Eric Mottram and Philip Whalen 1985 Naropa Reading

Eric Mottram

A vintage Naropa reading from July 21 1985 in two parts for this weekend.

Today, the first part, features Eric Mottram and Philip Whalen. Anne Waldman gives the introductions.

Allen Ginsberg tomorrow.

AW: We’re pleased to have Eric Mottram, Philip Whalen and Allen Ginsberg reading – and Eric and Philip will be reading first and then we’ll have a short break and Allen will complete the evening

I have a couple of announcements to make. Please no smoking in this room and no flash photographs and also I’d like to announce there’ll be copies of this reading available, taped copies, at five dollars a copy, five dollars per tape, at the end of the reading. We have a wizard in the back, Tammi, who’s handling that. If anybody’s interested in that, in purchasing copies of the reading immediately following, it just takes several minutes.

And I’d also like to announce a reading on August, well reading-performance on August first, at St John’s Church on Pine Street (Pine and Fourteenth), which will be a benefit for the Rocky Flats Action Coalition group, and it will include Air Jazz, I believe, and Bonnie Carol who’s a wonderful dulcimer player, some dance performers, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Nanao Sakaki. So that’s on August first at eight o’clock, and I think there’s a five dollar admission. And also, next Sunday, in this room, William Burroughs will be reading, so please come back for that. And this week, we’re having a William Burroughs Conference and if anybody’s interested in attending that we can provide further information. There will be lectures and classes and movies all week long, with a distinguished faculty, including Eric Mottram, who’s here from England. Distinguished professor of American Studies at the University of London. He was editor of The Poetry Review of London, which came out from 1970 to 1977, for twenty-two issues. He’s the author of critical books of Burroughs (William Burroughs), Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth and William Faulkner, and others, and he’s also the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently A Book of Herne, another book called Elegies, a book called Interrogation Rooms and Three Letters. I think we’ll proceed then with Mr Mottram

EM:  Thank you Anne, thank you. Thank you very much. I’m very glad to be here in Boulder, with so many good friends, people I know, Allen and Anne, and I’ve just met Mr Whalen, who I’ve admired for many years. And I hope this is not going to depress everybody if I begin reading and, particularly with a sense of Allen in mind, an elegy, (pretty quick after the death, never mind), for Basil Bunting, who is our great British poet of the century. And, I’m not in the habit of writing elegies for people as soon as they die, but I really did know this man very well, and he was a great poet, and it suddenly hit me after his death, on April sixteenth, about a fortnight later. And I’d like to offer this as a recognition of Basil, but also for Allen, who knew him extremely well. So here it is, just very short. The names of places like Holme Fell , Dee River and the Rawthey River are names of places – and Fox Cottage are names of places associated with Basil Bunting’s area in West Yorkshire and Northumberland, which he knew very well and was part of. This poem is written in mainly three and four line stanzas, short lines – “For Basil Bunting” – (“So consumed/ I could not leave/ for several days/ cannot yet/ drive north/ out of these shards/ Holme Fell/above the old/embankment…   “Fox Cottage/well sign-posted/till I see you/live and flourish”) –

I’ve been writing a book of letters to people I know extremely well and write to a great deal but there are certain things, I’m sure you all know, that one can’t say in letters or doesn’t want to. I’m going to read one now – to my dear friend whom I’m staying with here – to Lynn Gingrass (he’s heard this before, but a lot of other people haven’t   There are references to… I stayed with the Hopi Indians for a little while and there’s a reference to the San Francisco Peaks where they believe they came from. I had an extraordinary time there, and there is also some references to Basho and his amanuensis, Mangiku-maru, two great friends who traveled together, (as I’ve certainly done with Lynn) and a girlfriend of mine, from years ago when I was living and working in Switzerland. So Lotschental is a Swiss valley (now she lives in Quebec, happily married, I’m glad to say) And I think the rest is clear. So this is a letter to Lynn Gingrass – (“Far over fragmented black lava Lomaki parapets/ San Francisco Peaks…”…”having no itinerary to follow”).

And short of embarrassing Mr Whalen (he won’t believe this, I’m sure, I’ve not told him but I wrote this poem in 1982 and it’s called “Where Songs Come From (A Respect For Philip Whalen)” – (to PW – So, knowing that, put your hands over your ears if you can’t bear the thought, let alone the actual activity) – but here it is…It was sincerely meant. I was telling Mr Whalen (I’ve only just met him) that I’ve read his poetry right from the beginning when dear, marvelous Auerhahn productions were published. I still have those and treasure them. Here it goes – “Where Songs Come From (A Respect For Philip Whalen” – (“Where has all this food been now released? /sudden government bounty. tear-gas among leaflets..”…”a condemnation, your death in livery”)

These are very new, that are coming up now. I’m very involved in thinking about (I guess everybody is) thinking about law (and before you begin wondering why I’m thinking about law, just don’t think that – that you’re thinking about). I’m very concerned with the fact that in the late twentieth-century much of us, most of us, two-thirds of us, don’t know what law is any more (because the people who are supposed to be responsible don’t know either.   And I’ve written a book called The Legal Poems, which I’m not going to read from because I’m not quite happy with it, but here’s an appendage to do with law .It has no title so far, written in very short tight pairs of lines –(“Back to large emotionless faults/one memory buds another…”.. sunshine is the surprise gift”)

This poem is something I’m sure you won’t be surprised that an Englishman has written called “May Festivals, 1985”. I’m thinking of certain sports affairs, so-called sport (I never thought that sport was separated from war anyway, I think it’s quite naïve to think it is) – “May Festivals, 1985” –(‘False characters in all day and the night’s sport’s soaps a flaming stadium…” …”Some you’ve seen before, some you haven’t yet”

Here’s a poem about an American student. I’ve never written about any of my students before, we have lots of America students in London, where I teach, at King’s College and this.. this young chap I thought was quite extraordinary. He was very alert and highly un-intelligent, and I thought that was very interesting indeed and I can do business with people like that!  – So it says.. (I mean(t) that as a compliment, I should add that quickly!). The poem is called “An American Student Says Goodbye” – He came to say goodbye to me.  I shouldn’t really tell you all this, the poem should really speak for itself really, but I had a fondness for this chap – “An American Student Says Goodbye” – ( “The one who did not notice the edge of shining rain hung there outside in front of a seventeenth-century church, and then said, “I always wondered if I’d see where rain ends”) – I thought that was really intelligent.  I had never thought of it at all, it was extraordinary.  My office in the Strand in London, faces a seventeenth-century baroque church, so you can imagine there, what I see.. every day of my life. And the rain outside the window was divided – just like that, and it stopped, just outside the window. It was a strange sight, and he noticed – and I didn’t!  (and that’s when I really felt very bad)

I’m going to read just one more poem. I think we were asked to read about half an hour each and I think my half an hour is more or less up, but I’m going to read one more poem. This is from a book that I’m preparing called Flight Book, and it’s a book dealing with the kind of lives that some of us live, that is flying from place to place, an enormous amount of traveling. Last year I traveled thousands of miles by plane, from Northwest Idaho to Central-Middle India, and  suddenly felt, “What sort of life is this, that I’m living?!” – And then my nephew, David, (I get blamed for everything he does, I may say, because I’m one of those people, the family keeps saying, “When is Eric going to settle down?”), and my poor nephew, (who looks like I used to at that age –  and he and I have a very close relationship – he’s my sister’s child )… So I wrote this poem, and I’m going to end my section with this,  (it’s) called “Letter To David”. And in the middle of it there’s part of a letter from him, (and he’s just led an expedition across the Congo, which he’s just, (at the age of twenty-one, I may say), which he’s just survived (much to our astonishment). His army-lorry which he bought with some friends broke down two miles away from the house after we’d given him a farewell party. After that, he did very well!  (he phoned up busting with laughter about it, which, I thought, yes, maybe we are related, after all). – It’s about the amount of travel we all do and the excitement of being in a new place where you can’t speak the language perhaps and it’s very exciting just to be challenged.. So here it goes (and when I start quoting the letter, you’ll hear it, I’ll change my voice). It begins “Three hundred and fifty miles of difficult treks”  (and I won’t imitate David, who has a strange mumble!) – (“The half-hour before you remember..”…”.their fear of obsolescence/election by the other”)  – Thank you very much

At approximately twenty-nine-and-a-quarter minutes in, Anne Waldman introduces Philip Whalen

Philip Whalen

AW: Thank you Eric – Great pleasure to have Philip Whalen back with us. He’s a long time friend of Naropa Institute and has been on the adjunct faculty for a number of years, since the beginning of the Kerouac School in 1975. Philip’s a poet, a novelist, a Zen teacher. He helped revolutionize contemporary poetry as a member of the group of writers that came to be known as the San Francisco Renaissance and he has been.. has spent the past eleven years as a Zen Buddhist student and ordained monk in 1973. He’s currently living in Santa Fe, New Mexico . His Collected Poems can be found in Heavy Breathing 1967-1980, Decompressions, and On Bear’s Head, And he’s the author of two novels, You Didn’t Even Try and Imaginary Speeches For A Brazen Head.

And Mr Whalen will be present during the next two weeks for our summer writing program and he’ll be teaching The Dubliners, James Joyce’s (The) Dubliners. So, if anybody’s still interested in signing up for our program, please see me afterwards. It’s a great pleasure to welcome back Philip Whalen.

PW: Thank you very much. I should think you’d be tired of listening to me, I come all the time around here and read the same poems, because haven’t written any. So you’ll just have to stand it some way or another….

My friend Jess Collins has a book out now of his, a large sampling of his collage pieces – so it’s rather odd that I found this poem called “The Chariot” which I wrote for him many years ago. ”The Chariot” –  for Jess Collins –  (“I stand at the front of the chariot/The horses run insane, there are no reins….”… “Wind whistles through my spiky crown/Some hero, some king!”)

I don’t know, maybe these things don’t wear out. One time I was surprised, a friend of mine said, “You know that poem in that new book, it”s quite wonderful”. I said, “Oh yeah?”. And he says, “Yeah – what you do here and here and here and here” – and I thought “What?”.  He says, “You have it all figured out. I said, “That’s very nice, but that at the time I was writing it I certainly didn’t. I don’t know what you’re talking about”.

“To A Poet” ( “She sings the music/pulls you down/She’s totally irresponsible/so are your ears (they’re supposed to hear)/But why do you care so much/for music”)

I was going to bore you stiff with this wonderful long poem but I won’t.  “Plaster of Paris Helen of Troy” –  (“flowers of sulfur/mothers of pearl…”…” Private fish heaven/It’s largely optical”) – I had recently seen a painting by Paul Klee, something,,.”Fish Garden”? [ editorial note – “Fish Magic”] , I think it was, which I liked the title of, and liked the picture, and so I copped the title a bit.

“California is Odious but Indispensable ” – (“Cesar Franck walks between rows of radishes & scallions…”…”(Jack tells the proper direction;.”…pick up flower car at Redwood…””)

“The Flexible Mind” (which is, of course, stolen from Zero Mostel) – “The Flexible Mind” -(“All hung up, the pen runs out of ink..”…”I recollected them when I finally had sense enough to sit down/On the floor.”) – I was living in Japan at the time and, naturally, one sat on the floor

The Dharma Youth League is something Joanne Kyger invented many years ago with which to bug Jack Spicer at the Gino & Carlo bar, and so I get the title from her – “The Dharma Youth League” (“I went to visit several thousand gold buddhas/They sat there all through the war…”..”Some day I guess I’ll never learn”.

“Something Childish But Completely Classical” – (“Orpheus, Jesus, Osiris…”…””Living or dying/All is bright fire””) – That’s quite wonderful, actually, that’s a good imitation of (W.B.) Yeats….

This is..  Since this is William Burroughs month, I’ll read this object which is, of course, based on his language, on his technique, done… but done, cutting-up in my head, not like cutting up on paper. Anyways, it’s dated “17/III/67” – (“O tell me it’s only temporary…”  …”Haydn?/slide back just a little bit and let me/quit it”)

“A Couple of Blocks South of the Heian Shrine”  – (“She builds a fire of small square white sticks….”..and the street where my taxi honks past”)

“The Autopsy” – (“to explain eclipses and predict them…”.. ..”…I’d know him/anywhere””)

“Murals Not Yet Dreamed” – (“The First Panel is occupied with Storms and Night Battle..”…”screeching defiance/As they mow me down”)  – I don’t know what that’s about – some sort of lunatic vision, I guess.

A friend asked me to read this poem which I haven’t looked at for a long time. I think that this is the only place that it appears is in Decompressions, it’s called “Escaping April” (“Tired of dirt on the floor. Take it away/Fix the broken water….”…”Tall green cactus completely hollowed out by owls”) ….

This is in reply to a poem that Gary (Snyder) sent to me when I was in Japan about his son, Kai, his older son. So I wrote back a poem for Kai – “For Kai Snyder” – (“7/V/60 – (an interesting lapsus calami)/  A few minutes ago I tried a somersault; couldn’t do it..”…”I performed three forward somersaults, 7/V/70/ Age 46 years 6 months 37 days.”) – Those of you who are 47 years old will know what I mean! If not, not.

“For Kenneth Rexroth”  – (“I was thinking how great a wilderness/Aol the earth was then, outside the walls of Alexandria..”…”If America were burnt down a couple of dozen times/Would it become as habitable?”)

“Looking For Help” –  (“Big flat round empty head/ Looks out the ditch is full..”…”The grinning otolaryngologist (Not Kenneth Koch) lights up my ear”) – (but he did resemble Kenneth quite strongly, also, I was surprised, and so the suprise made the poem

“Alleyway”  –  (“That darling baby!/All wrapped up asleep/In his fuzzy blue bunting..”…”All alone.Throwed away.”)

A friend of mine one season got into the habit of qualifying almost any statement by adding on the phrase  “Not heavily” or , “but not heavily”. And so I called this poem “”Not Heavily””- (“We don’t possess our own voices./What you hear comes from a long way off…”….”Pentelic marble”)

“”Old Age Echoes” – (“Lately I’ve seen myself/As fat naked waddling baby/All alone n the yard…”…”What are fears or dangers?”)

“Untied Airlines”  (“The world’s tiniest apple pie and library paste for lunch/Where to go./I want out”)  – That’s… talk about traveling poems!…terrible! really terrible!

“Public Opinions” (“Peter Warshall says that the slow loris moves approximately three feet per hour…”….”Allen Ginsberg, reading a ms poem handed to him by a friend, says, ,”AH, that’s green armpit poetry”… .”…”No effect on me whatsoever””)

“How To Be Successful & Happy Without Anybody Else Finding Out About It” – I”I was falling asleep in my chair…”…”.”…brought the appples you wanted…/…more tomorrow”, Theocritus says”)

“Ice Plant” – (“A freezing factory, somebody else’s jewels/Used in an atempt to incriminate/ Fat shaving brush flower”)

“Bead” – (“Aimless/Wet finger no foresight…”,,, “…'(Careless wet finger again)”)

“Somebody Else’s Problem Bothers Me” – (“Warm sun and chilly air, water is low and the creek is clear..”,,,”Everything a-tilt”)

“The Radio Again” – “It wasn’t in the cards that today should go the way I want”…  – I’ll try that again – (“The Radio Again” – (“It wasn’t in the cards/That today should go the way I want – “…..”Voice, tell us/The name of the earth”)

Where did that go? – Some of this stuff was recently published in a very small magazine, Robert (sic), what is the name of the magazine, I can’t remember? – Pinch Penny – Okay – “Epigrams and Imitations” – The first one is called “Actions of Buddha” (“Clip cuticle, drink orange juice/”be confirmed by 10,000 things”/(the next line after that is delinquent)/turtles”) – II – “Upon The Poet’s Photograph”  (“This printed face doesn’t see/A curious looking in:/Big map of nothing,”). – III – “From the Japanese of Kakinomoto Hitomaro” – (“What though my shorts are threadbare/I deserve all your love”) – IV- “False Senryu” – (“A cough/waits for the bus’) -V- “Perpetuum Mobile” – (“Everybody has a car/But something’s wrong with it/We are going very fast -/Have you noticed/The driver isa. headless corpse”) – number six (VI), (an imitation from the Chinese) –  “The Concealed Phoenix Treasure Jewel Terrace,  After Li He”  – (Mountains dream tigers and monkeys/The sea imagines dragons/Monstrous birds trouble the air./The moon bothers all & sundry,/with or without reflection.”)

I think that that’s enough, eh?

AW: We’ll take a short intermission – ten minutes and Allen will read.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding at approximately fifty-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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