1967- Ginsberg-Corso-Berryman at Spoleto

The recordings of Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso (and of an unlikely third-party, John Berryman, at the 1967 Festival of Two Worlds (“Festival dei Due Mondi”) at Spoleto in Italy, organized by Gian Carlo Menotti is the focus of this weekend’s post

Allen Ginsberg, Spoleto, 1967

Allen’s reading (which was also subsequently featured in the recording Ginsberg’s Thing (1969)), was the subject at the time of some controversy.   As his biographer Bill Morgan explains:

“The police in Spoleto seemed to be waiting for him and they picked up copies of the Italian translation of his poem “Who Be Kind To” that were being passed out at the door and took them to the police station. There was no trouble at the reading however, and his appearance went smoothly….After his reading Allen walked over to have a beer in the little cafe across the plaza from the Duomo with fellow poets Octavio Paz and Desmond O’Grady. While Allen was standing by the bar waiting for his drink, a tall man in a business suit approached him and identified himself as a policeman. He ordered Allen to come with him. Allen’s fear of the secret police, learned so well from Havana and Prague, welled up inside and he felt a wave of panic. He slipped back to his seat at the table and told Desmond that the police were there to arrest him. For the next three hours he was interrogated at the police station with Nanda Pivano and Patrick Creagh there to help interpret……After the police interview, the Spoleto organizers rushed him back to the festival to prove that he had not been imprisoned and to nip any rumors to the contrary…The festival organizers agreed to pick up the legal bills for Allen’s defense, and the next night, Spoleto’s founder, Gian Carlo Menotti went on stage and stated that he would  support Allen and his work in front of the court. After initial assurances by the police that no action would be taken, they hinted that “a slight legal process would be instituted against the poem in Allen’s absence”, which went on for years…It was not until five years later in 1972 that the case was finally decided in Allen’s favor.”.

Patrick Creagh, Allen Ginsberg and Nanda Pivano at Spoleto, July 9, 1967 – Photograph by Ettore Sottsass

The offending “Who Be Kind To” and the rest of Allen’s set can be listened to here. He begins with a mantra

AG: I will begin by chanting a text from Sino-Japanese Buddhist – (For) those of you who know neither English, nor Chinese, nor Japanese.. (you) can listen to the music, which is the most important part. It is a text called Highest Perfect Wisdom (Pranaparamita),  which is accepted by Tibetan Buddhists, Japanese Zen Buddhists, Mahayana and Hinayana –[Allen proceeds to chant the “Highest Perfect Wisdom Sutra, or Sermon”, in English] – This is followed by two poems – “Message II” – (“Long since the the years/ letters songs Mantras/eyes apartments bellies..” ….”Salute beloved comrade, I’ll send you my tears from Moscow”) and “Café in Warsaw” – (“These spectres resting on plastic stools… “…” …this wild haired madman who sits weeping among you, a stranger”)

He then reads  “Who Be Kind To” ( “Who Be Kind To” –  Be kind to your self, it is the only one/and perishable..”….”That a new kind of man has come to his bliss/to end the cold war he has borne/ against his own kind flesh/ since the days of the snake”),  followed by  “Portland Coliseum” – ( “A brown piano in diamond/white spotlight…”… “…the red/sweatered ecstasy/that rises upward to the/ wired roof”) – and  “First Party at Ken Kesey’s With Hells Angels” _which he introduces with the following words: “Ken Kesey is an American novelist, who entered jail in San Francisco a week and a half ago, This poem is a description of a party at Ken Kesey’s house with an American fascist group called The Hell’s Angels. However his message was communication with them not anger. What he did was give them all LSD. Thereby there was a transformation. So that at the next peace march in Berkeley, the next manifestation of peaceable-ness in San Francisco, they came adorned with flowers, holding hands with Communist homosexuals, kissing the feet of sado-masochistic capitalists. They also had become peaceable Communists, like everybody else – Commune-atists. . Communalists. This is a description then of “The First Party at Ken Kesey’s With (the ) Hells Angels” –[he proceeds to read the poem] –  “Cool black night thru the redwoods,,,”…”And 4 police cars parked outside the painted/gate, red lights revolving in the leaves”..)

He finishes with three more poems, “Uptown (New York)” ( “Yellow-lit Budweiser signs over oaken bars..”… “and “Bless you sir” I added as he went to his fate in the rain, dapper Irishman”),, “To the Body’ – (“Enthroned in plastic, shrouded in wool, diamond crowned…”…”….beard on lion and youth by fireside”), and “a poem written yesterday – there is no translation – the title would be Small Spoleto Mantra –( “Since poetry’s made of language, let’s make language move, run, jump…”…”OM! Svaha!”)

The next reader is Gregory Corso

Gregory Corso (1930-2001)

GC: This poem is called “Man”,  and it’s a “prologue to what was to be a long long poem”.  It’s not very long. – (“The good scope of him is history, old and ironic…”  (note ….. this version ends with lines differing from the published version –  “Ah mortal infliction /I think of Polyphemus bellowing his lowly woe /seated high on a cliff, sun-tanned legs dangling into the sea,/his fumbling hands grasping his burnt eye/And I think he’ll remain like that because it’s impossible for him to die/Ulysses is dead, by now he’s dead/and how wise was he/who blinded a thing of immortality?”)

(Next)  “Reflection in a Green Arena”  –   (“Where marble stood and fell/into an eternal landscape…”) (again – this version ends with lines differing from the published version – “Hope seems an evacuated place,/ an insufferabble riot’s mess/but to see a child comb his face/ is this hopelessness?/ then a postage stamp is and those challenges encountered unexpectedly/ if to hesitate or stay/or run or walk away/the heart is unable to tell the heart”)

“This is for Mr Menotti (sic), written when I found out his was an unmarked grave (his, not yours but another)  – “Children, children, don’t you know/ Mozart has no where to go/ this is so/ though graves be many/ He hasn’t any”

“Phaestos is a Village with 25 families” is the title of the poem, Phaestos is in Crete. the other end of Herakleum – but just twenty-five families living there anyway. So, “Phaestos is a village with 25 families/ and one taverna… “…”beneath the starriest sky I ever saw/we all did wondrously pee”

John Berryman (1914-1972)

The final poet (beginning at approximately thirty-one-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape) is  John Berryman

JB: Now my part of this program of Mr Craig’s [ sic] is extremely simple. I’m only going to read some sections from a work-in-progress, (the second volume will be out called in London and New York next year) called.. the comprehensive title of which is The Dream Songs.  To describe it very quickly, it’s a poem, on which I have been working for twelve years , about a man named Henry. Now, Henry has a friend who calls him Mr Bones (and a very handsome man). There’s an elaborate cast of characters but the poem is all about Henry, just one man, and its done in terms of what T.S. Eliot said we must not do, that is to say it is strictly about a personality, a characteristic done Henry is an American in early middle age, Things shift in the Songs (you’ll remember they’re called Dream Songs), but, at one point, he’s given the age of forty-one, and he is in blackfaceand he has many problems, (triumphs but problems). The poem is very long, but the sections, the songs, are very short, only eighteen lines in three six-line stanzas. This is the first poem . No title. No dedication – “Huffy Henry hid  the day/unappeasable Henry sulked…”…  Now I must.. I must tell you that critics. in various parts of the world ,find my work very difficult and I do the best I can to be clear – [Berryman reads the first Dream Song in in its entirety] – “Huffy Henry hid the day/unappeasable Henry sulked”…”…Hard on the land wears the strong sea/and empty grows every bed”  – Number 5 is next, about a trip, a trip from New York to New Delhi . We begin in New York, (Perhaps I’d better say to you that the mountain that is crossed by this plane is the great peninsula in Northeastern Greece ( one of three)  – [ Berryman reads Dream Song 5 – (“Henry sats in de bar & was odd./off in the glass from the glass….”…” an image of the dead on the fingernail/ of a newborn child”.)   (Then) This is number 8– very roomy? – yes – (“The weather was fine. They took away his teeth/ white and helpful, bothered his backhand.. “…“They took away his crotch”) –  (Then) This is number 14 – When I published them in the United States, I had a lot of correspondence about it. People didn’t like it. That’s a good reception. I was delighted. And it was in a magazine in which I never publish in, called Harper’s (god knows why I did), and the editor told me later on that he had never had so much unfavorable correspondence about any poems they’d ever published!  He said, “I didn’t know anybody read those things” – [Berryman reads Dream Song 14] –  “Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so/ After all, the sky flashes…”…”and somehow a dog/has taken itself & its tail considerably away/into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving/behind: me, wag” –   (Then) –  This is an awful one, even by my standards (which are very high). Henry is a man without tolerance, in other words tolerance in relation to drugs, everything bothers him, [number 16] – “Henry’s pelt was put on sundry walls/ where it did much resemble Henry…”…”Two daiquiris/withdrew into a corner of the gorgeous room/and one told the other a lie”  – “[number 17] – “Muttered Henry, lord of matter”  –  (it’s a conversation between Henry and the devil) – “..Brother Martin,/St Simeon the Lesser Theologian/  Bodhidharma, and Baal Shem Tov” –  (and finally)  This is the end of the first volume, (the end of Book 3, that is to say), this is number 77 – “Seedy Henry rose up shy in de world/& shaved & swung his barbells”…”..his head full/ & his heart full, he’s making ready to move on.”

One comment

  1. – I, Cyclops, once sat in Room 41 in the Beat Hotel and listened to Gregory speaking. His voice is beautiful, the same in Spoleto. The world will forgive Gregory writing poems that remember everything in his time. He will be dangling, sun-tanned legs, for all Eternity, seated high on a cliff.

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