Allen Ginsberg’s 1983 interview with Ole Reitov continues – from here
OR: Well, you’re in Europe as part of a tour, with UNESCO involved. We (here) have a lot of discussions about what organizations like (the) UN or UNESCO can actually do these days, and, personally, I feel that UNESCO has more often been interested in what I would call “culture”, like restoring antiques and so on. Do you see a new trend in that? that they’ve invited you to Europe? that they’re getting into new areas?
AG: It wasn’t me…what they did for the first time was invite poetry. In this case, fortunately, it was the people they invited…and the groups that they relied upon for information were a group of somewhat anarchistic bohemian gnostic beatnik decentralized elegant and responsible and respectable people. It was co-sponsored by Polyphonix in Paris which has had large poetry readings over the years, or the last five years, directed by Jean-Jacques Lebel, (who was at the barricades in (19)68 throwing rocks, and who has been working with (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti and others for many years, and has translated “Howl” actually). The Dutch contribution was from One World Poetry, Benn Posset, that has been cultivating international readings for a long long time and has had all of the hippie American poets, and the open-form poets, and the Williams disciples, and the Whitmanic poets, over to Amsterdam. In Italy, there was a group called Beat 72, I think, that sponsored large-scale international readings of poets from Africa and China and socialist countries and America and England and France and Europe and Asia..from (19)79 on. And there has been a development of large poetry audiences, as in Russia and as in America, all over Europe on account of that…approximating the basic interest in poetry that you would find in Africa or South America, where poetry is village and personal. So, so far, the groups that have been working with the UN have been genuine poets, and they have invited some really good poets there, I think. Could be better. The problem is to do it in the three areas of greatest monopoly, America, Russia, and China, which are the least hospitable. America has never had an international poetry reading. Mexico has. Russia has never dared.. And China.. the first meeting of American and Chinese poets and writers took place last year (1982) , September 20th, at Los Angeles, when a delegation from the Peking (sic) Writers Union, another monopoly, met a delegation from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. And I sneaked into that, Gary Snyder and myself spoke, and found that the Chinese writers were interested in decentralization, individuality, and “soul”, because most of their delegation from Peking (Beijing) had been censored by the central government during the period of “great disorder” and had been silenced for ten or twenty years, suffering worse than any of the Western writers who’d been in trouble. So I think it’s an interesting movement…the poet, the language, the fact that the poets have always had a secret society, and have always been able to talk across the borders, and always been interested in each other, whether Australian Aborigine to American sophisticate, there has always been contact. Like (Andrei) Voznesensky invited an Australian song-man to Moscow. And he and I went on a tour of Gove peninsula. the Yirrkala tribe, to study and trade techniques with the Australian Aborigines. So… the problem is – do you want something that reaches around the world or not? If you want something that reaches around the world, it means you have to have electronic centralization. If you don’t have that, you have to do it in your locality. I say (as Gregory Corso says), “when you have a choice between two things, take both!”
OR: The Aborigines..did they have some kind of oral tradition?
AG: They have the most sophisticated and cultured tradition of literature in the world, far surpassing American, or European, or Chinese (if longevity of tradition is any mark of cultural sophistication, which it has always been considered in the West). They have epic material that goes back twelve thousand years (which is further back in cultural memory than any other culture can boast). And the reason people know that is that they mention animals that were extincted twelve thousand years ago. And a lot of that.. a lot of it is destroyed, (’cause they had about a hundred-and-thirty languages, or more, and there’s only about forty or fifty left. So much has vanished). But a lot has been recorded and taken down, and a lot still continues. There was a drive toward extermination of their culture by the whites in Australia (same thing for the American Indians, and the Mexican and Peruvian and Central American – and that’s what’s going on right now in Guatemala, where ten percent of the Indian population in the tribes has been decimated in the last six years by the U.S. arms military). So there is the indigenous movement (in which Gary Snyder and I are involved) to try to preserve ancient cultures and so-called “primitive” cultures,’ cause they contain information, (the oral traditions contain more real information than the scientific technological tradition in the sense that there is more direct perception contained in the epic material than there is direct perception contained in Western material, ’cause Western material tends to dwell on categories and abstractions and stuff that you read, whereas the native material relies on human contact and oral person-to-person whispered tradition, or auditory tradition. So, as everybody knows, there’s obviously more contacts with the facts of nature and a different racial descensus (sic) (even by the Australian Aborigines) because they have no writing and (thus) developed a kind of universal photographic memory for song and detail).
OR: Of course, it’s very interesting to us, that kind of information, but, from your experience, is it of any interest for those people to get any information about what we are doing?
AG: Difficult… any information that we give them generally tends to screw up their system.. like, you bring in a steel bucket and immediately the whole wood culture is destroyed.
OR: And what is the solution to that? Is that to leave people alone?
AG: I would, wouldn’t you? If somebody owns a big territory in the Amazon, it’s their territory. (Gary) Snyder’s image is of a virgin forest, the climax forest, which is undergoing years of development, several million years of development, and finally arrives at maximum diversity and steady state economy, Steady state economy with maximum diversity. So the interrelated network which evolves on its own… So, I would say. leave the whale kingdoms alone, leave the Amazon kingdoms alone, and leave the American Indian kingdoms alone. Nobody’s doing that because the tendency of almost all rationalistic Western mind is to think that it’s better if it’s improved and modern..
AG: yes. So (Arthur) Rimbaud is the first poet who sounded the warning and said, “La science, la nouvelle noblesse! Le progrès. Le monde marche! Pourquoi ne tournerait-il-pas?” (which is the epitaph of my last book (Plutonian Ode (1982))
OR: But with meetings like that, which UNESCO arranges.. obviously we’ve seen that with other meetings when people from the Third World meet people from this part of the world.. I mean. one thing is leaving them alone, another thing is that it is interesting to get these people together and discuss with them…but that also gives some kind of affect to these people…
AG: “Discussion” is not so interesting…
OR: Or “meeting”, or whatever…
AG: …as exchanging experience of art forms. (’cause a lot of sophisticated poets from the Third World tend to imitate Western.. at the same time as Western is tending to imitate the unsophisticated non-Third World, and so they push, I think, its.. the thing that happened in America (which I think was really good, with William Carlos Williams), which is the general principle that you should speak in your own language and use your own local rhythms (in (the) American situation, we had to abandon the English versification and develop our own American measure of the line). So that tends to encourage interest in the Williams minute particulars of local cultures. And even be into the development of (a) philosophy of bioregional organization, based on river courses, river watersheds, rather than abstractly-drawn boundaries that have no relation to the nature of the landscape.But in literary or artistic terms, it means appreciation and cultivation of one’s own culture and preservation of one’s own family tradition in language and in song. And the paradoxical thing is that the native traditions (by native, I mean native to the place, to specific places) have such strength that they break through the crust of civilization and monopoly and get their message across, transformed electronically, but still get the same pulse through. Maybe one of the most important political, social, intellectual, and emotional, movements in the world is the movement that started with the Yoruba tribes and migrated through the Caribbean and New Orleans and up through Chicago and New York in the form of spirituals and blues and developed into rock ‘n roll. And I would say John Lennon, actually, had more direct mental influence on the world than (JF) Kennedy or (Adolf) Hitler or (Josef) Stalin. And John Lennon draws his inspiration and resources from American blues singers and American blues singers draw their inspiration and resources from Aruba folk rituals. Technically speaking, it is as if the American dance rhythms had made the white Americans shake their ass and open up what is known as the muladhara chakra
OR: And now it’s coming back to Africa, actually, in a new form which they are developing…
AG: ‘Cause you can’t have total stasis. The nature of evolution is evolution. The nature of life is change. So the question of the awareness of it and the elicacy of it.. But I don’t think it’s a hopeless situation.
OR: So that also means that you think that the kind of cultural revolution that we actually had in the ‘Sixties, is going on in cycles?
AG: I think it’s happening now.
OR: But also in cycles. I mean, there is the media cycle, and also the physical cycle, obviously, and it sees…
AG: Yes, and the anti-media cycle. It’s sort of like in nature’s balances and changes. In the development of a forest, if there is a fire, in California at least, then the kind of growth that springs up is manzanita. And the lodgepole pine tree, as Gary Snyder points out in his poems, has a seed which only opens up during a fire. And the manzanita takes over and crowds out almost everything else, then it chokes itself to some extent, and it’s kind of a weak plant and it’s succeeded by lodgepole pine, and that’s succeeded by ponderosa pine, and that’s succeeded by the climax forest of steady state. So there is a monopoly of manzanita, and there is a monopoloy of lodgepole pine, and then there is a monopoly of somthing else, and finally it reaches a balance again, if left alone. So the only question is will we commit suicide and destroy the whole, or not?
OR: But that never leads to a situation where you feel, “What the fuck, it doesn’t matter what I do anyway, because it’s got the cycles”?
AG: No, it leads to the situation of, “How delightful, it doesn’t matter what I do anyway, the cycles take care of themselves. And, aware of the cycles, I can contribute to them”. It depends on your attitude, I think.
(tape – side one – concludes here)
to be continued