Gary Snyder: [following Joe Richey’s recitation of his poem] That’s your own poem?
Joe Richey: That’s my poem [rounding applause]
Student: That’s alright!
GS: Picked the wrong guy!
Allen Ginsberg: Lets see if you can pull anything from anybody else, not in this room?
Student: Not in this room?
Student: That [Richey’s poem] was good
JR: Oh, a good haiku.
AG: Bet you a penny!
JR: It’s a collaboration me and my cousin did with someone. Do you want to hear? – “Combing my hair/Butter over my thighs…/they call this romance?”
Larry Fagin: Is that a girl-cousin or a boy-cousin?..
GS: Thank you very much.
I’m raising the question of, the instant question of notability, and the first poem you recited immediately took us all into a gritty world of immediately interesting realities that we know, and the second one has, I would think, the characteristic of notability. Somebody in this room’s going to try to remember that, and would be amused to tell it to a friend.
So that’s how things move. That’s really what I was raising. Any poem that you have in mind by heart, think of what that poem is and then ask yourself, “how come I remember that, of all the things I’ve read, how does it happen to be that I still remember that?”
I think that’s one of the really interesting ways to approach what it is that you finally really like and to pay attention to, is to say, is to see what is it that you can’t forget. It’s a very simple rule-of-thumb. “Right occupation” is – on Buddhaghosa‘‘s commentary on occupation, he says that obviously being a butcher, working as a slaughterer, or being a hunter, is not (being) right occupation. I think that this is an unresolved question and that Buddhaghosa is reflecting the values and economics of a pre-modern agrarian society and certain ethnic concerns. He goes on to say, a maker or a dealer in military weapons, a trader in military weapons, is not (being) “right occupation,” and he says astrology is not “right occupation”
AG: Isn’t that everybody on the (Boulder) Mall ?
LF: Everybody on the (Boulder) Mall!…
GS: ..and dealing in intoxicants is not “right occupation”. Other than that, it’s a matter of refined sensitivities or not-so-refined sensitivities, in traditional Hinayana Buddhism. I mean, that gives you one kind of a rule-of-thumb to look at. So one question that is raised for writers, from the standpoint of “right occupation” is – “Am I at this time or ever dealing in intoxicants?” – Yeah – the poem as intoxicant – literature as intoxicant – information as object of greed, and so forth..
Michael Brownstein: I don’t understand that, I’m sorry. Do you mean that the poem can’t intoxicate the reader? That it should be a kind of sober..
AG: Sobering lesson!
GS: And very moral
MB: A poem your public can slap in your face. I’m not sure if I agree with that, but…
AG: No, but if the whole purpose of the poem is just a.. senseless titillation..
MB: So, now wait a minute, what about your calling? What if your calling is to…
MB: …to write things that intoxicate. What are you going to do about that?
LF: Well, you’re thinking about (Charles) Baudelaire, maybe?
MB: Well, Baudelaire’s a lot more complex than that, but that’s a good example.
AG: Well give me an example of somebody who writes just for intoxication?
MB: Well, “just” is a curious word –
MB: “Pick a poem<b…”
GS: Well it’s like the Supreme Court would say, it has to have some “redeeming social value”
LF: This is going to sound like the Christian-Buddhist conference! (not poetics)
GS: Okay, so we throw that out.
Student: I was just saying.. What about Alfred Hitchcock‘s movies, for example?
MB: I think they’re very moral, actually.
GS: You see, I think we get caught, if we confuse this discussion of intoxicants with questions of morality. I think there’s two different things going on here. And, it’s my personal experience, in years spent both in Asia and the Western world, that when the Far East and India presents rules, it is not to say as when the Judeo-Christian presents rules. It’s very interesting to see that difference and to see how relentlessly European, people of European cultural background, interpret any schema of codes, any set of commandments, any batch of precepts, in a rigidly moralistic way, and immediately find themselves asking questions about sincerity, authenticity, and honesty. And it’s assumed, in all Judeo-Christian moral thinking that you have to do what you say. It’s just automatically assumed. And if you don’t do what you say, then you are..completely a phony and in no way to be respected. Now, in the Far East, that’s not the case at all (and in India too, to somewhat less of a degree). Precepts and moral instructions in the Far East are understood to be guidelines, stated in a formalistic way, but open to interpretation and adjustment according to circumstance. And in no case to be taken as, if a person breaks one, no, that is not evidence that they are immoral, or necessarily even to be blamed, it’s simply evidence that on that particular occasion they were not able to accomplish following the precept. And so, one’s personal sense of worth, or one’s relationship to one’s peers, does not stand or fall by the degree of literalness to which they adhere to a set of precepts.
And so..like, in Buddhist discussions of precepts, there are precepts as according to form, and then there are precepts as according to formlessness – the formless definition of the precepts, as in Bodhidharma’s commentary on the precepts from the formless position. From the standpoint of form, we say, “You must not take life”. From the standpoint of formlessness, we say, “How do you put yourself to best nourishing life in all given possible circumstances?”. And so, I really was already thinking from that position when I said, when I raised the question of “How do we not intoxicate with poetry?” – It’s not to be taken as a moralistic or literalistic question, it’s to be taken as a very free and creative question.
To which there is no ultimate answer as to what constitutes intoxication, but, you know, roughly, are we enabling people to stay and go deeper into their own real minds?, or are we hooking their minds and pulling them, you know, into our trip, so to speak? – That’s all I meant by that.
AG: I thought of that when Mick Jagger gave a concert here once. To what extent was it..basically,just a big sensational ego-trip of his own (which was kind of empty, in the sense that nobody was really satisfied, except at the very end of the concert, he sang “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, and somehow that was like, a really great, brilliant, commentary on the whole situation we were all in a stadium full of eighty-thousand people, all really wanting some kind of ecstatic get-together but the distance being so great and showmanship being so expensive, actually, that nothing was happening, it didn’t feel like..moving.. it didn’t feel moving, actually, except on a sensational level, a lot of rhythm, good vibes here and there_
MB: He’s an entertainer, a polished entertainer?
AG: Well, he’s a little poet too, I guess
MB: He’s a little poet?
AG: Yeah. Well, that’s where I saw that question.
LF: There’s a basic confusion in most Western societies between the artist or the person , or whatever… in a certain way that people get the ..take the more.. confuse that with the person.. I guess, like, the person, or the artist, or the teacher, to blame (putting blame on the teacher if something goes wrong, and they’re not looking at the teachings after a while, they get further away from the teachings, or the text, or the poem, or whatever, so there’s just like a cult of personality, for better or worse, that comes up all the time.
Student: As far as entertainers?
MB: Well, I don’t think that… I don’t know what you mean by entertainment. I mean, I’m not quite..
LF: If it”s just what Gary was talking about, pulling your mind along (and) pulling along someone with you, into your… if that’s what you want to call entertainment, no…they are not entertainers…. but, on the other hand, it’s not… I don’t think it has to be a.. you know, the other scheme is some kind of Calvinist, you know, spanking, that you get – it doesn’t have to go that far (although that could be interesting too for somebody who needs to be spanked – or wants to be spanked). So, the range is enormous, that’s the problem, the range is too great.
MB: The entertainer is radical adapting what he’s doing, his calling, say, to..something commercial going on, and to reach the greatest number of people in that way, you know, and i don’t think that holds true now necessarily for most forms of art, you know..
GS: I think that this question goes back to the nature of the ellipse.
MB: The ellipse?
GS: Yeah..and understanding how ellipse works in art, or how ellipse, emptiness, work, a gap, works in art. If you take a scale, and at one end is art as pure product, and at the other end is art as pure process, and the scale is a continuum, the entertainer is at the end of the scale which is product, and the audience is pure spectator. That’s.. obviously we recognize what that is. No demand made on the audience but an instantly attractive surface.You move along the scale to another point, which is like a haiku-gathering in seventeenth-century Japan, of three poets (Basho and two of his friends), making up haiku together for no audience at all – as process, and no entertainment at all, because they’re all doing it.
Now all poetry will be somewhere in that scale, at different times and in different contexts, but we can recognize the ends of it. And the point about the ellipse is, in terms of participation, the ellipse indicates the requirement of participation by the leap of the mind of those present. No leap required at the entertainment end. A huge leap required at the processed, because it’s all process. Ellipse is process, the jump of the mind.
LF: But many in the audience will try to turn that process to product in their mind, in this.. certainly in this culture.
GS: Well, being, in part, product, is not bad.
LF: No, I never said per se, but that’s the tendency..
GS: But let’s be sure we understand that. The product is per se not bad and process is per se not good, but a balance is what we are nourishing in the fine arts (as against popular arts, which are pure entertainment, and pure product). We actually developed this in 1974 over a period of four or five months of dialogue with each other, as an understanding between us on the California Arts Council, especially Peter Coyote, and Noah Purifoy and Luis Valdez and myself, after being appointed to the California Arts Council by Jerry Brown, we worked out our views and came to realize that we were all in agreement about this scale between product and process, and consciously developed an arts programme in the state of California that was based on nourishing process rather than product (which worked pretty well, and, you know, people never noticed what we were doing really because it was too subtle, but that’s where the money went.
Pat Donegan: – (Chogyam Trungpa) Rinpoche‘s talks about, (in “Dharma Poetics” – we had a class about that, here at Naropa last summer), we talked about that very thing that it’s possible to do in Western cultures – to bein the process end of it, and coming from a seat of genuine.. genuineness, I guess. And that’s the judgment of the poem, that’s the genuineness – and if it is, that will reverberate to the reader, or the listener, and it won’t be something that’s just, like you said, enticing or entertaining, it will ring true, because it will come from that true place of emptiness, or gap, like you were talking about.
MB: That’s probably true, but the problem there is that you can see those as being buzz-words – “genuineness” – Who’s to say I’m not being genuine” when I jack off?
Peter Orlovsky: Well you know it, you know when to jack off., right?
Pat Donegan: I think you know when the process. is, when…
MB: No, I mean it is totally true. When the dust settles, it’s true, but still, the problem is…
LF: You guys sound like experts! How do you get the dust?
Pat Donegan: No, but the thing about it, I think, is (that when you do haiku), it’s like when you do calligraphy, you know when you do the lines whether it’s wiggly or not, it’s like instant feedback, on the spot, I think you can tell, When you do a haiku, I think, because it’s very short, and in that form, that you can see whether your mind was really there, or you weren’t there, (or are you even being true?) I think it’s like instant feedback, I think you can tell, and I think the reader can tell too, and the listener can tell too.
MB: I hope so. What do you folks think?
LF: I think..
Student: I think it depends on…
Student (2): Well, but, then, how do you apply that to fiction, or..
MB: Well yes, and then the haiku as a form is even much more open to that, but..
Joe Richey: I like poets and writers.. who write lies. I guess it’s just..that the poet should be able to write what he pleases..
GS: Well, she can.
LF: There are good liars.
GS: That’s the question, see?
Student: Yeah, I think you’re getting into the.. the question of whether the writer’s an entertainer or not, in any circumstance, and you said that you enjoyed it, that that made it easier, that a good writer is a good liar…
Student: Well, yeah, it’s fun, you know. You know, like people who tell you nice things about you, compared to…
LF (aside) – These two are very happy together.
GS: How do you know they’re lies, tho’?
JR: ..When you write them you know that they’re lies.
Student (2): I thought we were trying to get away from morality, and it seems that, as we’ve said, its a product…
LF: How can we ever get away from morality.
GS: I.. I do.. We’re not..See, we haven’t raised any questions of good or bad in this. If you think it’s morality, then it’s your morality and you’re asserting it right now.
MB: He’s looking it at it, trying to identify….
Student (2): I’m talking about lies and truth here
GS: Well, no, lies and truth. Nobody said one was good and the other was bad. When Joe, says he thinks he likes lies, he was, like thinking he was going to shock us, we’re not shocked.
There is another interesting question that that raises tho’, (and here, where I say “good” or “bad” here, it’s not moral judgment) there can be good lies and bad lies – and there can be entertainment out at the far end (entertainment as product), we’ll say equally popular in both cases. These two events, each drew ten thousand people and everbody went home satisfied, but this was far better than the other one, and.. Quality is another question. There can be very high quality entertainment that nobody notices, in that particular context, and there can be low-quality process over on this end, and indeed a lot of process fooling around poetry is slobber, you know, slobber is process, blub blub blub blub<b, it comes out… So, again, you know, we’re working on several levels of questions (none of which have been resolved!)
But isn’t the purpose of poetry to have people be reached, you know, and if somebody is entertained and there’s.. and people are really looking into the words, isn’t that, one of the more important things?
Student: (Not more important than the process of the poem?)
LF: Well first you have to make something, and nobody’s going to be reached without you making something, and the making itself is, I think, primary. And then, then it’s up for debate or question what, what the next step is, what the purpose..The actual making of something can include an audience in that making. Then again, you don’t have to include..include another.. you can just write to one person. So you can include the audience in the process (you can include the product in the process, in a sense – you can subsume the idea of the product within the process , whether or not in then becomes product, I don’t know.
GS:That’s actually a poetic strategy with some poets.
LF: Yes it is.
GS: In a sense, some of (Ezra) Pound‘s work, and some of (Charles) Olson‘s work, is demonstrating the materials he uses, and how he uses them, as he goes in the poem. He’s showing his process. His poem is his process.
MB: He’s showing it to the public.
GS: And showing it to the public, you know, right down to giving it his reading-lists. Product as Process. And then there is the other extreme, which is the finely-crafted, totally-finished poem, which quite conceals how the poet was working and what he was handling and manipulating..
MB: No Parking.
GS: He’s put all his tools away, and the tool-bench is wiped clean… [brief silence on the tape] – I think there is still the question of how do we tell quality – in any of these cases? (because we know that we do, actually?)
LF: How do we measure it?
MB: Now how do you know something..has worth, is good? To the degree that a culture’s homogeneous, you can come much closer to it, to the degree that it isn’t.. like, in today’s culture, it’s much more difficult, I think. We’re living in a traditional society, in which its artistic forms are..undergo a very slow change, and so people’s idea of quality comes together much more than other societies where they’re bouncing off the walls, pluralistic..
MB: Well just, even, pluralistic, like America, (the) “melting pot”…
Student: I think if (William) Blake had wanted to find an external judge of his value he would have stopped writing long before he did…..
GS: Well he’s not thinking of art as a product. He’s purely.. He’s involved in it purely as process..
LF: (He’s crazy!)
GS: ….and imagining or conceiving probably of his audience as being an array of living and dead human beings at various places on the planet, plus assorted gods and demons and spirits that he’s writing for. In fact, you can write for non-existent audience.
LF: (It’s) a “homemade world’.
LF: What (Hugh) Kenner calla “a homemade world”
GS…and you’re measuring yourself against yourself. I mean, that’s the only thing that I ever used as a standard, finally,<b (I’m sure this is true of just about everybody), is my own feeling about my work when I’m done with it. You know, There is something in me that is the critic and nobody else, and either I have satisfied myself or I have not satisfied myself in the matter of deciding whether a poem is finished or not. Having finished it according to my own likes, I put it out and try to publish it and I don’t give a tinkers damn after that, really, if ypeoplelike it or don’t like it. I will be content with what I’ve done with it myself. That’s.. that’s from way inside..the poet’s position on the scale, is knowing for yourself, with finality, what you think has accomplished what you wanted it to accomplish
LF: I think it’s a good point for a lot of these people, students especially, in the audience, is that the question has come up as how does one proceed as one’s own critic, from the actual beginning to not-caring after that point, as you say, how does one…
HS: That’s a real good question.
LF: My criticism, my criticism of the students…one of my criticisms of, in fact, not just students but anyone, is that, in the process of writing, you..you don’t read what you’ve written (which is not an easy thing to do) (Jack) Spicer used to complain about that, he’d say “Nobody reads”, especially poets, “nobody reads what you yourself have written”, and there’s a…It’s very problematic because it’s hard to get any kind of proper perspective on what you’ve just done and how do you go about doing that? There are many different degrees to which that occurs. For some it’s very painful to read what you’ve written
AG: Your own. People read their own..
LF: You’re reading your own work. You’re asking …
GS: That question – how do you learn to be your own critic?
LF: That question comes up all the time, or else it’s implied because you can’t merely go to a teacher or your mommy, or whoever, and depend on some kind of yardstick when you finally are alone with that work, with your work. You’re alone with whatever is going on inside you and how…then what? You write this poem, then what? Then what? – You take it to somebody, fine, but what about yourself? how do you see it? And a lot of students..I point out something, “O look, that’s redundant, you’ve already said that there a dozen times or so” and he’ll say, “O, I didn’t see that. I didn’t see that”, Well, it’s a good… and I think, well, how do you teach how to see that? And I don’t know, I’m not sure. I think it’s damned important.
Student: Just the fact of being aware of it.
LF: Being aware of it, but there’s also a danger, I’ve been thinking, the danger is (and this doesn’t necessarily apply just to poetry, but to anything that you create) the danger is becoming too tight, like some sort of scelerosis sets in, para..paralysis, if you look too hard or are particularly divisive in your mind, you’ll start having third and fourth judgments rather than having just seconds. So it’s a problem, and, Allen, you..“first thought, best thought” it may work, it may work very well, to get it down, but then what? – then you just…
AG: then I’d read it a year later…
LF: A year later or something, yeah that’s…
LF: (and then organize it)
AG: When the conditioning… when the conditions have changed, and I’m no longer hooked into that particular set of words, and read it fresh, so that I’m surprised by.. that I’ve repeated words, or, put in a lot of verbiage that didn’t make any sense, that didn’t add anything, really. So it takes a little time to see that.
LF: Right, so, in a sense, you’re either….
AG: Then I revise.
LF: You’re ahead of yourself, or you’re behind yourself or something.
PO: Or, you just write your poem, and then, three hours later, you give a reading to five hundred people! (It’s the best way to do it, take my word for it). You can really get it done that way.
Student: I actually agree with Peter, that the way to become your own best critic really is by not being only who you think you are, that is by.. in a sense, imagining that you are reading that poem as a.. to.. almost anyone who it could be, (which is Gary’s point about (William) Blake, that Blake included in his persona, demons. men, writers, living, dead, who would come, and in that light ,really, you step outside of the person that you are, at the point that you’re creating the poem). Because, especially when you begin writing, it’s very very easy, especially also what has been popular during this century which is.. poetry usage almost as a kind of research tool (I’m thinking, specifically, of, say, Language Poets, in which the tools of the craft are set out as though they were in… as though they were jewels in a glass box. They aren’t functioning, really, in terms of communication in the same way that, really, poetry traditionally has communicated. They’re highly interesting as tools for communication). In any case, if you work.. if you are tempted to work that way, only being responsible to yourself at any one moment, (and, unless that self is pretty damned inclusive, nobody’s going to listen to you).
LF: Oh gee.. that’s a hard thing to bear. I myself have a .. I think it’s a very.. I had a little trick of turning into Ron Padgett in my mind, or Ted Berrigan, almost pretetnding I was these people and looking at what I’d written, and saying, “Oh, Fagin has written another…”
MB ..lousy poem!
LF: “..lousy poem”, or, “What is this?”, or, “Oh God, who wrote this? Fagin?”, you know, and just really getting it,.. I had this little trick of doing it. Fortunately, I have what I call a correspondent, a co-respondent, which I mentioned often, I think it’s extremely important, because it’s a very, as they say, “sullen art”, sullen dart. You’re alone, you have to sort of think about that position, what that really means, how you can function, and it’s very helpful to have a friend that you trust, especially another artist, and maybe even value as critic, but then sort of see through his or her eyes as well, If you can do that, if you can do that, that may help (of course, it may confuse you too)
AG: I think.. In my class. I gave out a paper called “Rules For Revising”.
Yes, I saw that .
And one of them was to read it, read a poem through the eyes of any number of people. I normally read it through, like, Gary’s eyes, Burroughs’ eyes…
LF: I have Ted (Berrigan) for that, I have Ted for that.
AG: But I have almost everybody that I see.
LF: ..ever knew, yeah.
AG: ..and then I check it out to help me..
LF: But then there’s a problem with that?
MB: Isn’t that confusing, tho’?
AG: No, it strengthens it.
LF: Well it can, but.. I can actually get up, get up in a room somewhere (and) reasd a poem and I feel, I feel very confident, and then someone will walk in, you (Allen) will walk in the room, or someone else will walk in the room, and I’ll say, “Un-oh”
AG: Oh I do that in advance! I do that in advance..
LF: I actually think ‘ uh-oh, I have to change this tone or do something so that Allen will be pleased. It actually is there. That feeling is actually there. Yeah but it’s not anything, but it’s actually in my mind at a certain point, not always but I ‘ve had that
AG: Okay, so it could easily be ass-licking or maximizing your intelligence.
AG: I think maximizing your intelliugence. It depends on the way you take it, depends on the way you use the insight.
LF: You know, well, I try not to get personal.
AG: Well, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about my process.
LF; Well your process
AG ; Either way, it’s pleasurable
LF: Well it can be.
MB: Hey, Allen Can you do that? Do you really do that? Come on..
AG: I do, I do…
MB:You take a poem and you have several…
AG: On the Bible!
MB: What Bible?
AG: Twenty-five, thirty, before I get it in books, I’ve read it over…
MB: What about that poem of yours that I rewrote?
AG: Which poem was that ? Which one was that?
MB: I can’t remember
AG: I read them through your eyes.
GC: You know, in every culture they call that the dialogue between reducing risk and maximizing production.
LF: It’s hard to reduce risks tho’, it’s
Student: Lets get some poems in the bull-prn and warm it up to the situation, you know,
GC: Well, in fact, what Allen was describing, I think I…I realize, you know, that I’ve never consciously realized that I did that, but I do, (not) in quite the same way, read poems through other people’s eyes, and in some cases, say, “Well, Allen won’t like this, but so-and-so will, and, you know, overall it’s what you want, and so you, you know, take a few negative opinions.
AG: I’m not quite (that) .For instance, if I read it through, say, your eyes, then, if it’s something that has to do with dharma or nature, or country, I would check out “will this stand the harsh test of Gary’s experienced eyes or am I just bullshitting?” And so, then, if I find that there is a little element of bullshit that you would sniff at, then I try and put some iron in it, so that (it’s clear).
LF: Like the Pleiades..like the Pleiades, when we got together that first night. Allen read a poem that included the position of the Pleiades, and Gary said, “Well…”
AG: “In the halflight of dawn…”
LF: Yeah. “In the half light of dawn”
AG: “A few birds warble/ under the Pleiades” – And you know what my (slant) on that was? – “A few birds” (that’s really New Jersey speaking), you know I wasn’t very clear and I realized “a few birds” (whatever that means) warbled (what kind of bird “warbles”?) – Was it really…was it really sharp there? to actually get… “Warble”? – actually, they were warbling, but I didn’t know what kind of birds.
AG: So my actual thought was, “Is there any way I can strengthen that, so it wouldn’t be so indefinite? – (“A few boids warbling.. “)…
GS: Well, that’s pretty good
AG: …to someone who was actually familiar with birds. That was.. That actually flashed in my mind., when I read that.
LF: But you remember what Gary said which was.. where..?
AG: …but Gary paid attention to something completely different.
LF: ..where were the Pleiades exactly at that particular time ? or what time of day it was, what time of year?
GS: I said the Pleiades would be, the Pleiades would be in that particular position in the early morning, if it was summer
AG: Yeah. I’d just wrote it, July, so..
AG: I remember at one time I read a long poem called “The Contest of Bards” [later published in Mind Breaths] at Kitkitdizze, and I had a very flowery sequence of eloquence or oratory that was about “lilac, rose and honeysuckle” blossoming and Steve Stanfield [Gary’s friend] turned to look at me and knew I was bullshitting, that I’d just made up the words, that it had nothing to do with an actual procession of flowers. He said, “they don’t blossom at the same time” Remember? do you remember that?
LF: Only in a poem.
AG: He pointed out that actually I was just…. that I didn’t know really ..I was just making up..blub blub..pretty lilacs… warbling!…So I really did feel that ..it would make the poem a hundred percent perfect if I actually knew what I was talking about in terms of the sequence. In the sequence of..
AG: In the sequence of which flowers blossomed when because it was about time passing and these flowers blossomed. If you can make the poem, like, totally impenetrable, like that completely..
GS: No weaknesses.
GS: No suki? No openings?
GS: Suki is a Japanese sword-fighting term.
AG; So I read to check out suki
GS: A weakness where your opponent can reach you.
AG: Right, So I read through other people’s eyes to check out, through their intelligence, whether there be holes
LF: Whereas Michael, I want to know (for) Michael, how he sees this, (if at all), just the whole creative process outside yourself, I mean, you know…
MB: I mean..I think getting distance is really important, putting it away, not for a year, but (for some time)…
LF: Is that how you’d do it, just put it away?
MB: Yeah, put it away, look at it in different frames of mind or something. However, the original topic which is , you know, how do you sort of obtain the quality to make something have more quality, is an interesting unanswerable question, and something that can’t be taught, you know the old saw about “Can poetry be taught?” Can writing poetry be taught anyway? Can a sense of quality be imparted in the sense of some… Can it be measured, quantified, and dealt with, in that sense, you know, or are artists born and not made?
GS: I think you can learn, to some extent.
LF To some extent, yeah
GA: I’m thnking of my own process. I recall how my first flush of teenage poems I thought were just incredible, and I showed them to a few friends who thought they were great too –
GS: Teenagers, right? – So that gave me the nerve, when I got into college, with these smart, cynical, East Coast kids, to show them my poems too. Well, that was a lesson! And so there is a growing process that comes with showing some things to others. And you do go through that over the years. First, I measured my poems against my peers. Then I measured them against another circle of peers that was sharper and more cynical, and you know off too sometimes because of their preppy cynicism, and then I measured them against literature and received critical standards of the New Criticism of that time, and being of that generation. And then, another phase was having a circle then of people like myself, Phil Whalen, Lew Welch, Bill Dickey, all of us about the same age, who had gone through something of the same process, and all of us still writing, and so then we began to show our poems to each other, and that became very valuable, I mean, that was one..a really great learning period, because, mutually, as a little circle of working young people, we threw away adolescent preconceptions and New Criticism and academic preconceptions and began to grow by virtue of exchanging our minds with each other. And then, after several years of writing poems out of those kinds of contexts, and then actually giving up writing poems for a while, I started writing poems again, and found that I was thrown back on making my own judgments on them because they didn’t fit any standards that worked by.. I’d worked by with anyone before. And so, like, I came to the point.. I actually wasn’t telling the truth when I said I don’t give a tinker’s damn about what anybody thinks of my poem. When I think of that now, I’m having second thoughts..
AG: Very un-bodhisattv-ic!
GS: Yeah, second thoughts. There are people’s opinions that I respect and ask for (Allen’s would be one, Jim Dodge is another, a few other friends).These aren’t professional literary critics, and not many poets, but they are people who’s minds I’m acquainted with and comfortable with and I trust their willingness to criticize me and challenge me back. And, like, those are finally, your most valuable spiritual friends, are the ones that you are very intimate with and that you know will challenge you – invaluable friends . And I think that, like, is where it levels out, because, by this time, going through this process, over twenty years or so, for the most part, I think I, and anyone else in my generation, has learnt, more or less, how to be our own critic, up to a pretty good degree
LF: So you can..(teach).. I mean, something can be taught (actually, I think so too) but what I find is what can be definitely taught is usually couched in a negative setting -“This is redundant”, “this is sloppy” “this is… I mean, it always seems to be a negative… It seems to be harder to criticize what’s right, to arrive at..
MB: That has something to do with you..
LF: Maybe, maybe – but..
MB: I wasn’t talking about that tho’, I don’t think, tho’…
LF: What then?
MB: Well, maybe, just the sense of..that you can’t.. you know, obviously, you can’t teach talent, say. Like I find the most success when I’m teaching classes in terms of not having to deal with that at all but in terms of opening people up to new ways of generating or following energy, you know what I mean..
MB: ..rather than being critical.
GS: But you know what the achievement of the poet, of the teacher, in that case might be, a real achievment might be to teach self-criticism to the point that a person could say, completely comfortably, “Well, maybe I don’t have any talent?”, and “maybe I’m working in the wrong field?” – that too
MB: I think it’s also possible to be.. to proceed without talent. (Ted) Berrigan used to say he had no talent but got there through dogged determination and, you know…
GS: Many cups of coffee.
MB:Many cups of coffee and other unmentionables.
AG: Pills, actually.
LF: But… It’s true, actually. Some people in groups, some writers that will, say, have a really nice, essay or narrative line in their poetry, but their poetry doesn’t quite make it as exciting language. And so I might say, “Well, why not try some prose? – because you have this wonderful narrative flow going through, that you seem to want to tell a story, why even bother with that particular form, why not switch and see what happens?” So that’s, like, rechanneling somebody’s energies into that. I mean, that can be done in a positive way.
So a lot of things can be done.. I find as.. It’s true, basically, it‘s not only can you not teach talent..
MB: It is really valuable to show people. That’s why I wonder about the thing in your head because I would think it would still be me, even if I thought it was ..
AG: Oh, if anyone’s around, I’ll show it. And then also I’ll read it.
MB: It’s surprising the degree that one resists. I mean, I’ll have something which I think is terrific, and I’ll.. but I”ll really be resisting inside myself, just cutting out two, three-quarters of a page, and it’s got all these, what I would consider great things in it, or..
LF: Right. What you cut out….what you cut out.
MB: And I don’t even see that, you know. Whereas somebody else can instantly say, you know, that this..
LF: But don’t you ever think, that what you cut out, nobody is going to miss
LF: So there is that – I mean I used to go to (Ron) Padgett. He had..like the poem hospital, you know, he was like the poem doctor, you know, it was like having a doll hospital, you know, where you repair dolls. And, you know, Poem doctor in, and you’d come in, and… when he would take something out of a poem of mine.. I would want to..I would want it back, but then I kept thinking,”well, just pretend I never wrote that and see what’s left, see what’s there, as if it’s there for the first time. So people have this acquisitive nature of wanting everything. I do, want everything, you know, more to have it
Student: How do you not betray yourself in all that?
LF: Well, yeah, that’s the trick, how not to be effusive and greedy and…It’s very problematic, and very subtle and very difficult, and a correspondent does help sometimes (it can hinder too but if you have to take that chance, I think) – What?
Student (2): Perhaps one thing you’re trying to tell me is, maybe, in answer to that is, like, taking out, or dealing with, sentimentality, so, I was thinking, like, what you take out nobody is going to miss, but, one of the elements you want in the poem is, perhaps, the mood, or the feel, of it, the message of it, and so, if I can take out a sentimental line that’s a sloppy line, alright, that’s great, but I want to still have the feel that, if I’m dealing with sadness.. I don’t have to have a bunch of obvious words about sadness. Don’t you feel that, maybe, (that) there’s a place between, so you get the feeling of me, instead of me jumping up and down and saying “I’m sad”‘
LF: Right. I believe in.. sadness. I don’t.. I actually believe in being sentimental, but…properly, or somehow, effectively, rather than just a bathetic kind of wallowing in..you know
LF: Yeah, you know, taking a bath in your…
AG: Quote “bathetic sentimentality” unquote – that’s a common phrase by reviewers (that) I’ve heard over the years
GS: What’s the difference between “bathos” and “pathos” anyway?
MB: “Pathos” is good, “bathos” is bad
AG: It’s like taking a bath in your pathos!
LF: Yeah, right. It’s one step over the…one toke over the line, like they say.
MB: Thanks, Gary.
LF: But there is that. I thought that..Ted..Ted Berrigan, one of his great strengths (which could be a weakness at times too) was his actual sentimentality. Sentimentality – being sentimental, rather than… And then there’s this phrase called “being accurate in your sentiments”, being sentimental, the accuracy of sentiment, which is feeling, in other words, just feeling, being accurate about that feeling and getting that finitely there, just as you, as you get an object finitely down. So..
Student: I mean, like, that’s one of the goals. It’s that standard thing. If you’re going to take something out, then you want to be sure that that element is still there, expressed somehow in (the poem)..
LF: Yeah, yeah
MB: Is it hot in here or am I dreaming?
Students: You’re dreaming
MB: Its hot
Student: It’s cooler over there
LF: You’ve got a temperature
GS: You’re getting the sun coming right down on you.
LF: Are we bored?. Shall we take a break?
GS: I think we’ve said what can be said about being a critic. So what else shall we talk about?
Student: The (Chicago) White Sox.
MB: … (Baseball)…before it’s over.
AG: Gary had planned the topic actually – “Form and Emptiness”
GS: That’s what we’ve been talking about – always!
AG: Well, we got through it okay.
GS: Well, in a sense, yeah, that’s we’ve been talking about all along
AG: Did you have some ideas about (how to) lay it out…Well, what time is it, shall we take a break?
MB: Beats me.
Student: It’s eleven thirty-five.
AG: Let’s take a few minutes.
GS: Let’s take a quick break.
[Audio for the above can be heard here , beginning at approximately twenty-six minutes in, and concluding at the end of the tape]
and also – here