BF: Allen, when you got out of that plane, being kicked out of Prague, you wrote (“Kral Majales”)… Did you know you were going to write a poem before you got to London?
AG: No.. I always carry a notebook with me. Like, I’ve got one now, just a great big notebook that I can write things in, So, if I get some inspiration, I just babble it out the page. And so I’m in the habit of just.. when I have an idle moment (as people have on airplanes, which is great meditative poetic place where you can’t do anything but sit and look out through heaven) I just wrote down what I was thinking, and, while I was writing, I realized, “Wow, I’m in a good situation to write a big poem”. So I just kept on writing.
BF: Peter Orlovsky, what’s your technique?
PO: Let’s see now… to write sometimes I have a long conversation with myself in my head and then if I’m energetic enough. I’ll interrupt the conversation and start writing, writing the conversation down. That’s one way. And then others when I’m traveling, if I’m on a bus or subway, or.. then I might interrupt myself and write.
AG: Sounds like an interruption of just continuous activity, to stop and put it down
BF: Stop and put it down
AG: You carry a notebook all the time?
PO: Right, yeah.
AG: I think that’s the secret, carrying a notebook all the time so that when the evanescent ephemera fly through your head, you can just note it and then look at it the next week and see if it’s still hot or not.
BF: I want to go back to that little coffee shop. I forget where it was. It was in the United States of America and there were four or five of you who later achieved fame as “the Beat poets” , or the mystic main-spring of the Beat Generation. What was your big breakthrough? Who was the first person in the media who said, “Hey, this stuff is interesting and these people are worth writing about”?
AG: I think probably it was… We all got together. Well, as I said, in (19)53, there was an article by John Clellon Holmes in the New York Times talking about Kerouac. So Kerouac was sort of a legend before he was ever published. But then we all.. a number of poets in San Francisco got together in an art gallery called the Six Gallery in 1955 and gave a reading together at the behest of Kenneth Rexroth, who was, like, a big anarchist poet, gnostic critic, disciple of William Carlos Williams, who was a poet from New Jersey and the first poet who really wrote in American Rutherford language – talk – talk-poetry, so you could understand it. You know, writing about real things, real streets, real people, real ice-boxes, real sinks. So, mostly, all of us under Williams’ influence). And (there, there) was Gary Snyder (who’s now very famous as a Zen student and one of the few people that’s gone to Japan and studied Zen and been a monk, come back and founded his own sort of perceptive community out in the Sierras in California, a poet, who won the Pulitzer Prize last year, for his book called Turtle Island, which is the American Indian name for the North American continent, continuing..
BF: Turtle Island?
AG: ..continuing his interest in, like, primeval ecology of America). So there was Snyder. There was Michael McClure, who wrote that poem about the death of the hundred whales, which he read at that reading at the Six Gallery (McClure’s now a big playwright also, he has a big play going on – this is early 1976 we’re talking – now at the Geary Theatre out in San Francisco). Now there was Philip Lamantia who was, as a young kid, younger than Jonathan here (Jonathan Robbins), fourteen, during the war, hitch-hiked across America to visit the Surrealists from France, Andre Breton and all the other great poets who were refugees from the war, living in New York, having a magazine called View, And then there was Philip Whalen, who’s now a monk at the Zen Center in San Francisco. And Rexroth presided. And Neal Cassady, who was one of Kerouac’s prototypical heroes was there, Kerouac was there with a bottle of wine. And I read “Howl” for the first time, at that occasion. Richard Eberhadt, who was an older poet, friend of Rexroth wrote a long article in the New York Times about (the) San Francisco poetry scene, which got everybody interested because he said that it was the first time that the audience participated and was interested
BF: What were the financial considerations of being at the storm center of the Beat, Beatnik movement. Did you all make a lot of money?
AG: Give everything away free and give everybody wine. Feed everybody!
BF: But you must have made a lot of money in those days?
AG: No actually,I didn’t make money. I made something like a thousand, two thousand , a year, from poetry, from 1956 to 1960 or so.. I worked.. I worked, as I said.. When I was writing my first book I was working as a dish-washer at Bickfords, and after “Howl” was written, I was working in… as a..
PO: Market research
AG: Well no, that was just before, but, after “Howl” , I worked on the..
PO: Merchant marines
AG: Merchant marine. Ships. Yeah When we were living in San Francisco. Peter and I had an apartment and I took a ship out to the DEW line I have a years sea-time, see, so I always have security because I have a..union..a coastguard pass to be a merchant seaman, so I have a year on the ocean. So I always had jobs, and I liked them, it fed images into my poetry, working, working in restaurants or market research, or.. also working with market research I got to see how the general brainwash of advertising works, how you pick people’s minds for what their inclinations are and then you feed it back to them in the form of products in order to attract their greed.
BF: Well, it sounds great, I love it.
AG: Well, very good if you want to know how the deception in America works!
BF: I call it the stimulation of the most exciting economy in the world
AG: Well, except that it’s burning down the planet, you know, and we can’t afford that any more, that kind of stimulation of excess greedy, conspicuous consumption. I mean, even the President’s complaining, so you shouldn’t be, you shouldn’t encourage people to be greedy, you know. You know, to consume forty percent of the world’s raw materials is a bit thick here.
BF:There’s a certain charm in having modern self-sufficiency and then quite a bit of grain left over for export.
AG: Well, but all that grain is bought at the cost of importing petroleum for agri-business because they make the fertilizer out of the oil and there’s a current shortage of oil and energy. And now they want to build atomic plants to maintain all that and that’ll poison the earth. So you’ve got to consider a whole balance of things before you giggle about the plenty we have
BF: I don’t giggle, I say..
AG: Okay.. before you praise…
BF: I say, keep it, keep it clean, fellers – and congratulations…
AG:”Keep it clean in between” – Where’s that?
PO: ”Keep it clean in between”
BFP – and congratulations to the economy, which sells grain to the people with forty percent and eighty percent of their work force on their land which is unfertile. I wish you’d write a poem about why..
AG: But, yes, except, you’ve got to remember that the forests of India were cut down to supply England with mahogany furniture and that is why India is defoliated.
BF: That was real bad. I never liked that.
AG: Incidentally, to say something nice for a change, I have a frend in San Francisco who calls himself Ponderosa Pine, who works in the ecology center, who wrote me a big letter, about a month ago, saying that what we need is a bio-Centennial ( “bio”, rather than” bi”-centennial), bio-centennial – which is a centennial for the Continent, which will include the American Indian, the trees, the plants, the flowers, the desert wastes that we’ve made, the deforestation of upper New York. And he suggests that refoliation for the bicentennial will be the theme – refoliation, re-greening the earth (which is a nice idea to introduce to a mass audience – “Biocentennial, folks, (is about) more than ourselves, don’t be selfish about our politics, and plant trees!”
BF: And as my pro-America act for the bicentennial, I want to persuade Allen Ginsberg to try to write a poem exploring why one acre of American land produces humiliatingly more than one acre of Russian land.
AG: You’re making some sort of Cold War problem when what I’m saying is that the problem is ecological. The agri-business that we’re indulging in (speaking as a farmer, and Peter and I are farmers, Peter particularly, with a small-scale gardening, as suggested by Paul Goodman, using organic forms, and not chemical fertilizers – the chemical fertilizer use in the end destroys the land, like amphetamine-heads shooting up speed, you finally destroy all the bacteria and the necessary bugs and worms in the earth with your ammonia and hot chemicals, and finally it wastes the land in the long run. So that the kind of agri-business that we’re indulging in, in the long run, hides its profit, I might say, as ecological profit. It’s a little worrisome.
BF: I see. So the Russians are smart. They’re just trying to keep from wasting their land, while we burn ours up with hot chemicals
AG: So I would say the ideal people would probably be the Chinese, who have hand farming
BF: I want to steal the next episode of this broadcast with the television show you did with William F Buckley Jr. I’ve never enjoyed eight minutes of television more than the eight minutes of radio that I want you to take off with as soon as we get back together. First..
The transcript for this interview will continue and conclude tomorrow