Allen Ginsberg Reading at St Marks Poetry Project 1977

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell, St Mark’s Church, February 23, 1977. Photo: Martin Wechselblatt

We featured one, from the extraordinary trove of recordings of Allen readings, last week, from PennSound (from the Robert Creeley collection – 1971 at Intersection, San Francisco). Here‘s another, six years later- from the St Mark’s Poetry Project in New York. The occasion was a now-legendary coupling of Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell (it was on this occasion that Lowell was memorably heckled by Gregory Corso). Allen reads a variety of works, referencing his recent visit to Australia, his Vajrayana Buddhist meditation retreat, his experience on Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour, and plenty more. He also reads from his recently-concluded long poem, “Contest of Bards” (later included, alongside several of the other poems included here, in the collection, Mind Breaths – Poems 1972-1977  (1977)

The recording  (gracias PennSound)  may be listened to  – here

AG: I’ll try to work with the sound system so that I can be heard. If you can not hear me, will you raise your hand Now, syllable by syllable, when I’m talking now, if you can not hear me will you raise your hand. And if I’m this far from the microphone can you hear me? or does it get muffled? it’s alright still, ok. When Robert Lowell reads, please check with him, so he can be heard clearly also.I’ll read a few poems. What we’ll do is read half an hour each, and I’ll be reading mostly poems from this last year but I’ll begin with a few earlier poems from 1972.. Could you all hear that? Yeah..

Central Australia “Ayers Rock Uluru Song”  (“When the red pond fills fish appear when the red pond dries fish disappears…”….”when the rain drop dries worlds come to their end”- December (19)72 –  “Xmas  Gift” – (“I met Einstein in a dream/ Springtime on Princeton lawn grass..”… “….unexpectedly saintly/ considering the Atom Bomb I didn’t mention”) – “Returning To The Country For A Brief Visit” (with little tag lines from  Amitendranath Tagore’s translations from Sung Dynasty poetry (“In later days, remembering this I shall certainly go mad” – (“Reading Sung poems, I think of my poems to Neal/dead few years now, Jack underground..” … They live in books and in memory, strong as on earth”) – “I do not know who’s hoarding all this rare work...” (“Old One the dog stretches stiff-legged/soon he’ll be underground ..”….”I lift the book and blow you into the dazzling void”) -“You live apart on rivers and Seas (“You live in apartments by rivers and seas/ Spring comes, waters flow murky..” ….”When all these millions of people die, will they recognize the Great Father?”)

“Cabin in the Rockies”  –  (those poems were 1973, now, they’re 1975, November, after several weeks sitting alone, doing meditation, ten hours a day, mostly on breath, in Rocky Mountain Dharma Center in Colorado, with the intention of sitting and not writing any poetry but observing my own mind and not attempting to turn it into..turn my mind instantly into language”)  – “Sitting on a tree stump half a cup of tea/sun down behind mountains/,Ntohing to do” – “Not a word! not a Word!/Flies do all my talking for me/ – and the wind says something else” – “Fly on my nose, go away/I’m not the Buddha,/There’s no enlightenment here” – ”..Against red bark trunk/A fly’s shadow/lights on the shadow of a pine bough” –  “An hour after dawn/ I haven’t thought of Buddha once yet/walking back into the retreat house” –  Walking into King Sooper Market after Two-week Retreat/ A thin redfaced  pimpled boy/stands alone minutes/looking down into the ice-cream bin.”

“November 5th, 1975” ( sun rise ceremonial verses improvised with Australian songsticks at request of medicine man Rolling Thunder” – “When music was needed, music sounded…”… “When a circle was needed a circle was formed”) – “News for Rolling Thunder Troop” –  (This was written for a vaudeville troop newsletter) -(“Snow falls souls freeze/ Speed kills hearts ease..”…’….saves, saves nations”)

“Don’t Grow Old” [Part 1] – My father was dying this last year around this time and there was a series of poems I wrote with a general title “Don’t Grow Old” (because he turned to Peter Orlovsky who was helping me nurse him on day when we were trying to put his pyjamas on, get him ready for bed, he looked up ruefully at Peter and said “Don’t grow old” – “Reading French poetry” –  “poems rise in my brain/like Woolworth’s five-and-dime store perfume…”…”very satisfactory subjects for poetry” – “Don’t Grow Old” – “He’ll see no more Times Square..”… He won’t see the moon over house roofs/ or sky over Paterson’s streets.”

“A Dream” – okay.. [ following a brief disturbance] – go on now, I guess – “A Dream”,  a literal transcription of a dream (“As I passed through Moscow grass lots…” …” and I’ll accompany your eye that walks through Moscow looking for human love”)

[“Don’t Grow Old” continues] – “Don’t Grow Old” [Part 2] –  (“Wasted arms, feeble knees,/ 80 years old  hair, thin and white/cheek bonier than I’d expected…”..I read my father Tintern Abbey (sic)”..”… it was a glue factory”  – Don’t Grow Old –  “Will that happened to me?/Ofcourse, it’ll happen to thee”….”What’ll happen to my bones?/They’ll get mixed up with the stones”…”Near the Scrap Yard my Father’ll be buried/Near Newark Airport my father’ll be…” …”One grave over from Abe’s wife Anna my father’ll be buried.” – “What’s to be done about Death?/Nothing…”.. “Not be buried in the cemetery near Newark Airport some day?”)

“Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin: Vajrayana Seminary” ( After going back through meditation ceremony again for several months with Peter Orlovsky this Fall a few very brief notes) – “Buddha died and/ left behind.a/ big emptiness” –  “Candle light blue banners incense/aching knee, hungry mouth -/any minute the gong  potatoes and sour cream!” – “Did you ever see yourself/ a breathing skull/ looking out the eyes?” – ” “under wooden roof beams..”…“swallowing saliva, listening”..)

“For Robert Creeley’s Ear” (“The whole weight of everything…”..”riding uptown to see Karmapa Buddha tonight”)

In Baltimore – “Hearing Young Poet Read Aloud “Lenore” at 203 Amity Street” (this was a house in Baltimore where Poe had lived) – “The light still gleams reflected from the brazen fire tongs..”…”I have writ this ancient riddle in Poe’s house in Batimore” –

While in Baltimore I read through a good deal of (William) Blake and began a long, longer poem than I’ve been writing recently, in a more inventive style. The poems written on my father’s death are very bare and following the tradition of William Carlos Williams in American speech. This longer poem is a totally baroque form,.(It’s) called the “Contest of Bards”, old and young, the commencement – “and, for clarification, the Argument, in advance, so you’ll understand the action – ”Old bard lived in solitary stone house at ocean edge three decades retired from the world…Young bard tries to seduce Old Boner with his energy & insight & makes him crawl down on the floor to read the secret riddle Rhyme” –  “And the youth, free stripling, bounding along the Hills of Color…….”… Where the years have gone/ where the clouds have flown…” …”But return where all Beauties rest” – (That finishes the opening section)

I have one last poem to read. I have one last brief poem to finish with – “I Lay Love On My Knee”)  – “I Nursed Love where He Lay”  (“I Nursed Love where He Lay/ I let him go away..”..”for all time is my wealth.”

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