Allen Ginsberg – Montreal 1989 – ( Q & A – Peace)

Yoko Ono and John Lennon in London,1969. Photo: Frank Barratt

Continuing with the 1969 Montreal Q & A

Q: Just to begin, how do you think [1969] the war in Vietnam will end?

AG: I don’t know. I guess, presumably, the people in the United States will get more and more violent about their frustrations and pretty soon the government will get more and more upset, and I suppose they’ll probably withdraw everything, withdraw all the troops.
I don’t know, I’m not an IBM machine..Q: Do you dig the violent idea of it, the fact that the violence seems to be inevitable?AG: No, no, I mean, I think it’s just that the government has been so violent all along that it’s provoked it, now in the United States too.Q: Is there another way?AG: Well, if the government would get out, sure. There’s ninety billion dollars that’s going to the Pentagon. If they gave the ninety billion dollars to the Department of the Interior and told them to straighten out the ecology of the United States and clear off all the smog – and give out free pot, and set up psychedelic-research centers, and do some rural reconstruction, and give everybody a lot of money to go out and live in the country in communes, then, sure, everything would calm down. Give all the blacks (sic) all the money they want to go back to Birmingham [Alabama] and enjoy themselves, instead of having to hang around New York City in the slums and fight the welfare system. There’s enough money. (In other words), most of the money spent in the last… since I can remember has all been spent on the destruction of the environment, on a violent destruction of the environment, like tearing up of the..tearing up the Jersey Meadows and destroying huge areas of bird sanctuaries, and cutting down giant (democratic) pine populations.Q: And buying up Canada?

AG: Buying up Canada? – So.. I don’t quite understand what you mean by how do I think the war will end?

Q: Well, it was just a general question..about..basically about, what do you feel about the trends in American society today, as a result of the war…

AG: Well, they say.. they say now, I don’t know if it’s true, but, about three weeks ago,
fifty-eight percent of the United States population thought that the war always had been a mistake. In other words, not merely that they wanted to get out but they also thought it always had been a mistake (according to big polls). So that means, if they were getting that perspective, that’s fifty-eight percent of the people think that they personally had been hallucinated all along, or “brainwashed” (which was (George) Romney’s (sic) phrase), which is a large.. that’s a big step for people to go, to realize that they were wrong. So that means if they were wrong, that means they’ll have to realize that the people that run the country don’t know what they’re doing really, are, you know, completely out of their skulls, and have been all along.

Q: Well, how much do you find that your political commitment influences your poetry?

AG: I don’t have very much political commitment actually. In the sense that, what I’m saying now is, like, like the result of reading between the lines of the New York Times, say, or reading the underground press, or having actually, having been in Vietnam, actually, having visited Vietnam some time back. But I don’t, like, feel committed to, like New Left revolution, in terms of the hysteria and violence involved, any more than I feel committed to…I don’t know, the Democratic or Republican Party with all their hysteria and violence.

Q: What do you find patriotic about, then?
AG: Nothing particularly, anymore! – I’d like to die easy, frankly. I’d like to get out of, get out of, this particular scene, it’s getting…
Q: The college scene?
AG: No, I meant the meat scene, the phenomenal apparitions, maya, life.
Q: Like being here?
AG: Well being anywhere! (too painful)
Q: Excuse me, when you say you’d like to die…
AG: I’d like to die peacefully, you know
Q: Are you speaking metaphorically?
AG: No, no, it would be really sort of a pleasure to get out of the body.
Q: Well, it’s always available!
AG: Yes, but it’s painful, that’s the scary part . So I won’t have the fear, you know
Q: Your thought of echoing (John) Keats‘ wanting to die in “Ode to a Nightingale– Is that what you mean?
AG: No, sort of like..I saw (Jack) Kerouac in his coffin the other day.
Q: Oh yeah
AG:He looked.. He looked as if he were some sort of funny bodhisattva rabbi who’s made-believe he came here to announce the fact that the universe didn’t exist and then he died to prove it – Or, like, (returned it), like an eternity meat-doll and was lying in his coffin. And I suddenly felt that he never had been here, actually. that nobody.. that everybody was sort of like a walking dumb-show..

Q: In so far as what you say, Mr Ginsberg influences a large number of young people, when you say that you would like to die, are you, in fact, counseling other people to pursue what one might consider a rather negative attitude towards life?

AG: No, because, you see, first of all, you’ve got to understand that it’s to the extent that I have any function at all is simply to.. to speak as clearly as possible and frankly, you know, what’s on my mind (and that’s about all a poet can do – say what he’s actually thinking, as distinct from what he thinks he should think, or what other people think he should think, or what he should think if he was being responsible when he was thinking.) In other words… Are you following what I’m saying?

Q: Er..well..

AG: In other words, I have the responsibility not to disguise my.. thoughts

Q: Did you counsel others to avoid the draft?

AG: Sure. Yeah – Don’t kill. However, what I was saying, I didn’t.. wouldn’t count as negative. I think that would be your interpretation of it.

Q: Yes, that’s what I wanted to know..

AG: (And so) I wouldn’t interpret it so negatively – to say that one is detaching oneself from earthly ambitions and greeds (It was counted a virtue in the old days – Remember?)

Q: Yes, you did mention death and you said that you weren’t speaking metaphorically

AG: [greeting someone who returns greeting – Hare Krishna!] – Pardon me?

Q: You did mention death and you said that you weren’t speaking metaphorically.

AG: Well, I don’t think in the old days it was… that death was counted a negative virtue – I mean, death was always thought of as a very awesome and important experience. It wasn’t necessarily to be considered evil, was it?

Q: It’s very rarely, in the, say, European tradition, that it’s been greeted with loud and many fanfares.

AG: Oh? – haven’t you ever been to an Irish funeral? – An Irish funeral is a loud, merry drunken delight, in fact.

Q: The tributes, say, (in) mourning, the key-notes….

AG: Yeah.. but I mean, there is an old European tradition of awareness of death, as you know. A Great Being, possibly God himself, arriving. In other words… There’s also an American tradition – in (Walt) Whitman – “Come lovely death,/ undulate around the world, serenely arriving…” (serenely arriving!)”. [Editorial note – the precise quote is “Come lovely and soothing death…” – (from “When Lilacs Last In the Dooryard Bloom’d”)] – You’re making a lot more to it than I would have wanted to.

Q: Do you think Jack Kerouac was an important figure?
AG: Yeah – for me – for my consciousness, Yes
Q: How was he important for you?
AG: Well, he taught me to write! – He taught me to watch my own mind when I was writing and to transcribe my mind, to listen to the babble in my head and to take that seriously, as prosody, taught me to hear myself and watch my own thoughts (sort of like a yoga, poetry-yoga), he also introduced me to Gnostic awareness, Gnostic awareness, to Buddhism, and thereby, like, introduced me back to my own Hebrew tradition, to some extent, Hasidism and Kabbalah, which I’ve only scratched the surface of. The main thing… I think the main thing is that he taught me, that I think I learned from him, was that life, quite literally.. that the phenomenal life that we’re looking at, is, literally, maya, illusion.

That’s what I meant when I was talking about dying. The realization that what we were confronted with was what the Indians call “maya’ – or illusion

So (it’s what you guys) read in Ecclesiastes, basically – “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” – Vanity, I guess. [“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity”] – His last book was called “Vanity of Kerouac” (“Vanity of Duluoz”) – it was an Ecclesiastes lamentation of his own grasping

Q: Excuse me

AG: I guess that I’m afraid that you’re going to interpret what I’m saying as negative. I didn’t mean the negative that you meant

Q: No no, no. don’t be frightened..

AG: I mean, I don’t want to..

Q: There’s one thing that rather struck me…

AG: I thought there was someone else who wanted to talk

Q2 –Yes, I don’t understand, you say you don’t feel any political commitment per se. So what did you see your role in Chicago as? What purpose were you serving by going there?
AG: Well, originally…
Q2: (You gave a press-conference, and..)
AG: Yeah, originally (Ed) Sanders…  well, Sanders wanted to go and I like Ed Sanders! – So if he will do something, then I’d go along with it, partly that. The other was… Originally the idea was Arlo Guthrie and Judy Collins, (Ed) Sanders, The Fugs, Country Joe and The Fish ,Abbie Hoffman, (Dave) Dellinger, (William) Burroughs, even Charles Olson, to some extent –all had talked about it – ((Timothy) Leary, particularly). All were thinking in terms of holding aFestival of Life” in Chicago, something like what had emerged at Bethel, at White Lake, (Woodstock), where the entire city would be swamped by a million naked young kids with rock n’ roll bands, and, with, like, an actual articulation or manifestation of the new planetary consciousness that young kids feel, or of the gnostic consciousness, or the cosmic consciousness, as distinct from the limited earth-man-city consciousness that the secret police were enforcing in Chicago. So that was the original conception, and I.. sort of as a party, as a ball, as a.. not exactly political.. that’s political, but it’s another kind of, like, space-age science-fiction cosmic psycho-politics, which is a little different from political commitment as I interpreted it when it was asked me, just a minute ago.

Q: But couldn’t you see that hasn’t come off..

AG: So.. It did come off in Bethel, finally, it came off in White Lake, finally. I went.. Your question is why did I go? – it’s because I announced that I would go, originally, thinking we might be able to evoke something like that, and I figured that since I said I would come, if there was someone who came on my account, I’d better be there to be chanting, to, like, maintain the particular thing, vibration, that I proposed originally, and at the original press conference where I announced I was going , the thing I announced that I would do would be to chant the Hare Krishna mantra. So I felt I had to go to Chicago to chant the Hare Krishna mantra

Q: Was Abbie Hoffman with you at that press conference?
AG: Yes, encouraging me to chant the Hare Krishna mantra. Do you know that mantra?
Q: Pardon?
AG: Do you know that Hare Krishna mantra
Q: We’ve been hearing it a lot at McGill lately!
AG: Well, it’s good medicine
Q: (Krishna devotees)
AG: Yeah Some of them from (ISKON) the International Society For Krishna Consciousness (are) here. Yeah?
Q: Are you going to be chanting while you’re here?
AG: Yeah, I’ll be chanting while I’m here. Though it’s weird see, like, this is the Hillel this is a Hebrew (thing), I should really know how to chant rabbi songs too, which are just as effective as the Hare Krishna things – but I don’t. I know the Hare Krishna better, oddly enough

Q: Where are you with the Jewish thing? Where are you at ..)?
AG: Oddly enough, all of these years, I sort of avoided it.
Q: Well, so can you keep on avoiding it?
AG: No, last night, for the first time actually, I heard a record of Rabbi Carlebach, which sounded as good as Hare Krishna (I mean, it really sounded great). I’d like to learn Carlebach’s singing actually

Q: Well, I mean, You being presented as.. specifically, in New York, where there’s tension between black and Jews….that is.. well, I mean, this is a political thing, but it’s more a sociological thing, where are you at there, exactly…?

AG: I don’t know. Confused like everybody else.
Q: Confused?
AG: Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) won’t talk to me now (1968). On the other hand, I just finished making a phonograph record of (William) Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience with Elvin Jones and Don Cherry. So in the area where I feel confident, which is art, I find that there is no difficulties (because Cherry and Jones are (both) great black musicians). In the area of adoration and worship, I don’t think there’s any problem. So I would say that would be the political area to begin with. Adoration and worship and then work out from that,

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirteen-and-three-quarter minutes in (on the fourth segment) and continuing until approximately twenty-eight minutes in]

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