Ted Berrigan’s class on Jack Kerouac and related matters continues from here and concludes here
TB: Yeah ok now, oh god I didn’t bring the… alright, I’m going to end. end.. I’m going to give a reading tonight and there’s a poem I was going to end this workshop with, and it’s by Alice Notley, and it’s called “Jack Would Speak Through The Imperfect Medium of Alice”, and instead I’ll read it at my reading, so I hope some of you will be there.
But I’ll end by reading something of mine now. My books, incidentally, are, some of them that are.. (Red Wagon,which they have on sale here), are good books. Almost all of the poems in Red Wagon are examples of useful and still-useable forms, and you can sort of work out for yourself what the form is, because that’s the way I have to write – when I get a feeling and a couple of phrases, the next thing that occurs to me what kind of shape is this going to be taking, what kind of shape, else I can’t make it, you know and… So that book can be.. not.. It’s to show you, not that you should use those forms that I used, but it shows you that process, and it suggests to you some ways that you could come up with your own forms and have confidence they are forms, and it’s a good book, as forms justify themselves too.
But, alright… Now we’re all filled with…all of us that are around here have found ourselves, perhaps more than we thought we’d be, filled with Jack (Kerouac) . so so..
So one thing that Jack did for us all, you see, was, he made it possible for us to.. again..he made it possible for us to be corny, to bring sound back into verse, you know, and to… because…because he demonstrates so perfectly that art does not… nothing is excluded from use.. from our.. As the painter, Joe Brainard said in a journal of his that he let me read once, he said, he had written, ”There are no colors that don’t go together”. And I mean, just the.. even there the mis-, you know, the syntactical error in the sentence itself emphasizes it more, but it was written with all the feeling of discovery, I mean that was a discovery he’d made, that he’d suspected. And what he meant was, of course, if you make work (if it works, you know). So, again, there’s nothing.. like you forget, we forget from time to time, and that’s too bad, but everything is permitted, that’s what makes things difficult. But not so, because, if it’s permissible to write rhymed iambic pentameters ,if you so wish, it’s permissible to write like a poet that Allen doesn’t like (or I don’t like), or not. I mean. When you hear all of us speak, it’s for information not for wisdom, necessarily, Take the information do it, do it as you will you know. It is you who will have to stand behind your works for as long as necessary (and even then you don’t really have to stand behind them, you can go hide somewhere! – But I mean, you have to… I mean it is your. .it is you who write them, you know, why should you exclude anything?) You did not have to make your poetry be poetry, I mean, to sound like poetry, or look like poetry, or prove to everybody that it is poetry just by having them.. making them look at it, or anything like that. It just has to work, It has to go. First of all, it has to have feeling. That feeling will just be chaos if it does not have shape, shapeliness, not just shape. Is shape the way something looks on the page or is it something that comes from inside? I’m not sure, you know. Either or both but some of whatever. But you do it and you get it and you feel it, you feel it, and, like, you write a poem, and, by god, it really worked out. And you write about eighteen lines, and you can’t think of anything more to say. Well, take a look and see if you didn’t, if you didn’t say it already. Or, if you write a poem and it’s eighteen lines and you’ve said everything you had to say and it’s not very good, why don’t you try writing another two-hundred-and-seventy-nine lines and see how that goes, because you can always take your scissors and cut out a lot of it and throw it away (and paste it back on over here too). You just keep going. When your inspiration runs out, keep going. You can always cut that part out later (and, anyway, you may be a person who writes better when they’re not inspired, Believe me, there are many like that)
Okay this poem is called “Ann Arbor Song”, and then there’s a short little poem after it. This was when I lived in Ann Arbor, and this is an idea, see. I had a simple idea for a form. I lived in Ann Arbor for four months and it was the first time I’d even ever hardly been there. I’d been there a couple of times for a day but I’d never lived there – (although I may live there again) And I was about to leave to live somewhere else, so I would never live there again for the first time, that is, be a person living there. And I had to start in the middle of a poetry reading by a very uninteresting poet (for) who I was attending the reading out of sort of professional courtesy.. And I knew I had a great idea, so I was thinking about that idea, and something awful happened at that moment, and then.. so.. but then later I remembered. So I wrote this poem. it’s completely simple, except.. (and it’s very funny, I like to funny parts in it too. In it I did at the time every trick I knew how to do in poetry except one – high eloquent rhetoric. (It wasn’t called for. It’s a kind of writing I greatly admire, but wasn’t called for at the time). I wrote it in stanzas. It really is a song, and, in fact, I think it should be recorded by someone like Ewan McCall, but (in fact I do a quite passable Ewan McCall version, because I can carry a tune when I’m imitating someone else). But, being a good poet, I didn’t want to just copy down my poem, you know. so I gave it some geography. So it actually starts right in the poetry reading whereI had the idea (although it actually starts in my room while I’m writing it, but. that’s where I put.the first stanza and then the last stanza is where I ‘m saying goodbye, I’m leaving this poem now. And the rest of the progression is not chronological but around having been in Ann Arbor – [ Ted reads “Ann Arbor Song”] – (“ I won’t be in this boring poetry reading again……’ ” …in fact I haven’t read them yet..”) – (You can see with what delight I wrote that stanza, because I knew I’d be reading it at readings sometime!) – “ Anne won’t call me here again to tell me that Jack is dead…” … I won’t cry for Jack again?) (altho’ I might cry right here!) – and Larry and Joan and..” “And I know Allen will follow me around the world with his terrible singing voice/but it will never make us laugh here again… meanwhile you will find me right here when you come through again”)
Now I wanted to read to you that to show you something, I mean, that poem is a lot of simple words and it has what’s called “the play of mind” over a lot of, actually very sentimental feelings, which were… I was entitled to because of the occasion, you know and.. There were a couple of problems in there, one was that in a list of who I got high with, I had to include this name that I didn’t want this other person to know was the person who was with me, but, if worse came to worse, I wouldn’t have worried about it, but, I mean, it was nice to find a trick to make it so that no one would.. that wouldn’t.. I wouldn’t be found out there
And I also get a chance to flaunt all the things the critics get on my ass about all the time – for using first names of friends that other people don’t know, and so forth. I mean, what are you supposed to know? you know, for godssakes? You know, am I supposed to say “One friend and the other friend and a third friend, all who write poems will probably never come and read in my class again”? I mean, come on now, this was intimacy I was having, But that’s a Chinese poem. I mean, that could have been written with just a little bit of change in 70O BC in China, (where people got high, and had schools and went to live in places, and, you know, even, there was probably someone.. and there was probably even the Chinese version of Allen, who always wanted to come around and sing songs by Blake! – Allen’s getting a lot better too actually, tho’… Allen’s really ambitious, you know).
Alright, finally, when Jack died and I got the message in the middle of that reading. A man, another faculty person, just as it ended, brought me a little note and he said, “I have a note for you” (I didn’t know him hardly at all although I knew him by sight), and I said “thanks”, you know, I was thinking it was something else. And he said, “It’s from Anne Waldman.” – and – I was very pleased (because Anne I love, and she’s terrific, and, anyway, the fact that Anne would call me up seemed like a very nice thing to have happen). And then, as he handed it to me, and as he started to walk away, he said, “I think she wanted to tell you that Jack Kerouac died”, and he just walked away, you know. And I was just standing there with this note in my hand. And I had interviewed Jack, I mean, just a year-and-a-half before. And I was.. I didn’t know, I didn’t remember how to get one foot in front of the other. And I thought, “Outside”. So I went outside and I tried to think “Home”, but I couldn’t make it past H-O, and so I leaned against this tree and started crying (for myself, you know) and Donald Hall (who’s supposedly the enemy, in those days, of the.. – I mean he was an academic poet – came along and saw me, and put this arm on me, and said , ”Are you alright, Ted, is there anything I can do?” – And I said, “Yes I’m ok but, you know, I just got word that Jack Kerouac had died, and I’m standing here against this tree crying.”- No I didn’t say, that but he could see what I was doing. We.. neither of us remembered any bullshit about rivalries or stuff like that. He said “Do you want me to give you a ride home? Would you like to go and have a drink? Do you want to come over and have coffee? Shall I sit here with you?”, you know. It was so terrific, I said, ”Thanks, Don, no, it’s ok”, and then I went on home.
And then. someone was waiting there, And it was.. I was living by myself at the time. Someone was waiting there. And why was I crying? It was only Jack being dead. Everybody dies, But I think I (would rather) get the news in a way that was not so shocking. Usually, tho’.. although it’s nearly always shocking, tho’.. I did get to write a bunch of poems in which I did get to say some of the things that I hadn’t known before, that I then knew by hearing myself say them. That is what happens when someone dies and you hear the news. There is this tremendous…like a fist squeezes your heart and your heart stops for a moment, and it’s like you die, and it’s awful, because you know you didn’t die. But that moment is the moment when that person passes from your outside life to your inside, and after whatever time of grief it takes, then everything continues, sanely enough, you know, but, my god! – Anyway, in the following few days Jack was buried, and I wanted to go to the funeral, I just wanted to pay my respects because I’d been up to Lowell to interview him (just previously).
Audio for the. above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-six-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape