Sadly Allen’s “Hum Bom!” is all too pertinent and prescient ( “Whydja bomb?/We didn’t wanna bomb!/Whydja bomb?/We didn’t wanna bomb!”) – Lisa New, creator and host of Poetry in America, a new poetry intiative from Harvard, has just released the video above. – U2’s Bono reciting the poem and US poet-laureate Juan Felipe Herrera quoting and discussing it. Bono is, of course, a long time fan of Allen’s – see here – and Herrera too (we would have loved to hear Herrera’s reading) – but “Hum Bom!” is not an easy poem to read (despite seeming to be so) and Bono is to be congratulated for successfully getting his chops around it.
As Daniel Kreps writes in Rolling Stone – “Despite the dizzying onslaught of one-syllable words, Bono deftly navigates the poem’s quirky cadence, quickening and decelerating his pace, shouting and whispering at the right moments.” – “It’ll be like a tongue twister. I’ll get it wrong and that’s probably the point,” the U2 singer warned before attempting the absurd, onomatopoeia-reliant poem that playfully details an aerial assault that’s pushed Earth to the brink of doomsday.”
A transcription of the tape follows here:
Bono: I’ll just try, just a tiny bit.
Lisa New: You’re going to try?
Bono: It’ll be like a tongue-twister. I’ll get it wrong and it’ll be like… that’s probably the point
Lisa New: Yeah, let’s do it
Bono reads Allen GInsberg’s poem “Hum Bom! “
Lisa New: It’s just like him – Hum Bom!
Juan Felipe Herrera: Hum Bom! Hum Bom!
LN: “Hum Bom!”- and the title is Hum Bom! but the first word is “Whom”
JFH: “Whom Bom!”, “Whom Bom!”, “Whom Bom!” – This reminds me…
LN: Whom Bom!
JFH Whom Bom!
LN: “Whom” “Howl”
JFH: Let’s say that together.
JFH & LA declaim together
JFH: Its that voice that keeps on rolling and yet finding those riffs, chanting, chanting tones and blessing, blessing tones, and hymns, and pouring out, and asking these big questions, and crying, and howling, and embracing, and going deep, and prophesying.
LN: Sometime when you do that..I’m struck, I’m struck speechless. I ask a simple question I get a poem, It’s alright
JFH: I finally get to…trying to get to the answer..trying to find it.
LN: Yeah. No, and that a poem would do that – that you, spontaneously, in Ginsbergian fashion, would be trying to get to the end, sort of via the poem, that it would be transportation..
LN: …to something. So, especially as I heard you read (sic) those incredible “Gog & Magog/Gog & Magog”..
JFH: You’ve got to leave, you leave.. You can’t read them.. I was attempting to read it and then I left at some point and I said “I’m just leaving the reading but I’m reading so I’ve got to read it”, and I’ve just got to go into up here , At first, I thought, “What is this? – Gog & Magog? That sounds.. I’ve never seen those words” (and even I have seen them, they’re so odd, those words are so odd. It’s almost like those sacred rhythms that cannot be learned because they’re sacred rhythms and if you learn them, you’re not ready for them, you will get affected by them…
JFL: And they’re only learned by the initiates.
LN: Yes. Well, I think these are dangerous words – “Gog & Magiog”
JFL: That’s how I first…
LN: These are the army of Armageddon.
JFL: That’s right
LN: This is Revelation stalking us, and we are it, but the way you read it, it detonated, right? – the “g'”s ?
JFL : Whoo! those “g”s! – those little troops!
LN: Ba-bop-ba-bop ba-bop. You said the ants go marching, one by one..
JFL The little troops – he’s just got them all lined up
LN: They are
LN: That is the greatest..
JFL: ..they’re these little troops, little Bom-lets, little Bom-lets, and…
LN: Little ineffectual, little bureaucratic Bom-lets, all looking at each other, saying “Well, like, you do it.” – “What? I don’t want to do it!”
JFL: ..and Magog-lets, he’s got some Magog-lets! – And all together, you know, all of it together. That’s an amazing accomplishment.
LN: Amazing human accomplishment? you grab the world this way?
JFL: I’m coming back to the famous unknowable, unmentioned, place – that this is an amazing accomplishment with these things called words, you know, it’s just an amazing accomplishment – that we can go this big (this poem goes this big, this far and this deep) – into the Bible, and forward into our time -and it’s kind of comedy (Keystone Cop-py) and has these voices that are fun, that we all enjoy reading, and then the repetition – and then we cross that odd bridge in section three and, all of a sudden, we’re with Gog & Magog and it’s no longer that funny stuff, it’s no longer, you know, the Marx Brothers….
“Hum Bom!” is also celebrated here in Columbia’s 2010 Beats celebration
Check out this mash-up of “Hum Bom!” and Jay Z‘s “Threat”
The Vishal Experimental Factory in 2015, put some sounds behind it.
(as did HouseMan)
and we like “pckg21c”‘s “Rapping “Hum Bom!) – subtle background music
for a very serious message