Allen Ginsberg’s Rhyming Assignment

Allen Ginsberg’s 1980 Naropa class transcript continues

Student; Did you ever do.. have a go [at Echo Poems]?

AG: No, never did one myself but it’d be interesting to do. Should I assign it to class?

Student: You could..

AG: You’re the T.A. (teaching assistant). The assignments.. the class assignments, we have, by the way, I said I’d get to.. was.. are,/ so far,/ .not very profuse, or exact, or neat/, or complete/. You haven’t hammered your stammer/ to make it exact or compact. So, what I would suggest/ would be you be the guest/ of the muse/ and amuse yourselves/ with some mental elves/ and bring forth/ (of course) /some interesting rhyme/ every time. What we started to do/ was to “Make It New“/ that is to say,/ four beats and your lay/ for every single line /iambic tetrameter-time.”

Not many people have handed in their exercises and so they’re lacking from, I think – James C. is he here?, Mark..was one.. Steve H. Steve here? Andy M, is he not here today? Andy isn’t in – Laurie?.. one more… another one not here,  and Mike, you haven’t done it – and, one I’ve got – is that Lloyd’s or Anita’s? – that’s Lloyd’s – okay – So I’ve marked them and you can have them back, or wait until I’ve got all the rest in, maybe. Then, after that, remember, you’re going to be doing the  paradigm.. of the paradigm of the Henry King poem, which you still have? you’ve all got copies of that? – After…  what’s the first line again?

Student: Like to the falling of a star

AG: Like to the falling of a star..

Student: (We did that poem last time)

AG: Well, yeah, I assigned that poem last time  So bring that in if you can. But there’s still the old ones too. And the idea of these is to write a serious poem and not a joke poem because every time I give an assignment, I get this slush which is like “Here I am writing a rhyme/Well I do it every time”, or something, you know, not merely doggerel but doggerel-about-writing-doggerel ! – and it’s boring that way, for me. I don’t want to have to read all that doggerel about writing doggerel, if you’ve got to write doggerel. And it needn’t be doggerel. I don’t think you can write modern poetry unless you can master these rhythms actually, unless you can get an exact enough ear to know the difference between.. to have a good sound in these… I don’t think you can have an exact enough ear to have a good sound in hearing and reproducing the cadences of modern speech. You know, you’ve got to develop… the question is of developing an ear (that’s why I’m going over these, over and over, so often, reading them aloud, and, probably what we should be doing (which I’ll maybe start soon), is, in every class, read unison at least one poem aloud, you know, whenever we get a really good thing (and I think for this class, the next poem will do it – Shirley- James Shirley).

 [Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at  approximately forty-nine-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in}

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