Ginsberg 1982 Kerouac Workshop Conclusion (Q & A)

Jack Kerouac with the scroll –  Photo – courtesy The Estate of Jack Kerouac

AG: I have three twenty-nine [looking at the clock]. I brought, as I said, those papers and so we will distribute them. There’s two sets two different things. Maybe if we… they can pass them out themselves, if we just hand them.. Or we can put them in two piles here and people can pick them up as they leave, maybe?  That might be the easiest way. The one who did all the xeroxing for you is a poet, Gregg R. (sic) from Indianapolis, So I have these sets.. one of these pages is the Kerouac “Essentials of Modern Prose” [“Essentials of Spontaneous Prose[sic], the other is a list of all of the Greek rhythms – and – how long does this class have? – is it over now? So..we can stay a little bit.. okay..okay.. So what is the next step, any questions? yes?

Student: Will the second (next) workshop cover spontaneous poetics also?

AG: No, I think I’ll go on to something else, I’ll make it up next time. I would like to get more into.. In the workshops, having laid this ground, I would like to get further on into making up stuff, making up chain poems and actual exercises in class. I think I might go over a few more of the mind-trick things but one major mind-trick which we went through today was, when you get up, it’s alright if you have a blank mind. In fact, it’s an advantage, if you’re unprepared. To be unprepared and unready is an advantage, because, then, whatever rises is really spontaneous on the spot. Better than..  I think, in this case, better than the situation.. better practice than if you write it down in your book and you’ve got it there and you can just get up and read it. Better to learn how to think on your feet, or better to learn how to remember what you just thought, on your feet, I think. That’s the principle. Remembering what you just thought. rather than making up thoughts – Or, pronouncing your thoughts as they rise. Few people did that, you know, making up the words as they went along. That’s the most interesting – stumbling along with the words. Yes?

Student: Allen how do you distinguish the automatic writings of the Surrealists from…

AG: Well, I don’t know if the question rises, if one needs to distinguish them. I mean, is there any reason to make a distinction..?

Student: … Because some of the comments that were made to the effect that (Jack) Kerouac really created something completely new..

AG: Yes.

Student: his approach, and..

AG: Well, what Kerouac would do, would be, say, to take the theme, run it through his mind once, the theme of a novel, the story, chronologically, maybe even making notes on the major items to be covered, like you might put on a…

Student (2): Can you speak up?

AG: you might put on a card. Kerouac would run through the numbers of items to be covered (like he might put on a note card), run through once with hs mind, and then, when he’s sat at the typewriter, expand and blow spontaneously. So you get your theme in mind first (that’s why I suggested “Tender Wine”, say –  or something to begin with. And then you invent conceptions as you go along. In Surrealist writing, very often there wasn’t some basic chronological story-plot-theme.  He did follow a chronological story, or, in the case of Visions of Cody, a list of visionary, or epiphanous, moments that he wanted to describe. The structure of the novel of Visions of Cody was the..different moments.. the different vivid moments that he had experienced with Neal (Cassady). And so, instead of having chapters in a chronological novel, he had flashes that he was describing. So the flashes became huge chapters. And he tried to describe every association that he had with those flashes. Like one time going into a urinal with Neal and pissing and they were bonded, sort of, with each other and Neal saying,”I love you, man, don’t you know it?”. So that one moment of, like, truth between them, that one moment of heart-feeling, stuck as a kind of visionary moment, or epiphanous moment, or vivid moment. So he tried to… that was like the jewel-center of interest for that one chapter – and then, many different chapters with different centers of interest. So, in other words, there was a subject, so to speak. But it was the ravings of the mind on that one subject, or the extension of the mind on that one subject. Yeah?

Student: I remember something I was really impressed by…

AG: Maybe we can use the microphone so that it gets recorded properly?

Student: In this whole idea of spontaneous prose, I remember reading when I read the
Ramayana, (some people may be familiar with) that, when Valmiki, the poet, had sat under.. by the river, and had been covered up by the ant-hill and only his eyes showed through , and Narada, the music-maker came down and said, “You’ve got to write this great poem and save Sita”, and all this. And he said, “But I can’t, I don’t know anything about the story”. And Narada said (it seems to me, if I recall correctly) to reply, “You’ve been sitting there, you’ve been workiing on your mind, you’ve gained wisdom, don’t worry about the details, here’s the subject – the story of Rama and Sita – don’t worry about it, the music will start, you just start telling it and it will all come to you. Interestingly enough, that seems to be exactly what we’re now talking about, and, of course, that’s one of the ancient poems of all times.

Narada meets Valmiki  – Kangra style, Pahari, early 19th century miniature (40.6 x 55.7 cms) from the National Museum, New Delhi

AG: My advice from Kerouac, the advice Kerouac gave me was, “Just start writing from the middle of your mind, or start talking from the middle of your mind, and whatever comes up will be acceptable and more interesting than if you try and figure it out and craft it in advance”. And I think there was a crucial moment when he proved it to me. I had the… I kept little notebooks, as I do now, and  I had a couple of notes in there, a couple of pages of notes about the Statue of Liberty, and “the sea of darkness”, and “copper green goddess waving”, or something like that, and he said, “Why don’t you type that out?”. And I said, “Well, I have to work it up into a poem”. And he said, “Well, you’ve got it there already, written down, why don’t you just type it up?” – “Type it up” – Richmond Hill – so he sat me at his typewriter and he made me type it up, and I typed it up, and it spread all over the page like a William Carlos Williams poem – about 1950 – and I said, “Gee, I never wrote like that before?”. And he said, “But you did. You’ve been writing all the time before  in your book, you just don’t think of it as writing, because you think of rhymes, and even verses, as writing”. And I realized probably what I had written down there about the Statue of Liberty was just as interesting as anything else I was writing. In fact, more raw, therefore more readable. And I had a similar experience in (19)72 with Chogyam Trungpa, who said, “Why do you need a piece of paper when you get up on the stage to read off. Don’t you trust your own mind?”. I said, “What do you mean?’. He said, “Why don’t you do like the great poets did, like Milarepa and all those other people, they just got up there and spoke, they pronounced from their spontaneous mind. So there is that possibility that we can do. It’s what actually happens when you sit at a page anyway – you’re doing the same thing, you’re writing down what you think of. So you can do it when you get up. The idea is to.. to get up, to get up and have the courage to do it, and do it, and not be afraid to be a fool. Not being afraid of being a fool, because, as I said last night, everybody’s a big dope to begin with! – And anybody who thinks they aren’t, and tries to cover it up by making a smart poem, is just a hypocrite who’s going to deceive himself and others and write boring poetry anyway! Most interesting poetry is foolish (or, as Kerouac said, “genius is funny”).  So..Paul [sic]?  A question?….

Q: (Will you be collecting these [workshop assignments that you’ve given] and giving them back in the next workshop?)

AG:  No.. Will the same people be in the next workshop?, no.  What I can do is collect (them), check them out –  (it’ll take me a day or two) –  and then I’ll find a way of leaving them out at the next workshop. Or, okay, to make it precise, I will leave them at the Naropa Information desk. Put your names on them so that you can identify them. And what I’ll do with them is make a little star by the ones I think have some concrete, factual, presentative substance. I’ll try and point out what I like. I won’t do any criticism of what isn’t there. I’ll point out what I think is there, as active language, or active picture. Okay? – Yes?

Q:  What is your view about editing, after you go through the spontaneous part?

AG: Well, I do. If it’s…  Kerouac burned his bridges behind him, and programmatically did not edit (he said). He did probably edit a little in typing up. I generally try to retain the first impulse, tho’ I edit quite a bit. And five years later, if I still haven’t published something, I find lots of excessive extra participles and words and pronouns, so I generally cut it, blue-pencil, but not alter the basic sequence of thoughts. I try and keep to the original sequence of thought, because that’s organic.

Q: Does a poem take place as something outside the poet, that’s discovered by the poet, or is it…

AG: I think it exists inside the poet and is discovered by the poet, inside, in the sense of, already-existent, a thought that he thought, maybe even in words thathe thought, but he didn’t think was a poem until someone said, “Oh, that was interesting”. Like, when Kerouac said,”Ah, this is a Beat Generation”. He didn’t mean to make a pronouncement that this was a Beat Generation. John Holmes said, “That’s a  great line!”,
So John Holmes made a big article in the New York Times – “This is the Beat Generation” – Kerouac didn’t mean it that way. He just thought it was a beat generation, meaning, this is not a particular generation. The un-generation.. He meant to un-name a generation, not to name it. But his un-naming was so witty that it became, that when seen by somebody else it became a name poem, so to speak, a one-liner. But it was just a thought, a raw thought.

Q: In a recent interview, Richard Hell

AG: Yeah

Q: …had said that’s what he meant when he coined the phrase “blank generation” – It’s not blank as in stupid blank, but it was blank as in fill-in-the-blank…and he got all misconstrued too…

AG: You know Richard Hell lives in the same apartment building that me and Larry Fagin live in in New York. Fellow poets. And he comes from the St Marks Poetry Project too. Any other..Paul [sic]..did you have.. did somebody else have a question… Yes?

Q: Are you actually saying that when you go back over certain stuff that you’ve created that you have not frequently said “I don’t like it”, and, in fact, almost always keep it?

AG; Well, what I do is I write in a notebook, and then I have the notebooks typed up here at Naropa by my students, and then I go through it and correct the typescript, then, generally, more or less intact, it’s publishable. The things that I consider poems are sort of the hot items that are written out in lines that look like poems, so I excerpt those and put them in books. Sometimes I condense those by going through and blue-penciling something I’ve said twice or where my attention has lagged in the sense that it doesn’t make sense or the description is lacking in facts, or where I begin generalizing. But that doesn’t happen too often. I try not to anymore. It’s.. The reason I try not to generalize in my original work is that I write so much that it’s too much trouble to edit. So I try to write so that I don’t have to edit later, because I know I’ll never get around to really editing later on. So it’s just a question of labor-saving device. Don’t write any bullshit to begin with, then you don’t have to edit it! – Really, it’s serious. I mean, if you’re young and you’ve got days, twenty-four-hour days ahead of you, and you don’t have anybody on your neck, and you don’t have anybody to get laid with and you don’t have any classes to teach and you don’t have any airplanes to take,then you can take your time and, you know, write what’s not interesting, but if you’re pressed for time, you actually have to speak now or forever hold your peace, because you won’t have time to go back and retrace your steps, is what I find. I don’t have time to go back, so therefore I have to make it utter..utterly utter at the utterance (partly laziness also). Okay. Thank you for your attention.

[Audio can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-two-and-a-quarter minutes  in and concluding at approximately eighty-five minutes in]

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