Alice Notley on Allen Ginsberg – 4

Allen Ginsberg observing a plaster model of the young Alice Notley, (part of an installation), modelled for the artist, George Segal

Alice Notley talk on Allen Ginsberg and his exemplary internationalism continues and concludes today

Poem 6 is a song, “Industrial Waves,” that is to be sung (and I don’t know the tune) – “And I know Allen will follow me tound the world with his terrible singing voice” Ted (Berrigan) wrote, but it wasn’t that terrible at all.  “Freedom for Indonesia to murder half a million/ Freedom for South Africa to stabilize the Bullion/ Freedom for South Africa to slave her Blacks/ Freedom for Korea’s corrupt party hacks/  Freedom for America to kick plenty Ass/ Allende Lumumba Yass yass Yass!/ Freedom for Martin Luther King it’s a gas/ Freedom to forget our bloody Indochinese past!”

This is 1981. God, it was so much fun when Allen sang and chanted! Even I, who refuse all group activity whenever I can, chanted and sang in the audience when Allen bade me. There is that continuum  in which speech becomes chant becomes song, and Allen explored it and played with it along its length, becoming a consummate performer – performance being the currrency of international communication. But he exploited his line variously, in skill and pleasure, exacting the secret underlying melody against the metrical foot, using capital letters for vocal emphasis, eliminating punctuation and finally riding that line. “Freedom for South Africa to slave her Blacks” but also ” Freedom to forget our bloody Indochinese past” – which is elegant and undulant despite what it says. Allen could do a lot with his voice, from demotic New York-y wit intonation to baritone solemnity to shouting…Your own voice from your own throat is your most basic material.

Poem 7 is “Cosmopolitan Greetings,” which is dated 1986, but I seem to remember Allen working endlessly on this list of injunctions and axioms. “Catch yourself thinking”…”Subject is known by what she sees”… are two that strike my eye, though there is a lot of poetry advice in this rather short poem. “Mind is shapely art is shapely.” Then there is “Remember the future.”…which, as I have already demonstrated, Allen did. Internationally speaking, the poem is dedicated to Struga Festival Golden Wreath Laureates & International Bards, 1986 – I believe that is Macedonia. These are “Cosmopolitan Greetings” and anyone in any city would want to know these things: “Consonants around vowels make sense.” “Candor ends paranoia.” Repeat, “Candor ends paranoia.” Candor isn’t screaming at others, you know. It’s candor, purity of openness.

Poem 8 – I have somehow selected backwards in time to 1966 – turns out to be Allen’s remarkable elegy on the death of Frank O’Hara, “City Midnight Junk Strains.”  This poem is completely local, in the big way O’Hara was local, it takes place in Allen’s mind in his room, with Peter Orlovsky there, figured twice – “Delicate Peter loved his praise” – “Peter stares out the window. at robbers/ the Lower East Side. distracted in Amphetamine”

I mean that Peter is used almost as a poetic device to make a picture for Allen’s being distraught; I always remember this poem with Peter’s image there at the window, Peter haunted and a ghost. The poem ends with a signature line, at least for me, ” a common ear / for our deep gossip.” I would quote it often. Do you know any gossip, any deep gossip today? I’d ask. (Allen knew plenty.) – “I see New York thru your eyes/ and hear of one funeral a year nowadays -/ from Billie Holiday‘s time/ appreciated more and more/ a common ear/ for our deep gossip.”

New York is a geographical point, you see, and not the mainstay of Allen’s consciousness. though one’s consciousness might be of it and immense in it. But kind of, a city is a thing, among things. Oh and this, the one poem randomly selected with sexual frankness in it …but that is, too, the gossip.

Poem 9, likewise backwards (my hands are awkward trying to operate by chance) and likewise an elegy, “Death News,” on hearing of William Carlos Williams‘ death, in Benares, 1963: “Quietly unknown for three weeks; now I saw Passaic/ and Ganges one, consenting his devotion,/ because he walked on the steely bank & prayed/ to a Goddess in the river; that he only invented/ another Ganga-Ma. Riding on the old/ rusty Holland submarine on the ground floor/ Paterson Museum instead of a celestial crocodile.”

All my points are made. India and New Jersey are one.

Poem 10, “Porch Scribbles, totally Boulder, 1980. Three- and four-line takes connectted by sets of three-asterisks, as “I want that brick house on Mapleton,/ it’s for sale “Moore Real Estate” -/ But price too high,/ I’m too drowsy to go to the telephone.”

I go around all week with the line “But price too high” in my head, it really spreads though it’s so simple. Which price too high for you? price of what? Allen, by the way, was totally generous with his money.

“Everyone loves the rain, except those caught in their business suits…”

Not really a put-down that line. Allen taught everyone how to be open. I have forgotten to say. Anyone might drop their guard.

The vocation is to destroy yourself for it/ The vocation is to destroy your health in every country/ Because health is an illusion like satisfaction/ The vocation is to become more and more specific as your body lets you down/ The vocation is to record farts shits piss throughout the Milky Way/ The vocation is to destroy yourself opening all the gates, you thing/ All the gates doors windows closed in you Open/ The globe that speck in nothing to become an utter transparency/ Or uttered/ The vocation is not to win dominate or boss/ The vocation is not to cheat by erasing your cultural identity/ On a globe of fools pretending they aren’t the same animal/ Pretending they are dignified, screw dignity. The vocation is/ To ignore everyone’s sensitivities which are mere transparencies/ The vocation is to ignore how bad or sad you make everyone pretend to feel/ The vocation is to destroy yourself for it over time/ The vocation is to destroy time, exactly/ The vocation is not to go through time, it is not to be/ in a local place.   It is not to be anything a teacher can pin down/ The vocation is to avoid the Teachings/ The vocation is to be faithful to your mother and your old lovers/ The vocation is never to be asleep when you sleep/ The vocation is to not know who you are, while naming yourself in/ Every country in the world.  The vocation is matter, the globe to pass/ Through as you pass through your form towards your reader in your poem/ The vocation’s to leave, not say goodbye, and come back/ The vocation is to be embarassing/ The vocation is to follow your own embarrassment to beauteous hell/ The vocation is to preach to and convert the damned.

“I write poetry because it’s the best way to say everything in mind within 6 minutes or a lifetime” (“Improvisation in Beijing, 1984.)

I was at a conference in Madrid a few years ago. La Mémoire de la Mémoire – The Memory of Memory, talks in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese; and there was the guy who gave the impenetrable (to me) talk in Portuguese, on Portuguese Renaissance metrics was it, looking very very severe… Then later, at lunch, I was trying to explain to him – we spoke in English – the what I was as poet in the world, and said I’d known Allen Ginsberg, and this guy suddenly cracked. He grinned and grabbed my hand and said he wanted to touch me, someone who had known Allen, and told me how important Allen had been for him and everyone.No more defenses? Learn yr metrics and drop your defenses, and then, again, go with the metrics (bad use of term: trap, jazz, or Oulipian, self-made, improvisatory, even traditional, whatever). Don’t be afraid. Don’t you never be afraid. as Woody Guthrie‘s sister said to Woody Guthrie.

The weather in Paris this winter so strange, two months solid rain, flooding of the Seine, an historic snowfall followed by record cold, then a record April heat wave. The world worse than it was when Allen was alive, that is the human-mind world, for the planet in depth as a giant rock-soul keeps its own agenda, the universe supposedly has a life-span, within what Anaximander calls the Unlimited. One tries to touch the Unlimited with mind connected to the meat-body we somehow contracted for millions of years ago. There are rules in Religions for correct procedures for contacting the Unlimited, with smug footnotes deeming correctness incorrect and so on, all in the mind. Allen’s poetry knows all this, and free to move about wherever on the earth-map, the sky-map and the unmapped map, frees the reader from constrictions as well. People like to feel free, and Allen’s poetry is beloved among people I meet everywhere, because he gives them this release, this deep relaxation… He performs, page or stage, and then you are freed from your own performance; you don’t have to be the one everyone said you had to be – because he was once crazy – after all, his mother was – and traumatized by signing her lobotomy papers, traumatized! worked hard at his poetry, became enlightened, lost track of having to conform in any way, and having learned the form of his own poetry thoroughly, gave it to you in joy and glee.I mean it’s less that everything in mind got said than that… And what is that that?  Poetry itself makes you feel good, maybe. Because it’s poetry – imagine that! It’s its own inspiration, and if you work as hard at it breaking self and body, as Allen did, you might… even if you’re worried that the planet is collapsing…write one; as there’s nothing for us except here, where we all are on it. Or are we? Where are We? “Vat’s the question?” he asked a few weeks before he died. When he knew he was going to die and was excited about that (as Bob Rosenthal told me)…

Kerouac  – “I can’t answer;/ reason I can’t answer/ I haven’t been dead yet/ Don’t remember dead/ I’m on 14th St & 1st Avenue/ Vat’s the question?”


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