Meditation and Poetics – (Poetry Is Lamb Dust – Kerouac in Desolation Angels)

Allen Ginsberg’s Meditation and Poetics class from August (August 4, 1978, in this particular segment) continues

AG: Does anybody have any trouble with this preliminary sitting? – when I come here and start (and for the first ten minutes) sit?….Does anybody have any trouble with the sitting in terms of it as an annoyance? – or a relief? – For me, when I get in here and I don’t have to immediately plunge into whatever is going on , it’s a relief to be able to do nothing. But I’m wondering if there’s anybody here for whom it’s an irritation or some kind of stumbling block or a drag or an anxiety producer? Because, if so, maybe see me after class? We can readjust the situation somewhat. I sort of really like it. It seems silly sometimes to do a ten minute meditation, but on the other had, it’s a respite from work.

…Someone brought this up (I forget whose insight this was into (Jack Kerouac’s) Desolation Angels) – this is a description by Kerouac of literary society in 1958, Washington  Gregory Corso (here named “Raphael Urso”) was living with the Library of Congress Poetry Consultant, Randall Jarrell, and Kerouac visited – [Allen reads from Kerouac’s novel] – “Insane Raphael with a huge nail and a huge hammer actually banging into the smartly decorated wall so he could hang his oil-on-wood painting of Michelangelo’s “David”. I see the housewife wince. Raphael apparently thinks that the painting will be held and revered there on the wall for ever, right by the Baldwin grand piano and the Tang tapestry. Furthermore, he then asks for breakfast. I figure I’d better get going” – [Gregory was staying in Jarrell’s basement in Washington, in his house, and Kerouac visited] [Allen continues] – “I figured I’d better get going. But Varnum Random..” – (that’s Jack’s name for Randall Jarrell) – “But Varnum Random actually asked me to stay one more day, so I spend the whole afternoon writing poems high on bennie in the parlor, and I call them “Washington DC Blues” –(which I don’t think have been published yet) – [Editorial up-date: they are, of course, included in the recent 2013 Collected Poems and were also set to music by the David Amram Ensemble – see here] – “Random and Urso argue with me about my theory of absolute spontaneity.In the kitchen, Random takes out the Jack Daniel’s and says, “How can you get any refined or well-gestated thoughts into a spontaneous flow, as you call it. It can all end up in gibberish”. And that was no Harvard lie. But I said, ”If it’s gibberish, it’s gibberish. There’s a certain amount of control going on, like a man telling a story in a bar without interruptions or even one pause.” – “Well, it’ll probably become a popular gimmick, but I prefer to look on my poetry as a craft.” – “Craft is craft” – “Yes, meaning?” – “Meaning crafty. How can you confess your crafty soul in craft? – Raphael took Random’s side and yelled, “Shelley. didn’t care about theories about how he was to write “(To) A Skylark” . Duluoz (Kerouac), you’re full of theories like an old college professor. You think you know everything.” “You think you’re the only one”, he added, to himself. Triumphantly he swept off with Random in the Mercedes Benz to meet Carl Sandburg or somebody. This was the great “making it” scene (Irwin Garden)  (Ginsberg) had crowed about. I yelled after them, “If I had a poetry university, you know what’d be written over the entrance arch?” – “No, what?” – “Here learn that learning is ignorance”. Gentlemen. don’t burn my ears. Poetry is lamb dust. I prophesy it. I’ll lead schools in exile. I don’t care” (they weren’t bringing me to Carl Sandburg…”

Student: I will lead what in exile?

AG: “I’ll lead schools in exile” – which he did, actually (Naropa) – With a capital “C” – it’s funny, I’d forgotten that.

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