Vojo Sindolic’s 1986 Belgrade Interview – part one

Allen Ginsberg in Belgrade, 1986

Vojo Sindolic‘s 1986 interview with Allen in Belgrade (in two parts – the second part will follow tomorrow) is our focus on The Allen Ginsberg Project this weekend.

Vojo’s translation of Cosmopolitan Greetings  (Kozmopolitski pozdravi ) has just appeared from Hrvatskoga društva pisaca  (h,d,p) (the Croatian Writers Society

Here, he introduces the interview:

“Allen Ginsberg and I were very close friends for twenty years from 1977 until his death in 1997. I felt and still feel deep love for his poetic insight, or as one may call it – it was literary love at first reading. During the course of decades we two did about twenty long interviews and none of them was ever published in its entirety in the English language.   (A) few of them were transcribed and translated (by myself) for the Yugoslav readers in Croatia and Serbia (during the sparkling early eighties).  This conversation was recorded in late August of 1986 in Belgrade on a hot, humid afternoon and night session in my apartment there. We were downstairs, red roses in my small garden were in full bloom, the windows were open (overlooking (the) corner of two streets) and on the tapes one can hear background noises of children laughing and playing during the afternoon, dogs barking all the time, cars passing by. We were just back (together with Steven Taylor and Alan Ansen) from (the)  Struga International Poetry Festival, where Ginsberg was awarded  (the) Golden Wreath for 1986. Among some of the earlier and later winners are (were) Eugenio Montale, W.H.Auden, Pablo Neruda, Ted Hughes, (Andrei) Voznesensky, etc.

Back in those days Ginsberg was newly beginning to be very interested in photography, and for one entire day he was taking photos of me and of (the) two of us while reflected in the mirror, etc. (These photos should be now in Ginsberg’s archive, I think)

Originally, I wanted to ask him a few specific poetic questions about units of mouth phrasing and conditions of original notation, but our conversation expanded. After the interview Ginsberg was very content because he thought, and later confirmed to me in (a) few various occasions that this was one of the better interviews he ever gave. And durng that very peculiar meeting, he wrote in my journal-notebook – “With thanks for condensed and thoughtful talk on American geniuses of the XX Century poetry, as well as for the discussion about the Theatre of Politics and Dictatorship of the Mind…”

The interview follows:

VS:  Last time we two talked you promised me to tell me much more about the most important poetical influences on you and on your work, as well as on the main members of the Beat Generation . In your own case, am I wrong if I start naming Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, William Blake, Guillaume Apollinaire, Federico Garcia Lorca…?

AG: Yes, but first of all, there’s Edgar Allan Poe. He had, and still has, enormous impact on my writing. I changed my mind after reading his Collected Works (poetry, short stories, essays, and even some letters). Way back in 1976 or 1977, once again, I read throughout his poetry – while I was working on my long poem Contest of Bards”. And it’s like one giant cadenza, literally, that builds up to a climax.

On the other hand – way back in my youth I found Whitman or W(illiam) (Carlos) Williams more usable – as it proved, in America, it was necessary to go through a long period of change of consciousness – from Whitman and Melville to Ezra Pound and Williams before we can turn back and enjoy  (Edgar Allan) Poe, or Emily Dickinson, or Carl Sandburg, or even Robert Frost, again, I think that’s the problem!

Of course, the first necessity is to get back to person, from public to person. The way Jack London’s spoke of…  Before determining a new public, you have to find out who you are, who is your person. Which means finding out different modalities of consciousness (like Peter Orlovsky‘s compared with Gregory Corso‘s – [long laugh], different modalities of sexuality (like Philip Whalen‘s compared with Gary Snyder’s – [long laugh again], different approaches to basic identity (like Jack Kerouac‘s compared with Neal Cassady‘s), examination of the nature of consciousness itself finally.

VS:  But it seems to me that, instead (of) Ezra Pound or William Carlos Williams, or even William Blake or Percy Bysshe Shelley, or even Edgar Allan Poe, finally.. such writers, philosophers and poets as Herman Melville, or Thoreau or Emerson, (and especially Whitman) – and Aldous Huxley [sic] were much more suitable for (the) flower-power and hippie generation, (the) rock ‘n roll generation, immortality pills generation…

AG: Well, it really depends. For example, when blues was at its height in the ‘twenties, there was absolutely no attention to it, as poetics.. I mean, the poetry that was considered poetry in Blake’s time didn’t have anything to do with what was really going on, as we know nowby hindsight,

On the other hand, it’s the old Walt Whitman tradition – the most important thing here is that if you don’t do anything yourself, you are a prisoner of the robot state, the electric company, the transportation company, the food monopolies, and the chain stores. “Flower-power” should mean, definitely, ecologically, the power of greenery to regenerate the earth. Many people have not taken into account this aspect of flower-power generation. They think it just means sticking a blossom into the muzzle of a rifle in front of the Pentagon, but also it is the preservation of  the Amazon jungle as one of the greatest lungs of the planet.

Yet there is another sense we need to keep in mind. Thinking of wild land as unmanipulated natural habitat drags you towards the trap of pristinity. Just like Gary Snyder says, wilderness does not have to be pristine!  Nothing is ever pristine. Nature, natural habitats, and natural lands, have gone through endless changes and disturbances over millions of years. It is the presence of the wild, (the) process of restoring and going about its ways, bringing back combination(s) of plant species, being reinhabited by an appropriate wild life – that is the nature of the wild. We just have to leave it alone and let it come back.

Poets and thinkers like Thoreau or Whitman, or Vachel Lindsay, offer some sort of material base to it, being a series of verbal classics,like Hart Crane’s “Atlantis”, or Vachel Lindsay’s “…Congo”, or even Whitman’s  “Democratic Vistas”, which I still find most important and more usable, at least during the last few decades

VS:  Tell me, how do you see the Beat movement of the ‘forties and ‘fifties having influenced the hippie movement of the ‘sixties – and how do you see these cultural movements influencing events occuring today [1986]. For example, it doesn’t seem to me that the real punk movement was influenced by the Beat writers at all, except maybe by (William) Burroughs.. I mean, one thing is for sure – it  was not Jack Kerouac or Neal Cassady’s vision of America that the punks were singing about….

AG: There are a lot of different themes that were either catalyzed, adopted, inaugurated, transformed, or initiated, by the literary movement of the ‘fifties and a community of friends from the ‘forties. The central theme was a transformation of consciousness, and, as time unrolled, experiences that Kerouac, Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Herbert Huncke (Huncke, whom Kerouac described already in ’48, ’49, in The Town and the City), Carl Solomon, Lucien Carr and I had, related to this notion.

William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg

I think Kerouac and Burroughs had the most insightful grasp of that already, by the end of the ‘fifties. Whether it was Burroughs through his exlploration of the criminal world, or Kerouac through his exploration of mind or consciousness, in any way, shape, or form.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, there was some sense of hope that there could be a big enough change to save the planet. There was, at least, a desire for that, a hope that people would strive for some sort of ideal America – democratic, conservationist, sexually open.. No one was closer to that ideal America than Kerouac.. But very few recognized that.. and now [in the ‘eighties]  maybe we’re in a deeper hole than we were in the ‘forties and ‘fifties…

VS: I always remember that way back in the late ‘seventies, when I met you for the first time, when I asked you to tell me what “Beat Generation” really is, or was. you kept repeating to me with decisiveness that – Kerouac and Burroughs between ’45 and ’55 are Beat Generation. Do you still feel the same way?

AG: Absolutely! Because from ’55 or so comes (the) San Francisco Renaissance, with new friends like Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth, Peter Orlovsky, etc…and in the ‘sixties, it all had become too political and the feeling of the old comradeship, togetherness, candor or frankness, was gone… Or maybe was transformed..

I think the ‘sixties were politically awry because of animosity. You know.. the notions of rising up and getting angry, using anger as a motif. Things started fucking up when people got angry because they started action from that angry pride. By 1969 more than 50% of the American people thought the war in Vietnam was a big mistake, but instead of leading people out of the war, seducing them out, people got out on the streets and got angry….

to be continued

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