Allen Ginsberg Reading – Hot Springs, Arkansas, 1994

[Allen Ginsberg, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, 1994 – photo: Yukiyo Yoshida]

Returning this week to the trove of recorded material currently available  in the Stanford Archives, we focus today (perhaps somewhat arbitrarily) on a reading Allen gave at Hot Springs, Arkansas in November 1994.   The recording is available – here 

It begins with an unidentified announcer:

Announcer: I think we’ll go ahead and try to start in another five minutes. If we had an auditorium twice as large, he’d still fill it. I guess..I hope the fire marshal doesn’t come by, but we must.. I don’t know how many people we have here.

“Mr Allen Ginsberg has been a poet for all of his life, his father was a famous lyric poet. And I’m not going to tell you all of the things he’s done. You know, he became really famous, internationally-known with the poem “Howl”, (which I believe was written about 1956), but you know much about him from the movie (sic) (Many of you have seen the movie, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg. If you haven’t seen it, it will be shown again tomorrow morning at 10 a.m).  I’d just like to tell you a story that I was told about that movie – well,  I was there when it happened. Last year we showed the movie, and, after the movie, Jerry Aronson, the producer of the movie, asked for questions, and a lady in the audience stood up and said – “The Jews invented Communism!” – and he looked at her and said, “That’s really excellent, a good observation, Karl Marx was a Jew”, and then he went on to talk to other people, “Are there any other questions?”. Afterwards, I congratulated him on his skill at handling this person and he said, “I tried to do it like Allen Ginsberg would do it – with love”  This is a man whose life and poetry have changed the face of America and of the world – Mr Allen Ginsberg.”

AG: Good evening. Of course, yes, the Jews did indeed invent Communism but then the goyim really wrecked it! – Mao Tse Tung, Stalin and Castro! – So, this evening, what we’ll do is, I’ll read a few early poems from the ‘50’s, one poem from the ‘60’s, a few poems from the ‘70’s, but mostly focus on more recent work from 1980 to now [1994] or 1984 to now.. accompanied, begin, middle, and end, with music also, and try and follow chronologically the curve of development of writing. I’ll read maybe three-quarters-of-an-hour or longer, and then take a break, and then continue. I’ll be gad to sign books afterwards, but please don’t ask me to sign tickets, because there’s four or five hundred tickets here, so spare me. But if anybody has any of my books, afterwards I’ll sign. I signed this afternoon as many as I could, so as to relieve all of us of the burden of hanging on later on.

So (I’ll) begin with Buddhist dharma of a kind, done into country n’ western style  – “Gospel Noble Truths – a kind of gospel in form, which outlines the basic tenets of Buddhism – the Three Marks of Existence, or characteristics of existence – Existence contains Suffering. All the elements are transitory, and there’s no permanent self-hood, no permanent ego (so you don’t really have to worry about going to Hell..or Heaven)  – “Gospel Noble Truths “– that’ll go on with the Four Noble Truths,  a review of right views, right aspirations, the Eightfold Path, and a review of the senses, six senses, and general instructions. [Allen proceeds to sing “Gospel Noble Truths” – (“Born in this world/You got to suffer…”..”Die when you die”)]

As we’re approaching election time  and in neighboring states, Ollie North, and other theo-political frauds are haunting the television sets with their spectral paranoia, a little history, and a contribution to the “War on Drugs”, my own – the “National Security Agency Dope Calypso” – two parts, first the “National Security Agency Dope Calypso”, then the “Just Say Yes  Calypso” – (“Now Richard Secord and Oliver North/ Hated Sandinstas whatever they were worth…” …“When they wave a yellow ribbon & an oily flag/ Just say yes or they’ll call you a fag”)”

Now a further contribution to the “War on Drugs”. The statistics are that illicit drugs, disapproved of by Nancy Reagan, (and presumably Ollie North, the.. who was, apparently, involved in shifting money from the Medellin cartel cocaine trafficking to the Contras, during his reign in the White House)  –  Illicit drugs killed in America 20 to 30,000 people a year, alcohol is responsible for the deaths of 100,000 people, (three-and-a-half times that many), and cigarette-smoking contributes to the cause of death of 430,000 people. So the real killer drug is none other than Jesse Helms’ tobacco industry. So my contribution to the “War on Drugs” – [Allen performs “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag”] – (“Don’t Smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke..” (“Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag”) “…don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke”)

So, what I’ll do is to try to review some early poems, an early poem, and then move on from the ’50s. So, (a) brief sample, decade by decade, focusing on what’s going on now, or as (Bob) Dylan said, “Don’t look back” (or don’t get hung up looking back. I like what I did in the past and I like as much the present) . So, from 1955, Berkeley.  [At approximately twenty-two minutes in Allen starts reading “Sunflower Sutra”] –

The title, “Sunflower Sutra”, comes from an allusion to (William) Blake, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience,  the Sunflower?  how many know that? – “Ah Sunflower” – how many don’t?  So why don’t we have a footnote. Blake sang his Songs of Innocence and Experience. That’s why they’re called “songs”.  [Allen sings, accompanied by harmonium) William Blake’s ” Ah Sunflower” – (“Ah Sunflower! weary of time/ Who countest the steps of the sun..”…… “….Where my Sunflower wishes to go”)

From the ’60’s – 1965, I wrote a long long poem called “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, and in the last few years, have been working with the musician, Philip Glass, to, set that.. a section of that, to music. And then that was the last scene, (a duet between us), of an opera we wrote called Hydrogen Jukebox, which is now recorded and on Nonesuch Records, as about half year ago.  So the heart of the “Wichita Vortex Sutra” is what I’ll read. And the whole thing (which is much longer) is an account of a trip in a Volksvagen bus between Wichita, Kansas and Lincoln, Nebraska, and then back down from Lincoln, through the central part of the United States, the heartland, back to Wichita. During the Vietnam War, February 1966. So this is like a time-capsule, or collage, of what could be seen of the war within America, from newspaper headlines, television, gossip, subconscious gossip, conversation, stopping on the road for lunch, coffee, passing cities, passing signs, and thoughts welling up from inside. So outside and inside, a kind of tapestry, or collage, of consciousness, or like a sort of time-capsule of consciousness at its specific moments. (The) specific day, actually, would be February 14th 1966. All this written coming back to Lincoln, Nebraska from Witchita, Kansas. – [Allen proceeds to read from “Wichita Vortex Sutra“] – “I’m an old man now, and a lonesome man in Kansas/but not afraid/ to speak my loneliness in a car…”….”…stop for tea and gas”

A few months later.. [Allen reads “Kiss Ass”]-  “Kiss Ass is the Part of Peace/America will have to Kissass Mother Earth/Whites have to Kissass Blacks, for Peace & Pleasure,/Only Pathway to Peace, Kissass”

Now, to ten years later, mid 70’s, My father was a poet, Louis Ginsberg – those of you who saw the.. Jerry Aronson’s excellent film, or will see it tomorrow, will see my father reading his poetry to his father (or have seen that). And there are a few poems (I think that some of them are in the film) that I wrote as my father approached death. So I’ll read three, three poems, (one, a song) –
My father was quite old and in peace and philosophic-minded. He was a poet, taught school and taught Wordsworth (both at school, and to me, when I was young) – [Allen proceeds to read from the sequence, “Don’t Grow Old“] – (“Wasted arms, feeble knees/ 80 years old, hair thin and white…”…”I walked around the block,/and found out what it was back there – / it was a glue factory” – “Will that happen to me?/Of course it’ll happen to thee.”…”What’ll happen to my bones?/They’ll get mixed  up with stones”)

Then my father died when I was teaching in July of 1976 at the ..at Naropa Institute in Boulder, a Buddhist college, and I flew home and wrote a threnody (so the words and music written simultaneously). This was within about seventeen, eighteen hours of hearing of my father’s death. So, flying back to the funeral in Paterson and Newark, New Jersey – “Father Death Blues” – (“Hey, Father Death,I’m flying home..”…”My heart is still as time will tell”)

The reading continues on a second tape – here

“(Next) (American) Sentences”, simple declarative sentences with a subject verb and object seventeen syllables -“Tompkins Square Lower East New York” – again I’ll read each twice      – “Tompkins Square Lower East New York”   “Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella” – “Bearded robots drink from uranium coffee cups on Saturns ring” – “On Hearing the Muezzin Cry Allah Akbar While Visiting the Pythian Oracle at Didyma Toward the End of the Second Millennium”  – Didyma is on the shore of Turkey by the Aegean neat Lesvos. It was the site of – that area was the site of (the) Magna Mater, the Earth Mother, the many-breasted goddess Diana, who was displaced by the Judeo-Christian Islamic monotheist big-daddy macho Nobodaddy and with the suppression of Nature, the emergence of hyper-intellectuality, and rationality. and the destruction of Mother Nature and the Planet  and    4thcentury AD the Emperor at Rome by then conquered by the Christian virus, sent to Didyma, to the Pythian Oracle to ask for a prophecy. And this was talast prophecy of the Pythian oracle in the Temple of Apollo in the coastal city of  Didyma in Asia Minor. “ The Gods have departed this place and Apollo no longer inhabits these pillars”. And that was the last word of the Pythian Oracle. [Allen continues to read from “American Sentences”] – So,  “On Hearing the Muezzin Cry Allah Akbar While Visiting the Pythian Oracle at Didyma Toward the End of the Second Millennium” – and the word “bawl” here is B-A-W-L – like a baby crying, or baby yelling – (“At sunset Apollo’s columns echo with the bawl of the One God”) – “Approaching Seoul, South Korea by Bus in Heavy Rain” – (“Get used to your body, forget you were born, suddenly you got to get to get out!”) – “Put on my tie in a taxi, short of breath, rushing to meditate”  (Actually it’s November, November 1991, by December I was in a hospital with congestive heart failure, “short of breath”!) – “Two blocks from his hotel in a taxi the fat lama punched out his mother” – So..

Now, (I’ll) move on to poems that are not in books, from the last two years.I have a few more minutes so I won’t read many, just a couple that (were) interesting at the moment – [Allen continues reading from these later poems]

“After The Party”  – So this is September 1993, about a year ago  “amid glasses clinking, mineral water, schnapps,….”…”…we talk the refined old doctrine/ Co-emergent Wisdom” -After the Norweigan old poet Olav Hauge – (“After Olav H Hauge“) – (“Some live on islands, hills near Trondheim…” ….”They’re all businessmen/ who have found each other”) – These are poems written in Poland and Norway and in Munich during last Fall – “These knowing age” – (“These, knowing age/fart/These knowing age walk slowly..”…”These knowing age often/ keep quiet”)

I have high blood pressure and it’s very diffiult to avoid salt (specially travelling in Hungary, Poland, Germany. So this was a.. written in Athens, finally) – “”C’mon Pigs of Western Civilization, Eat More Grease” –  (“Eat, Eat more marbled Sirloin more Pork ‘n gravy!…”…”And this is a plate of black forest chocolate cake, you deserve it’)

The poet Ed Sanders asked all his poet friends to write new stanzas for “Amazing Grace”, the old song and I heard a conversation with Anne Waldman, sister-poet, who had gone out on a sesshin, or meditation week, on the Bowery in New York, among the homeless, and they reported that, although the winter cold was awful and the difficulty of getting food was very bad since they only started with a dollar a day as their rule, (but) the worst was that people passed them by without looking at them, without acknowledging their presence as human beings, or sentient beings, but simply ignored them, causing a sense of shrunken soul alienation. That was the most awful of the sufferings, the lack of human contact. So that turned me on to possibilities for “Stanzas for Amazing Grace” – [Allen performs “New Stanzas for Amazing Grace“] – ((“I dreamed  I dwelt in a homeless place…”… “passed with eyes of stone”)

So we’ll finish, finish now with Blake as we began with Blake, “The Nurses Song” from Songs of Innocence , which is a sing-along. The last verse is “all the hills echoed” (or, for the sake of the rhyme, “ and all the hills echo-ed”) – I hope you’ll sing along. It’s more fun to sing instead of sitting there self-conscious, wondering if you should sing or not. And, anyway, it sounds better if a lot of people sing. You don’t want to leave me all alone here to sing by myself (tho’ I like it enough to sing by myself,  but it’s alright either way). Well, anyway, the last verse is.. (it’s) four stanzas and then the last verse (last line) of the last, fourth, stanza  (is)  “all the hills  echo-ed”,  then you join in.”

Allen’s 1994 Arkansas visit also included an interview with broadcaster Michael Hibblin on Little Rock community radio station KABF. The audio for this (and more on “Allen Ginsberg in Arkansas”) is available – here

Allen also participated in an afternoon workshop at Hot Springs and we’ll be featuring a transcription of that gathering (including Allen teaching the audience how to meditate!)  in the coming weeks.

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