Allen Ginsberg on Jack Kerouac – 1982 Naropa continues

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) at a “Beat”party, 1959 – Photograph by Burt Glinn./Magnum Photos

Continuing here from yesterday’s posting – Allen annotates Jack Kerouac’s “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose”

“2. Submissive to everything, open, listening” – so that’s an attitude of mind of..  submissive to any thought that comes along – about fucking your mother, or about…I don’t know, anything it is that is most.. common, and most forbidden, anything that comes along  in your mind that is.. fucking God, if you want to, anything that you wouldn’t want, necessarily, anybody to hear, but you hear yourself, and so, “submissive to everything” (“submissive” meaning, to.. an attitude, like tender, lamb-like, innocent openness to..
when you’re writing, openness to the world, so that you.. so you’re not trying.. so you get in as much as possible, that you understand as much as possible, because you’re not laying a trip and not resisting and not insisting but actually open-handed, open-hearted, listening to the promptings of your own nature, your own mind, your thoughts, (reading your thoughts, actually, the thoughts that rise spontaneously)

3. (this is Kerouac’s own medicinal prescription) – “Never get drunk outside yr own house” (because he would go into New York and get really drunk and get fucked up and lose his notebooks and..) – 4. (this is really important) – “Be in love with yr own life” (which is to say, Walt Whitman or Henry David Thoreau , or me, or Gregory Corso, or Buddha, or.. whoever it is that really digs his own existence, appreciates his own existence, “find(s) no fat sweeter than that which sticks to (his) own bones ” [“I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones”], like Walt Whitman). The line is “Be in love with your life. In Kerouac’s case, and lesser in mine, but strong in his case was the fact that he saw his whole life as a giant heroic myth and so he was able to write about any part of his life because it was all part of the giant heroic myth, just like, say, if you saw this whole week as part of a giant heroic myth, any little conversation in the bathroom would be fascinating, any minor escapade with a mouse in the corner would be an event of enormous historic importance as a footnote. So, all the footnotes of your own life. So, “be in love with yr own life”, be in love with life. So that’s.. In other words, you can’t take a doleful attitude and say, “Oh well, I don’t like myself and I’m a shit. I want to write so I can get myself better than I am, or maybe somebody will like me then, or maybe it’ll be a..maybe I’ll make some money.” But just imagine the energy if you actually thought that you were the hero of your own existence and that when you died, there was no more going to be that hero in your existence. So you’re the hero of your own existence because nobody else could possibly be the hero of your existence. So therefore you have to be in love with your life, or you’d have to take the attitude towards your own life that it’s writ in golden letters – “the one and only life”. This is your life, and so therefore that attitude, this is (my) life is the proper attitude, which means straight back (like you’re sitting on a horse, riding on a horse in eternity through life, throwing thunderbolts ) – “Be in love with yr life”

5 – Something that you feel will find its own form – So you get an idea and you write it down, without worrying if you’re going to make it a sonnet or quatrains (unless you have so mastered blues, or quatrains, or sonnets, that you can write them as swift as you can play “Chopsticks” on the piano, unless you’re so good and swift at rhyming or terza rima, or rondeaux, or sonnets). There’s nothing wrong with forms as long as you don’t have to force yourself , yeah? – or rock ‘n roll songs (I find I can write almost as fast and rhyme for rock ‘n roll as write free verse so it doesn’t make any difference – like at the dance last night, I was carrying on, making up rhymed verses).

How do you learn forms? – Well, I learned forms as a kid. My father was a high-school English teacher and so I read the Untermeyer anthologies and saw all the forms in the high-school books (they didn’t have many in those days, they didn’t know very many, you know, it was, like a standard nineteen-twenties, very provincial idea of what forms were, not big extensive ones – that it was iambic.. Well, first of all, I learned how to count iambic and trochaic meters – Does everybody know how to count? – heavy and light accents – Does everybody know what an iambic meter is? – Raise your hand if you do (now) raise your hand if you don’t (raise your hand if you don’t, please) . So it’s about a third to a half . Well, how do you learn it? Somebody’s gotta tell ya, I guess. You gotta ask. Well that’s a whole question of the classical forms, whether to take it up now, I don’t know, we might take it up next time.Next time I.. for the next class, I will bring in a single page which has every one of the classical meters and pass it out – from Greek and Latin – Trochee, Spondee, but also Cretic, Amphibrachwell, the two-syllable meters, the three-syllable meters, the four-syllable meters, like da-da-da-da, de-da-da-da, de da-da-da, and there are five-syllable meters like boom-boom-ba-da-da, boom-boom-ba-da-da – “Lo, lord, Thou rightest”, “Droop herbs and flowers/Fall fruits and showers” (Ben Jonson for the last two, and “Lo, lord, Thou ridest” – Hart Crane‘s “Hurricane”). (I’ve) forgot what the name of that is. It’s used by the Greeks in the height of their plays when they want to make ecstatic choruses. – Da da de-da-da – But, I’m sorry, I’m getting lost, because I’d like to talk first about the mind-attitude, rather than the..  the mind-attitudes towards writing, and later on, maybe, we’ll get into forms, ok? – But if you want to learn forms, I’ll bring in a sheet which will give you all the forms, not all of them, (all of the meters, rather) and we can talk about forms. But I want to talk about open form for the moment (and also, you can always get them out of a book, or out of a regular teacher, a regular poetry teacher in high school – High School, the old 1930’s high-school books had lots, and there, the old college anthologies, in the back, usually had big expositions of dimeter, monometer, trimeter, quadrameter, (tetrameter), four-beat lines. I grew up on it so my ear is good but I found that I had to get rid of it, had to get rid of the classical forms, in order to notate my own tongue as it went along in my own mind. Something that you feel will find its own form, Kerouac says, which is to say that the thoughts that occur to your mind in the sequence that they occur, and for that it would be useful to read the essay “Projective Verse” by Charles Olson in the anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960.

How many are familiar with that book, the Don Allen anthology? – And how many are not? – okay, almost a majority are not, so I’d recommend that as a survey of the poetry that surrounded Kerouac and the Beat Generation, Grove Press.  Grove Press. The New American Poetry. It’s just been re-issued (originally it was The New American Poetry 1945-1960, edited by Don Allen). And if you can get it in a second-hand bookstore, the old edition, that’s the real authentic one. This year [1982] a new edition of The New American Poetry edited by Don Allen was issued by Grove Press which dropped some poets and added some more.

But, at the end of it, they have a lot of essays by the poets on how they found their own form and how they wrote their poems, essays by Kerouac, essays by Gary Snyder, essays by Robert Duncan, by me, by Gregory Corso, and those are worth looking at, and the one I’m recommending from that book is “Projective Verse” by Charles Olson. And the thing that Olson says is that “one perception must immediately lead to another”. In other words, don’t get hung up trying to fill up a flash, write down your flash and go on to the next flash, next flash-thought.. Keep the mind moving, keep the perceptions.. that is to say because your mind is having new perceptions every half-minute, don’t get hung-up on one of themand try to get stuck with it because you’ll set-up a feed-back. Instead, jump from one thing to another fast, jump from one thought to another fast, as the thoughts rise during the time that you are writing, and don’t go looking for a thought that you had a half an hour ago or before you started writing, just the thoughts that you have while you’re writing, because that, clearly, is much easier to do. Otherwise you stop the natural flow of what’s going on as you’re writing and you short-circuit it trying to retrieve something that you thought two days ago or half-an-hour before, or try and think up something smarter than the thing you thought. And to try and think of something smarter than what you’re thinking, than what you actually thought, is just a waste of time, because if you just hang around and take downthe thoughts you’re thinking of at the moment, sooner of later you’ll think of something  smarter than the last thought anyway. It’s funny, if you stop the whole process of thought to think of something smarter, all you do is think of the word -“smarter”,”smarter”,”smarter”.  So you set-up a feed-back.  So the thing is ‘”one perception must immediately lead on to another”, or follow your perceptions. And Robert Creeley contributed the phrase to Olson in that essay, “Form is never more than an extension of Content” and that means the same as something you will feel will find its own form – Form is never more than an extension of Content” – like..  I was thinking of  a poem of Philip Lamantia... (So if that were a line of poetry – Form is never more than an extension of Content – like”.. colon on the page – “like, colon, like.. I was thinking of  a poem of Philip Lamantia” – The form of those three lines is exactly as said,  in other words, is identical with their content.  And there’s a great poem by Philip Lamantia that goes.. from his Selected Poems, City Lights (I paraphrase it, because I don’t have it here) – “I long for the  super essential light of the darkness, I long for Christ on the cross, I long for the blood of the beauteous heavens, I long for the immense vegetable turnips of Jesus Christ’s victory, I long for.. it is nameless what I long for”. And the line goes “I long for the – blank, stop, go down to the next line, continue – “It is nameless what I long for”. “I long for the… it is nameless what I long for”,  It’s just the way his mind went. So that’s an example of a thought finding its own form on the page, or an example of what Kerouac says, “Something that you feel will find its own form” Is this clear?  Is there anybody who doesn’t understand what I was just saying? Please, if you don’t understand, let me know, because it means that I haven’t said it clearly, it doesn’t mean that you’re dumb

(7) “Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind” – In other words, allow any thought – “8. Write anything you want bottomless from bottom of the mind – “Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind – what you realy want to write about instead of what you think you’re supposed to write about – “9. The unspeakable visions of the individual” – that’s such a funny phrase – “the unspeakable visions of the individual” – something, more or less, probably derived from an amphetamine high – “the unspeakable visions” – so..  because Kerouac at that time did write a good deal on amphetamine (and it wasn’t so good an idea, (he) burned his body out doing that, made it harder to write novels later, because it’s more of an ordeal to take a lot of amphetamine and then go write for twenty days on amphetamine, and then get totally physically exhausted and have to not write again for another year, and not write a.. one single work, but to accomplish a single work he did it in intense bursts and for several years he was using amphetamines to complete.. like in The Subterraneans) –The unspeakable visions of the individual” is the title of a series of archive, books, put out by some guests here, the Knights, archives of Beat writers, taken from this little phrase, “the unspeakable visions of the individual”. (10.) “No time for poetry but exactly what is” – This is what I was talking avout before. No time for deliberate “I’m going to write something that they can put up in a museum or in an anthology”, “No time for poetry but exactly what is”, what is in your mind – (11) “Visionary tics shivering in the chest” – “That beautiful cute boy I saw yesterday!” -“Visionary tics shivering in the chest”  – (12) “In tranced fixation dreaming before object before you” – In other words, you set up the picture in your mind of what it is you want to describe, somebody’s face (I think Kerouac has an “old tea-cup for a face”  or “a trip across America”) –  I think he would sit first, figure out (the) picture in the mind, picture it in his mind, the whole thing that it was going to be into, get it all together, and then.. then write, letting the picture suggest the words – (13) “Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition”. In other words, like Philip Lamantia said, “I long for the… It is nameless what I long for”, or William Carlos Williams has a funny line at the endof a poem called “The Clouds” where he breaks off in he middle of the sentence because he couldn’t.. can’t say any more (he’s talking about the people getting abstract and not being down to cases, not talking about “for instance”s and not being down to earth, saying their imaginations plunging on a moth, a butterfly, a pismire, a….. – and he ends “a”, dot dot dot dot dot, or in the poem “For Eleanor and Bill Monahan” – “The moon which was latterly the poets planet they have..rediscovered, or they’ve taken over for scientific purposes..the fools, what do they think they will find..that death has not already shown them/Those ships should be directed inward upon/but I’m an old man , I’ve had enough…” – That was, just as you would talk, just as you would say it, just as you would think it, with a break. He didn’t have to finish the sentence, he already said it – Those ships should be directed inward upon/but I’m an old man , I’ve had enough…”

(14) “Like Proust, be an old teahead of time” – “Like Proust be an old teahead of time” – In other words, as Proust had the total recall, or conducted a total recall of all of the details of his life, very appreciatively, like a tea-head who had, having sipped a little grass and gottten very high was begining to appreciate all the cracks in the china bowl and all the tiny little flowers blooming in his back yard out the window, and appreciating the purple drapes and the paisley coverings for the sofa, and remembering the paisley coverings of the sofa in his aunt’s house and the taste of tea and little crackers, way back when he was a kid visiting suburbs, to visit his aunt, so remembering all the details – Proust be an old teahead of time” – (15) “Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog” – the way you would think it to yourself –  “Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog” – (16) “The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye”  (I’ll xerox these up for you by tomorrow, so you don’t have to worry about it, unless you’re speed stenographers, or something) – (17) “Write in recollection and amazement for yourself” – Kerouac wrote all that stuff.. I remember he used to, before it was published, he had it all lined up, neatly-typed, on his shelf, and he said, “I want to have something so I can read something, something interesting in my old age – “Write in recollection and amazement for yourself” – (18) “Work from pithy middle eye, swimming in language sea” – In other words, stumbling over your own tongue to tell the story, as if you were talking to your best friend, in bed.

(19) “Accept loss forever” – that’s a basic Kerouac tragic Buddhist idea -Accept loss forever – because his first big book was about his father dying and his second book was fare-thee-well-beloveds, you and your kids, On The Road, and then the third or fourth book, Visions of Gerard, is about the death of his nine-year-old, or six-year-old, elder brother. So “Accept loss forever”, and actually, for prose that really is, if you write with a realization that you’re writing about a world that’ll be gone in the twinkling of an eye by the time the book is published, so you’re writing about a ghost world, you “accept loss forever” .It gives poignance and emotion to your view of the world that you’re writing about when you realize you’re already writing.. you’re already writing about already ghosts. Life is a dream already ended. That was Kerouac’s phrase. (20) “Believe in the holy contour of life” –  So that would be the same as “Be in love with your life”, or similar, but, in terms of the novelist, or the life-time poet tracing year after year the changes and contours of his own mind and his own soul and his own loves and his own works and his own moves from cities to cities – contour.. Be in love.. “”Believe in the holy contour of life”

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately nineteen-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty minutes in]

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