AG: Years ago, I read a lot of (Jack) Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues to (Chogyam) Trungpa , and his comment was, “perfect manifestation of mind”, or “(perfect) exposition of mind”, and, since I had put that on the reading-list [here at Naropa] … this is (I think) a good time to get into it . The reason is, that, for American poetics, Kerouac is about the closest you have to subtle recording of consciousness, subtle recording of ordinary mind consciousness – the kind of quirks, day-dreams, interruptions, abruptnesses, gaps, associations, and after-thoughts that come into American mind-tongue.
Has anyone read much of Mexico City Blues here? [a show of hands] – Yeah – Has anybody not yet read any? Raise your hand. [to Student] You’ve not read any of Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues?
Student: On this (past) Saturday, I just read it
AG: Oh, okay. I’d like to read some of them because they make a lot more sense when they’re read aloud. As to whether or not they fit such a scheme [a trikaya, some do, actually, oddly. But I wouldn’t examine them too closely for that. So I’ll read a section from them.
[Allen begins with Mexico City Blues 3rd Chorus – (“Describe fires in riverbottom…”…”.. O J O !/ The Purple Paradise.”)] – They’re just sort of free-associational, but with really great rhythm.
Can you hear clearly, or is there too much noise outside? Is there a problem? Is there a problem with outside noise?
AG: It might be easier if you moved over to the carpet, maybe, or if you’re too far out in the outfield, move in a little bit.
Student: Could you give the numbers?
AG: Yes. That was…
Student: Third Chorus
AG: Third Chorus. I’ll just read through the ones I like. He had originally said in the Preface, “I want to be considered a jazz poet/ blowing long blues in an afternoon jam/ session on Sunday. I take 242 choruses..”
Can we do anything about that (noise)?
Peter Orlovsky [attending the class]: I spoke with the manager (confidentally, before class).
Peter Orlovsky: (and I’ll be seeing him again) at six o’clock
AG: Ah, okay (so) there’s nothing we can do about it then.
So, anyway, he wanted “to be considered a jazz poet/ blowing long blues in an afternoon jam/session on Sunday, I take 242 choruses;/ my ideas vary and sometimes roll from/ chorus to chorus or from halfway through/ a chorus to half way into the next”
So, I think, at one point or other, I’ve described, here in school, (how) these poems were written in Mexico City, He was living on a rooftop and..
[Allen is momentarily distracted] – “There’s no smoking in the scene, except for the teacher, and don’t put it out on the floor. That’s the whole point of it, in fact, that’s the whole point of it.
Student: No smoking?
AG: Yes. Except for the teacher..
On top of a rooftop in Mexico, getting up in the morning and smoking a joint, having a cup of coffee with a little pocket-sized notebook like this [Allen shows the class his notebook] and so the verses are about this size and are printed on the page in the exact arrangement that he wrote them out, probably one or two a morning over a thirty-forty day period. So he winds up with 242 in about two months, as morning’s wake-up meditation recollection exercise
Student: Did he revise very much?
AG: None. Not a bit. Typed up exactly as in notebook with all mistakes (and) flubs (especially the flubs). In the Vajrayana school, flubs, or mistakes, or errors, are considered teachings. If you stumble on something it wakes you up. It’s like going back to the breath. You’re day-dreaming and you don’t see where you’re going and you stumble on something. You wake up. So errors or mishaps are considered the main teaching in this lineage. That’s why Trungpa’s drunk.
[Allen continues with the 11th Chorus] – (“Brown wrote a book called/The White and the Black”/ N a r c o t i c C i t y/switchin on/ A n g e r F a l l s/ (musician stops,/brooding on bandstand)”)] followed by 13thChorus – )”I caught a cold/From the sun/When they tore my heart out/At the top of the pyramid..”…” Askin for more/I popped outa Popocatapetl’s/Hungry mouth”)]
– He was listening to sound, actually, as in an earlier prose piece, “Old Angel Midnight”, which is written around this time, which is composed of pure sound, that is Joycean sound-patterns. But the preoccupation is constantly with mind, and what’s going on in mind, or words going through the mind. In Kerouac’s case, not so much, there were definite nodes of thought-perception, but there was also the sort of bebop sound of muttering in the back of the mind that he was hearing, and he refers to it over and over in the book.
17th Chorus – (“Starspangled Kingdoms bedecked/in dewy joint – DON”T IGNORE OTHER PARTS/OF YOUR MIND, I think/And my clever brain sends/ripples of amusement/Through my leg nerve halls/And I remember the Zigzag/Original/Mind/ of Babyhood/when you’d let the faces/crack & mock/& yak and change/& go mad utterly/in your night/firstmind/reveries” – (talking about the mind) – The endless Not Invisible/Madness Rioting/Everywhere”).
If you want to hear his pronunciations, there are some tape-recordings of Kerouac in the Naropa library that you can go check out on cassette – reading some of Mexico City Blues
18th Chorus – (“The bottom of the repository/human mind”…”On carpets of bloody sawdust”) – The message of this book, actually, is the First Noble Truth – Suffering.
Student: Allen? Can you read the numbers?
AG: I’m sorry. Yeah. 17th Chorus was “DON”T IGNORE OTHER PARTS/OF YOUR MIND”, 18th Chorus was (“The bottom of the repository/human mind/ The Kingdom of the Mind,/ The Kingdom has come”…”I’ve had all I can Eat/Revisiting Russet towns/Of long ago/On carpets of bloody sawdust”)
– (Basically, it’s Suffering he’s into)
19th Chorus (“Christ had a dove on his shoulder/- My brother Gerard/Had 2 Doves/And 2 Lambs/Pulling his Milky Chariot/Immersed in fragrant old/spittoon water/He was Baptized by Iron/Priest Saint Jacques/De Fournier in Lowell/Massachusetts/In the Gray Rain Year,/1919/ When Chaplin had Spats/and Dempsey/Drank no whisky by the track..” – I’ll start again, because if I lose it, I can’t keep the rhythmic intention. If there’s a gap, it’s hard to.. (“Christ had a dove on his shoulder..”… “Drank no whisky by the track./My mother saw him in heaven/Riding away, prophesying/ Everything will be alright/Which I have learned now/By Trial & Conviction/In the Court of Awful Glots.”) – I think Kerouac had just had phlebitis, actually. So that was his ”Trial and Conviction/In the Court of Awful (Blood) Clots”), “in the court of awful clots”)
24th Chorus, which actually does follow some of that tri-partite (trikaya) division of a flash, a rationalization, and a final comment – (“All great statements ever made/abide in death/All the magnificent and witty/rewards of French Lettrism/Abide in death”…A bubble pop, a foam snit/in the immensities of the sea/at midnight in the dark”) – That’s a powerful image at the end. But the comment – “Nil, none,a dream” – “All great statements ever made/abide in death”… “– Nil, none,a dream/ A bubble pop, a foam snit/in the immensities of the sea/at midnight in the dark”. So the opening – All great statements ever made/abide in death” – some kind of glimpse, then, a list of specifics – “even Asvaghosha‘s Glorious Statement/and Asanga‘s and the Holy Sayadaw” – then “Nil, none, a dream”