Compositional Practice (Sustained Attention – 2)

Allen Ginsberg on compositional practice continues from here

Student: Ted (Berrigan) says you write poems when you’re on a retreat.

AG:  Sometimes. If I’m somewhere where I don’t have to do anything, then I tend to write. Like, I wrote a lot up in.. when I went up that week for the seminary I wrote a whole… about fourteen little poems. But that was because they had a poetry reading there, and so I wrote something to read. And I didn’t like the way.. their attitude there, so  I was trying to reflect on, straightforward, you know, fresh, perception, I’ll cut through.

So, anyway, that’s interesting, the idea of, actually, plumbing the depths and getting into some kind of ecstasy in writing. And the difficulties of… the social difficulties in that’

Student:  Sort of the theist approach..

AG: Pardon?

Student:  Sort of the theist approach?

AG: No.  It’s just you write there – and that one thing. Instead of dispersing your energies, into the radio,  (into) the..  I mean, one composition.  It’s like meditation. Actually, (it’s) more like a meditation session than anything else, in the sense of, eight hours, ten, twelve hours, on one spot. I mean the word “theism” is used here to indicate fear and reliance on an authority external to your own intelligence, (is what it means). Attention (rather) to your own perceptions.

Student: Directed at one thing.

AG:Well, the one thing is alright. It’s just that one thing outside you is the problem. I think that’s how they define it.

Student:  Philip Whalen says that ecstasy is an anti-social behavior..

AG: Yeah, very much.  Yeah I was being anti-social. I had things I was supposed to do last night instead of being..  I mean, I had to pack to leave, I had to plan the.., you know, I had to pick out the apprentices.. Has anybody here applied for an apprenticeship term one summer? – has anybody?  Okay, Well, I had to go through all my files, which I didn’t do, to prepare today, and prepare for a program-meeting to determine the whole summer for the faculty…. and  I just… (and) everything went by the board. And it gets more difficult to uproot oneself (or I find it more difficult to uproot myself to do what I want to do) – And I don’t know what that is. Some poets…

But see,  then, poets who try to manage household economy so that they’re not bothered by the world, they all turn into sourpuss shits! – and they never write anything anyway, it turns out, because they’re too captivating, they say, “I’m going to write!”, and therefore they clear everything aside, and just sit there and jack off, or, you know, write superficial poems about wildflowers because they can’t think of anything to write about, because they’re not involved in the world. It may be that the more you’re involved in the world, the more the isolation and solitude is like a big acid trip, you know, it has a big huge impact.  Yeah?

Student:  When did William Carlos Williams write?  He was always on call all the time and…

AG: Yes, he was on call all the time,  and I saw him, and he showed me how he wrote. He wrote on prescription pads. That’s why his poems are, like, these little poems.  Literally. because he wrote them out on little prescription pads like, “I have eaten..”, you know, “I have eaten the plums that you put in the ice-box and that you were saving.. for breakfast”. (He) probably wrote that out on a little prescription pad because of the size of the column size.

Student: (That doesn’t have anything to do with the heart-beat, just a  prescription….)

AG:  So he said.. He said.. He did regret it. In one or two poems, he said,  “If only I could take off time from.. to do that ..to practice that difficult art, poetry” But then, he did write a lot. Actually he’s.. the depth increased and his output increased after he had a stroke and retired from medicine. Then he had, I think, about ten years (which he hadn’t expected to survive through) and then he wrote “Pictures from Brueghel”, “Desert Music“, all the poems of age, and completed Paterson” and “Of Asphodel..”

Student: All that came..?

AG:  All of that came after his stroke, I think. (Paterson, he was working on, but I think the last books of Paterson). So it did, apparently. He said that he thought.. .. He knew Wallace Stevens well and Wallace Stevens was the Vice-President of Hartford Life Insurance Company. He said that Stevens, towards the end of his life, regretted that he’d spent so much time in the world, working, being realistic, you know, with realpolitik- that he thought that he’d be better off if he’d spent more time in solitary confinement, at his desk, composing.

Student: He probably wouldn’t have been..like, what you were saying before, it wouldn’t have been.. he wouldn’t have been stimulated by the.. he wouldn’t…

AG: Ah, it’s just an idea. It doesn’t mean it’s true. I’m just alibi-ing myself, really. Yeah?

Student: But what you said was about the attitude toward poetry… he did read and write poetry..

AG:  No, the whole attitude towards the social scene and poetry, and everything, you know.  They weren’t really expressing themselves . Everybody was too goody-goody, (so I thought).  No, I had doubts about the whole scene (which everybody else did, but nobody was expressing them, and which are part of the.. which are part of the doubts and paranoias, which are part of the recycling process, which has to be brought up, otherwise everybody stays stupid).

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-three-and-a-half minutes in, and concluding at approximately twenty-nine-and-a-half minutes in}

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