that mean? It means a clear sky with a big sun, a green field is conjured up, some little tiny flowers. But him walking along so attentively and so precisely eyeball-focusing that he can actually see, under the flower, the star-shaped shadow of the flower cast on the stone. So you have both the vast sky suggested as well as the almost minute particular detail. Almost so subtly you wouldn’t see it unless you were seeing everything, unless your eye was there. “Sight is where the eye hits” is a phrase of Zukofsky’s.
“Sight is where the eye hits”. Wordsworth’s eye was really hitting particular spots.
Student: What about the “green atoms”?
AG: Oh that’s poetic bullshit – “Green atoms shimmer in grassy mandalas”
AG: It’s a mixture of blah-blah-blah – Green atoms shimmer in grassy mandalas” – Nowhere near as good as “sheep… the next line.
Student: I’m wondering how that…because that’s…supposed to be.. I mean that’s an actual experience, right?
AG: It’s a bad line..
Student: Okay, right
AG: Very simple…except, you can get away with it if you’ve got enough elements, with green, with grass
Student: Can you say that line again?
AG: Green atoms shimmer in grassy mandalas” – Not too bad, it’s a bit..Surrealist, you know.You got the green grass, and it’s an in-joke for acid-heads
AG: You read it to the Optimist Club (sic), they might not understand that – They’d understand.. “(S)heep speckle the mountainside, revolving their jaws with/empty eyes”, (that) they’d get!
There’s a lot of fake lines, because I still had the hint of some omnipresent Great Mind in here – and I still haven’t quite emptied that out. So I was still looking for some evidence of some kind of mystical experience, a little bit. But I was smart enough always to come back to breath and abandon the “One being so balanced, so vast” – (And the only way I got away with saying “One being” was that I was able to point out that there was this one single sort of ebbing of the tide atmospheric and weather going back and forth in the valley and I was able to actually describe it. I mean, I did see the mist coming down and rising (as on an ocean surface, or as in the moving of a great tide in the Bay of Fundy, let us say. So, there is that element of the airy atmosphere that gives a suggestion of pantheistic unity if you can describe it perfectly. You’re better off if you’re not trying to plaster pantheistic one-mind unity on the top of the Universe with it. You’re better off just trying to describe the details. It’s the unborn aspect of it, the emptiness of it, that really gives you the final space,shudder, space-thrill.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately fifteen minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-and-a-half minutes in]