Allen Ginsberg 1969 University of Arizona Reading

Allen Ginsberg, New York City, 1966. Photo: UPI

Allen Ginsberg Reading At the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona, Spring Reading Series, April 30, 1969

A real archival treasure this weekend. From the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s voluminous archives. Not the greatest of audio quality, but worthy enough. This 1969 reading features, among other things, an important and sizeable rendition of a selection (chosen by Allen) of Kaddish”.

The entire reading has been segmented (allowing for more clearer identification, but, perhaps, obstructing, a little, the flow). It also seems to be partial (since the last segment, following “Sather Gate Illumination” appears to be an introduction to a missing sequence of unpublished work – ” From now on, everything that I’ll be reading is unpublished work from about 1961 on…. I haven’t revised it entirely properly, I haven’t preserved it, presented it, collected it, decided what it is, so I will be discovering what this is and there may be false notes here and there, (for) which you’ll have to forgive me.”

There is no introduction. The recording begins with a recording of Allen reading Sunflower Sutra“, Here I began to attempt to combine the early newspaper-ese journalistic preoccupation with facts and William Carlos Williams, with (Jack) Kerouac’s idea of fast emotive writing, with my own Hebrew soul – (“I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive…”)

“In The Baggage Room of The Greyhound” – ” I was writing about .. in more mystical vocabulary something about sunflowers. At that point I ran into Ron Loewinsohn, who was a younger poet, who had.. I had talked to before and was trying to explain Williams’ conception, (or what I thought was Williams’ conception), of Imagism, to him. So he had come back from a hitch-hiking trip and written a poem about a diner in Oklahoma (or a waitress in a diner in Oklahoma) which was so natural that I realized that I was not actually writing about my immediate surroundings. At the time I was working in the baggage room at the Greyhound, so I tried to compose out of the elements there, but going back, in a sense, to (the) 1930’s proletarian, to Williams’ Paterson-esque detail, (and) simply to look around where I was (in a circumstance that was, at that time, in my mind, not particularly poetic). And then I realized (that) it was poetic and I hadn’t realized it really to write about – (“In the depths of the Greyhound Terminal/sitting dumbly on a baggage truck looking at the sky…..”…”Farewell ye Greyhound where I suffered so much,/hurt my knee and scraped my hand and built/my pectral muscles nig as a vagina”)

“A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley” (“All afternoon..” in “a strange new cottage in Berkeley…”) – [Allen pauses] – No I’ll read two..since they’re both written on the same day part of the same poem – [begins first with “A Strange New Cottage..”, following it with “Psalm III” (“All afternoon cutting bramble blackberries of a tottering brown fence..”… “…an angel thoughtful of my stomach and my dry and lovelorn tongue’)

“Psalm III” The other I wrote was Psalm II, the other I read was Psalm II . This (next is) maybe eight years later – Psalm III – (“To God” – I was using that then -“To illuminate all men,. Beginning with Skid Road…” – “I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb but this cockroach is holy”)

“Tears” (I think) this about as low as I got – (“I’m crying all the time now.”…. “..God appearing to be seen and cried over. Overflowing heart of Paterson”)

“Back on Times Square, Dreaming of Times Square” – (“Let some sad trumpeter stand/on the empty streets at dawn/and blow a silver chorus..”…”We are a legend, invisible but/ legendary as prophesied”)

“My Sad Self” “A poem calledMy Sad Self” (1958) (“Sometimes when my eyes are red I go up on top of the RCA building..” “all Manahattan that I’ve seen must disappear”)

“To An Old Poet in Peru” I mention the names of various cities which are pre-Inca pre-Inca, pre-Inca-ic (cultures of coastal desert Peru), where there are many relics which are found by grave-robbers who open the sands in the desert (and the) necropolises and take out the pots and – Cahuachi, Pachacamac, Nazca,  they’re all clustered around Lima Peru- I (saw) an old poet named Martin Adan, who was a, like, a little reprobate poet, not exactly a Maxwell Bodenheim, he was a very great connoisseuractually, now an old lush, who didn’t hang around with the literary crowd but who made it in a bar next door to the Presidential Palace, which was just seized two months ago by the Peruvian military.. (“Because we met at dusk/Under the shadow of the railroad station/clock. .” … “Agh, I am tired of insisting! Goodbye,/I’m going to Pucallpa/to have Visions/Your clean sonnets??I want to read your dirtiest /secret scribblings/your Hope,/in His most Obscene Magnificence. My God!”)

[The highlight of this reading is, perhaps, Allen reading from “Kaddish”. He begins at the beginning but then breaks off, only to resume with a section from later on in the poem]

– “Kaddish”- [“About the same year as the last poem”, – [He breaks off at this point – I don’t want to read this either… I’m not making that. There’s a portion I’d like to read tho’… (it’s) a portion in the center that I’m interested in.. (f rom the center of the narrative section, towards the end of the narrative section)] – He continues – “Or thru Elanor or the Workman’s Circle, where she worked addressing envelopes…” through to “- Nor Elanor be gone,/ nor Max await his specter – nor Louis retire from this High-School – ”

The last poem Allen’s heard reading is “Sather Gate Illumination”[This segment begins with a brief clip of an unidentified voice –Kenny welcome”, “a friend of mine” “do you want to read this?”) before Allen’s voice resumes] What I read in the last reading follows, one poem to another, in the development and illustrating the development of a peculiar, personal kind of awareness or consciousness that was growing on me but that I think is more or less common to all. At one point in 1956, I did some scribbling, writing, and read a poem in San Francisco which, after I had given a reading there Robert Duncan had signed to me that he thought it was the right way, so now I will read that Sather Gate Illumination” (“Why do I deny manna to another?/Because I deny it to myself..”…”Seeing in people the visible evidence of inner self /thought by their treatment of me: who loves himself loves me/ who love myself”)

“Then I went through a period of difficulty, and didn’t love myself and my poetry went back up to my mind to some extent and I began working on.. to get out of that I began working on association, trying to search around my mind, find where was the…how I could get out of that box. So these are, this is..notes. From now on, everything that I’ll be reading is unpublished work from about 1961 on. I wish also to say. I have not published anything because, before I came here or totally saw, I had no idea whether this was..what it was I was writing, and I was very depressed. In fact, said that. I didn’t know who I was or what I was and this scratching around. Some evidence comes through now to me.I begin to discover what I was doing. And this is the first time I’ve been able.. I’ve read this..aloud.. so I have.. I must apologize for the fact that I haven’t revised it entirely properly, I haven’t preserved it, presented it, collected it, decided what it is, so I will be discovering what this is and there may be false notes here and there (for) which you’ll have to forgive me.”

One comment

  1. Gordon Ball in his 2011 book East Hill Farm – Seasons with Allen Ginsberg (p.162-165) has some interesting further context to this reading – or more particularly, the press conference he gave around it – an ugly encounter with Arizona Republic correspondent, Bob Thomas – "Allen is Punched in the Mouth"

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