Allen Ginsberg and Miguel Algarin (with David Amram) – 1994 Naropa 20th Anniversary Reading

Miguel Algerin. Photo via his homepage

The following is the first part of a July 1994 Naropa reading, celebrating, as is pointed out, the twentieth anniversary of Naropa (Naropa now 02016) girding up for its forty-second summer season). The readers on this occasion are Allen Ginsberg and Miguel Algarin (Miguel Algarin reads first). Introductions are by Andrew Schelling and by Anne Waldman. A second part, the concluding part, to this reading (featuring Gary Snyder and David Amram) will be posted here on the Allen Ginsberg Project in the weeks ahead.
Andrew Schelling begins by welcoming the company and noting the significance of the occasion

Andrew Schelling : (begins, in media res) ….especially welcome to those people who have come from out of town. At this time of the year Boulder is blessed by the descent
of many Scholars, Poets, Buddhists, Sufis, Anarchists, Low-Impact Capitalists, and many others, who come to take part, in advance, at the Jack Kerouac School For Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute. This is the twentieth-anniversary [1994]
of the Naropa Institute and the twentieth-anniversary of the founding of the Jack Kerouac School, and this week has been dedicated to a celebration of our great Whitmanic bard and Blake-an scholar, Allen Ginsberg [applause] – In fact, in an unprecedented gesture, the Mayor of Boulder, Leslie Durgin, has declared today “Allen Ginsberg Day” [more applause]. And just a few hours ago, a few blocks down Arapahoe Avenue, we formally opened The Allen Ginsberg Library, newest library on this whole front range of Rocky Mountains that stretches down through this grand continent. And tonight, there will be live performance of those poetic acts that gave birth to that library (and) this school, the Jack Kerouac School.

Allen Ginsberg Library, Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado

This (where we are now) is a high-school auditorium, and because many of you have, perhaps, not been in a high-school auditorium for a long time, there are two simple guide-lines – no smoking, no flash-bulbs. I’ve also been asked to announce that the movie that played yesterday at the Boulder Public Library, The Life And Times of Allen Ginsberg, is available as a video [now DVD] in a very limited edition of fifty copies, the proceeds of which go to the Naropa Institute so that we can continue the work that we do here in Boulder. They will be for sale down in the bookstore on the Naropa campus. They will be numbered and signed by the filmmaker (Jerry Aronson)
To introduce our first reader tonight, I will bring on the co-founder, the director, the co-chair of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, a renowned and wonderful poet in her own right, Anne Waldman.

Anne Waldman. Photo Courtesy Naropa University

Anne Waldman: Thank you, Andrew Schelling, Okay. Let’s go. Our opening act this evening is Miguel Algarin , a surprise guest, who is a poet, scholar, a professor of Shakespeare at Rutgers University, a poetry impresario, and the celebrated founder of the Nuyorican (Poets) Café in New York City. This café and its attendant activities have generated and sparked a tremendous interest in literary cultural diversity and also in the power and dynamics of spoken word performance. This café has been a real beacon for the oral tradition, to which thousands of young people have flocked, often getting their first chance to test their vocal chords and their imaginations in the popular poetry slams.This café is definitely on the map, a pilgrimage-spot and a major artistic energy-center. And Miguel Algarin is also one of our earliest guests at the Naropa Institute. He’s in our selection of essays, Talking Poetics. He is currently traveling around the country, reading from a book entitled Aloud!– Voices From The Nuyorican Café, which has recently won the American Book Award (and this is the third such award to go to Miguel Algarin). We’re very pleased to have him back in Boulder. He will be accompanied by David Amram, composer, musician extraordinaire. I first met David Amram in 1961 at the Stratford Poetry Festival, Connecticut, I was working back-stage, a wee teen, when he was composing the music for As You Like It, and other Shakespeare plays. He was an instant energy-rush, jack-of-all-trades in a very demanding field of music with an impressive range of compositions already behind him – string quartets, operas, chamber-pieces. He created many scores for the theater and films, including Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate. My mother (Frances), a very Bohemian lady, adored him and thought he’d make a great husband – “He’d certainly never be dull” – I was a little young for that and she was already married. In any case, David became more of a role-model, and I’ ve always valued his amazing energies, and his “refusal”, in Ed Sanders maxim, “to be burnt out”. And his accomplishments in the field(s) of classical music, jazz, world music, are extraordinary. He’s had a long strong relationship to Allen Ginsberg and other members of the Beat Generation , going back many years. He composed the music for Pull My Daisy . He’s “Mezz McGillicuddy” in that movie, and he first performed jazz poetry with Jack Kerouac in 1957. He had us dancing in the aisles at the Kerouac Conference in Naropa in (19)82<, and it’s a great pleasure also to welcome him here.
So, our first act will be Miguel Algarin (please give him a hand) accompanied by David Amram and other musicians. Thank you.


[At approximately six-and-a-half minutes in, Miguel Algarin begins speaking]

Buenas nochesBuenas noches – Alright, David and his musicians gathered around me during the sound-check and we decided we were going to do this for you – and in a good Buddhist mode – this is for you (now, nothing is for, ever, for the self, ok?).
Now, some years back, I went to visit my beloved Cuba. (I am Puerto-Rican, but Cuba! – ah, Cuba!), and Cuba was having problems, it was having problems with the change-over in power, but it was also having problems with the people with HIV, and they were going out on them, they were quarantining people – it’s stopped now. So I had to.. I was looking for my friend, and I couldn’t find my friend – they were quarantining. And the question was, how do we speak about HIV?, how do we even begin to talk, language this problem, or this plague, into being?, and, in Spanish, French, Portuguese, we had no way to speak because we felt we (weren’t) being heard you see, so, here we are..
[Algarin begins with two poems-in-performance celebrating sex – the first, frustration – (..”rebel on a course to regret erections..”), the second (beginning approximately thirteen-and-three-quarter minutes in), liberation (“… but you know what? – she brought me back, yes, she did, I thought I had seen the last, the end, of love’s orgasm.. (but)… “I won’t let you hide…”). This is followed (at approximately twenty-and-three-quarter minutes in)
by – “A void is something to avoid./ It’s hard to be at zero-point…” – and the reading concludes with a long and detailed meditation, a poem on the death of his father – (“My mother’s pleading voice, not resigned, sang a crying song wishing for a rebirth..”) . [Algarin’s segment of the program concludes at approximately twenty-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in]

[At approximately twenty-nine-and-a-half minutes in, Anne Waldman introduces Allen Ginsberg]

Anne Waldman: (Testing…) .. William Carlos Williams had a wonderful command somewhere in his writings , that it is the job of each generation of poets to move the world a few inches. Allen Ginsberg, in concert, with his friends and colleagues and associates, has moved it many, many miles. Allen Ginsberg is a literary giant, a dharma lion, whose cosmic roar and proclamations woke America from its post-War industrial doldrums. And he. even now, when he goes to sleep, he gives another shout,  he’s.. [tape audio disappears momentarily]..  and (an) earth-shaker.
Allen Ginsberg is a great scholar and master of prosody, (and) is one of the few contemporary writers who’s studied classical meters and can roll examples off his tongue . He has studied William Blake and Percy (Bysshe) Shelley with passion and delight, an extraordinary teacher of both Christopher Smart and Charles Reznikoff , and knows the writing and poetics of his own generation comrades inside-our, (William) Burroughs, (Jack) Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen, Gregory Corso. He’s master of the spontaneous poetics of “first thought, best thought”, has initiated friendships and connections with writers all over the world, and is highly respected among writers from India, Russia, China, all over Europe. His mind and poetics can be met in his many journals, and we’re currently [1994] with the help of Randy Roark, his (teaching assistant)..[again, the tape-audio drops out] …. (on the memorable occasion that he went to see the) Star Wars movie. And, as the movie began its legend, (with the ominous voice ringing out, “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away”), Allen turned to Stephen (Stephen Singleton (sic)) and said , “Oh good, I don’t have to worry about it”

And we have, accompanying Allen tonight, Steven Taylor, who is a composer and orchestrator, a Fug. Steven Taylor is finishing his graduate doctorate in ethnomusicology at Brown University, and he will accompany Allen with his lucid strings and angelic voice (Steven’s also been a long-time faculty-member of the Jack Kerouac School).
It’s a great pleasure to have them both on stage tonight. Thank you – Allen Ginsberg! We exist for you! –

[There follows a brief moment of silence, Allen begins his reading at approximately thirty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in]

Allen Ginsberg: We’ll be joined by David Amram also. (David, if you could come sit with us). So.. beginning with “The Rune” (from “Contest of Bards”) – (“Where the years have gone, where the clouds have flown..”..”We die neither bles’t nor with curse confessed/Wanting Earth’s worst Best:/But return, where all Beauties rest.”)

So, one old song, and then I’ll go to new poems “Father Death Blues”- (continuing the theme of Miguel Algarin..) – (“Hey, Father Death, I’m flying home.. “…”My heart is still as time will tell”)

“Elephant in the Meditation Hall” _ (“Yes all the spiritual gurus scandal the shrine room/What about the San Francisco Roshi & the board director’s wife/Wha about high living limousine expense accounts in Moscow?…”…”Anyway, the national debt’ll approach 4 trillion any day say the homeless on Tompkins Square.”)

After (the Northern Bengali poet, Baul, B-A-U-L), Lalon Shah,nineteenth-century – Imitation or translations from the Crazy Wisdom School of the BengaliChaitanya – I read a.. Sunil Ganguly, a Bengali friend, sent me translations of this poet, who was an inspirer of (Rabindranath) Tagore, and I read the book, lay down, turned off the light, (and) kept waking up with imitations of the style, in which the poet names his own name at the end of each verse. And I kept waking up and turning on the light and writing more additions, so there’s six short poems.. ( (I) – “It’s true, I got caught in/ the world…”…”Allen Ginsberg says, I’m/really up shits creek.” (II) – “I sat at the foot of a/Lover…”…”How should I know, says/Allen Ginsberg/Maybe I’ve been dreaming/all along -/ (III) – “It’s 2 .a.m. and I got to /get up early…”…”What a mess I am, Allen Ginsberg” – (IV) “Sleepless I stay up &/ think about my Death…”….””asleep or awake, Allen/Ginsberg’s in bed/in the middle of the night.” (V) “Then they came for me,/I hid in the toilet stall..”… “Will it come true? Will/it really come true?” (VI) “I had my chance and lost it..”…”Allen Ginsberg warns you/dont follow my path/to extinction.”)

“The Charnel Ground” – The Charnel Ground (with an epitaph from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s commentary on the Sadhana of Mahamudra – “..rugged and raw situations, and having accepted them as part of your home ground, then some spark of sympathy or compassion could take place. You are not in a hurry to leave such a place immediately. You should like to face the facts, realities of that particular world” – (“Upstairs Jenny crashed her car & became a living corpse, Jake sold grass, the white-bearded potbelly leprechaun silent climbed their staircase……”… “..“The whole point seems to be the idea of giving away the giver”.”)

“Autumn Leaves” (“At 66 just learning how to take care of my body”… “happy not yet/ to be a corpse.”)

So I’ll finish with two poems, ..recent poems..last and this year (1994), one about eating, the other about excreting – <“C’mon Pigs of Western Civilization, Eat More Grease!” (“Eat, Eat more marbled Sirloin more Pork ‘n/ gravy!”…”And this is a plate of black forest chocolate cake,/you deserve it!”)

Last – well, you have to process all of that, so we next have “Excrement” – (“Everybody excretesdifferent loads/ To think of it -/ Marilyn Monroe’s once pretty buttocks,/ Eleanor Roosevelt’s bloomers dropt/, Rudolf Valentino on the seat..”… “Polyhymnia the Muse herself, lowered to this throne – /what a relief!”)

Andrew Schelling: Thank you Allen, David, Miguel, Steven. We’ll have a ten-minute break. If you want to leave the auditorium, you need to get a stamp on your hand that says “Paid” so you can return – Ten minutes.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning and ending at the end of the tape]

David Amram, Allen Ginsberg,and Steven Taylor performing, July, 1994, at Naropa – Photograph by Seth Brigham

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