Alice Notley on Allen Ginsberg – 1

[Allen Ginsberg – ink drawing by Alice Notley]

[Alice Notley in Allen Ginsberg’s New York City kitchen, September 1986 -Photo: Allen Ginsberg]

The feature this weekAlice Notley‘s keynote speech at the Allen Ginsberg Symposium, this past May 5th, at the St Marks Poetry Project in New York – on Allen Ginsberg’s internationalism

Allen Ginsberg – An International Poetry, Its Genius and Its Particles 

to Bobbie-Louise Hawkins, tonight in the air above us

That Allen Ginsberg is thus far the one truly international poet that has ever lived. I mean making of his person or speaker or point-dot of location in the poem a verticality or stack of conditions across the globe, as one knowing about any number of places and kinds of consciousness at once. That his doing this foreshadows our great need for such a way of being now in what almost everyone knows to be global crisis; that a poet might aspire to know all in the sense that each individual probably does, even if it’s nothing, even if everything is nothing. That the local certainly is part of the international, that the singular self is larger than the planet, that righteousness is disgusting, that the human animal bound to the globe in its suffering – which would seem to be its knowledge,but why? – must face its suffering as an entity self-invented eons ago and not caused by others for it (one) is the other. Please listen.

I dreamed I asked Allen what he wanted me to say in this keynote, and he said, “I want you to tell them how hard I worked at the poetry”. That part is easy to do, for I always saw Allen working hard at the poetry and so can tell you – the multiple versions (finalized with the date of first draft), the concentration on each word (as brushstroke (cf Cézanne, his master for detail and plastic space), the research in to vocabulary (looking for exact Miltonic uses for “Plutonian Ode,” with Miltonic dictionary nearby, for example), the research into traditional metric (his giving me a manuscript once of poems in sapphics throughout western literary history), the obsession with how music and words go together (Allen as singer/songwriter, breath, the obsessive journal-keeping, note-taking not about self-celebration but about research: research into life’s minutae being research into the particles of poetry, everything you do or see or say or think, intermixed, forming the particles. But I keep going back to this sense I have of Allen as international, as global, that he is the one poet people in many different countries have heard of, know, want to read… Or this was the case. when I was informed in 1997 that he was dying. I was in Paris, as was Kenneth Koch and we met for coffee and to talk, and I said something ike “Allen is the one international poet.” And Kenneth himself was an internationalist, a traveler, an appreciator of other cultures; but he agreed. He told me I should write about it! write a whole book about Allen’s poetry, but then I didn’t; and we were sad, Kenneth and I, where was that cafe?  near métro Iéna, a bouche de métro named after one of Napoleon’s battles in Germany… I had left New York in 1992, but had seen Allen two or three times. since in Paris. Also the States, bt he came to Paris to visit, to read, to manifest himself, once receiving an honor from the French government; once reading in a large hall at Trocadéro, he still filled it up! I went with him and others (Doug (Oliver), Peter Hale) to the l’Orangerie to look at paintings, among them the Cézannes, the last time he was here. He gave me his name-tag for le Salon du Livre, and I have pasted it into one of my collage-fans recently, my own collages reminding me now of Allen’s works where you build and pile on detail after detail, keeping the energy consistent across it (most important that), until you have completed the entity, which in its consistency of energy of details is like the world.Or a person, vivid.

I decided two weeks ago, to select ten poems at random in Allen’s Collected Poems, to see how “international” they were. They weren’t all were, but the very first one certainly is, I see – I’m going to proceed by listing these poems and saying whatever about them, but may I say, what a pleasure! Please please listen – poetry is a pleasure (cf. Kenneth (Koch)’s “The Pleasures of Peace“)

The first poem I selected by chance was Vulture Peak: Gridhakuta Hill”... written in Benares, April 18. 1963, so we are already making my point – have made it but who wants to make points? The first line is a natural opener, “I’ve got to get out of the sun”  he’s walking uphill and it’s hot, but the third line is “walking up crying singing ah sunflower!“, Blake going through Allen’s head because the traveller’s journey will soon be done, at least the one in the heat to the top of the hill towards the sun. Humor, but something contrapuntal has been set up and Blake phrases occur later, holding the experience together, English poetry in the head of the New Jersey Jew in India. The poem whirls in its layout with staggered indentations, and when Allen gets to the topof the hill he turns round and round in circles – “Till when I stopped the earth/ moved in my eyeballs/ green bulge slowly/ and stopped” – You see, because what you see is in yourself, until you see – pure Blake and Cézanne’s petite sensation – with references to Indian history, American place names, “Peter du Peru” (who I think is (Peter) Orlovsky in South America)   [editorial note – no, it’s actually an early junkie acquaintance of Allen & Peter’s, Peter Du Peru]. To be anywhere and be there, is the point, to be sensitive to place and self but also ths one moment of being there, alive – “All the noise I made with my mouth/ singing on the path up. Gary/Thinking all the pale youths and/ virgins shrouded with snow…”    What poetry does, that prose cannot, is make the one thing, the one thing that lasts, composed of its details. A poem is a stacked entity, a poem, as Ted (Berrigan) used to say, is a list of lines – it is also a list of words and details, and it whirls in place. Allen traveled a lot, with long stays in India and Mexico (you have to risk missing out in being here! in New York or “Frisco), and he wrecked himself and his health doing so, in order to know what the world was like and to say it. The poem ends: “My thirst in my cheeks and tongue/ back throat drives me home.” “Back throat drives me home,” that’s pretty good.

to be continued tomorrow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *