from a recent interview (Q & A) in the New York Times with poet and translator, Willis Barnstone, (provocatively titled “Willis Barnstone on Translating Mao and Touring Beijing With Allen Ginsberg”):
NYT: During your stay in 1984-85, Allen Ginsberg came.
WB: I went there with Allen. We walked in there, and the abbot was wise, as Taoists should be, and generous. We were interested in everything, and although I’m not religious, religion is something I know well, so we had a lot to talk about. We were walking around, and we saw a room. Allen said, “What’s in this room?” and the abbot said, “Look inside.” Allen opened the door, and there was a young man wearing a loincloth, but otherwise completely naked. He was in a posture where his hands touched his feet, like a circle, but his eyes were open. Allen said, “Oh, oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb him.” And the abbot said, “Don’t worry. No one will disturb him for twenty-four hours.” Allen said he had been in India for three years, (and) but this is the real thing.
The opening lines from Allen’s “One Morning I Took A Walk in China”:
“Students danced with wooden silvered swords, twirling on hard packed muddy earth
as I walked out Hebei University’s concerete North Gate
across the road a blue capped man sold fried sweet dough sticks, brown as new boiled doughnuts.
in the gray light of sky, past poplar tree trunks, white washed cylinders topped
with red band the height of a boy – Children with school satchels sang & walked past me
Donkeys in the road, one big one dwarf pulling ahead of his brother, hauled a cart of white stones
another donkey dragged a load of bricks, other baskets of dirt –
Under trees at the crossing, vendors set out carts and tables of cigarettes, mandarin Tangerines, yellow round pears taste crunchy lemony strange…”
“Reading Bai Juyi” (written in Shaghai, a couple of weeks later)”
“I’m a traveler in a strange country
China and I’ve been to many cities
Now I’m back in Shanghai, days
under warm covers in a room with electric heat –
a rare commodity in this country –
hundreds of millions shiver in the north
students rise at dawn and run around the soccer field
Workmen sing songs in the dark to keep themselves warm…”
These and several other “China poems” can be found in his collection, White Shroud.
Here’s the beginnings of another one (actually, Section V of the previous poem):
“I sat up in bed and pondered what I’d learned
while I lay sick almost a month:
That monks who could convert Waste to Treasure
were no longer to be found among the millions
in the provinces of Hebei. That The Secret of the Golden Lotus
has been replaced by the Literature of the Scar, nor’s hardly
anybody heard of the Meditation Cushion of the Flesh
That smoking Chinese or American cigarettes makes me cough;
Old men had got white haired and bald before
my beard showed the signs of its fifty-eight snows.
That of Three Gorges on the Yangtze the last one downstream
is a hairpin turn between thousand-foot-high rock mountain gates.
I heard that the Great Leap Forward caused millions
of families to starve, that the Anti-Rightist Campaign
against bourgeois “Stinkers” sent revolutionary poets
to shovel shit in Xinjiang Province a decade before
the Cultural Revolution drove countless millions of readers
to cold huts and starvation in the countryside Northwest…”
Gary Snyder, another erstwhile “Beat” not unfamiliar (to say the least) with China (and most particularly classical Chinese literature) has his eighty-fifth birthday coming up in a couple of weeks time. In advance of it and on the occasion of a new book, he’s been giving a couple of interviews. Here‘s his interview with NPR’s Linda Wertheimer
and here‘s his interview, (or a section of his interview) with KRCC (Colorado College) (he quotes his friend Peter Coyote‘s sage advice, “don’t buy your own poster!”)
from the interview:
Interviewer – “I think your style as a poet, at least at first, it seems very observational, there’s a lot of very concrete imagery, of things that you seem to be witnessing, and in a way kind of bearing witness to, whether it’s in the natural world or human culture, or looking at ancient myth or older traditions. So is that for you, as a poet, is that part of that “being unprepared”, in terms of just allowing yourself to observe in some way?
GS: Well, that’s, you know, that’s a kindergarten step is what that is. You can’t even be a bird-watcher without having good and accurate observations. You need to be an observer, which translates into, (on a slightly larger scale), something that has become very popular in the United States recently (and I completely welcome it) which is the whole idea of the practice of mindfulness. Now the term “mindfulness” is a very meaningful term. It means thinking clearly and observing correctly – both. And it means keeping calm. And it means knowing who you are and what your steps are, and so I certainly welcome that..”
“Please master, can I touch your cheek/please master can I kneel at your feet”
Censorship is alive and well and living in America.
Regarding some thrilling news on poetry digitalization, our good friend Rob Melton at the University of San Diego’s Mandeville Library Archive For New Poetry writes us:
“Shortly after the death of the poet Paul Blackburn in 1971, ANP (Archive For New Poetry) acquired his personal papers, library, and audiotape collection, which has been called “the most comprehensive oral history of the New York poetry scene between the late 1950s and 1970.” But the roughly four hundred tapes, the majority of which are in the reel-to-reel format, are in danger of deteriorating and being heard only on almost obsolete equipment. In February, we began to digitize the tapes and we will soon begin to obtain permission from copyright holders to make the tapes as widely available on the Internet as possible. Although the digitization will not be complete by May 7th, we are hosting a virtual reading during which selected readings will be played from the new digital files, with a focus on poets whose papers are also held in ANP.”
So – “..on Thursday, May 7th, from 4:00-6:00 (at the Seuss Room of the Geisel Library). It’s a double-barreled celebration: first, to celebrate, publicize, and listen to selections from a digitization project that we have recently undertaken and second, to honor (esteemed poet and teacher at UCSD, and an important figure in the development of the collection), Michael Davidson.”
Speaking of San Diego, we note (belatedly) the passing of another local teacher and poet, Steve Kowit.
Here’s Ted Burke’s loving recollections of him. Here are more tributes
and, speaking of recordings of poetry readings, it being National Poetry Month, the US Library of Congress has decided to go all out. (Allen’s reading (from 1988), incidentally, can be accessed here)
The Beats-via-vinyl note – The Vinyl Factory recently put up a story by Chris May on “Radical Poets – The Story of the Beat Generation in Ten Rare Records” – Rarities indeed. Perhaps you’re familiar with this one:
but what about this?
Upcoming, in London, on May 30, plans are afoot for an Albert Hall anniversary updated Poetry Incarnation – Stay tuned