Allen Ginsberg – Dorcas Speer – 1968 interview

Filmed footage – a (vintage) 1968 interview today – Allen Ginsberg is interviewed by Dorcas Speer at Iowa State University

DS: Allen Ginsberg participated in a “Focus“. This is the annual fine arts festival (at Iowa State) and of course he was (you were), I think, initially contacted because of your work as a poet. Now, as a poet, what is the greatest influence on your particular work?

AG: Revolutionary consciousness of other poets and saints who turned me on to psychedelic experience with drugs and without drugs that have given me the gift to see that our society’s completely mad, and our government’s crazy and is going to destroy the planet unless we regain control of our own bodies and our own consciousness and begin treating each other like human beings again and begin treating the Earth like Mama Nature again

DS: Well some people express this only in their music, some people in their other kinds of daily work, but you particularly, your way of expressing it, or one way you express it, is in the written word.

AG: Written word, also,  but the spoken word, actually, the vocalization of the word, because we lost track of poet as prophet, as bard, as shaman, in the last fifty years, although that is our own American tradition with Walt Whitman, and it’s the ancient tradition of the poet, going back to times before..before Greece, before the Bible, before Caveman  (it’s a tradition going back through Isaiah, through the old Hebrew prophets and the tradition that it exists even in Central Asia now, or among our American Indians, people who have contact with their own unconscious, who are able to see that the rational consciousness of the Pentagon war-makers are completely.. is completely a scam

DS: I haven’t heard it expressed in this form but I have heard it expressed in the form of an elderly ecologist who was saying that he hoped that the answer to the situation would be seen by the poet from the mountain-top and be expressed and given the light for the people to follow.

AG: Well it was seen from the mountain-top by William Blake long ago, when he spoke about  Remove that dark Satanic mill”. Remember? That was 18thcentury,at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when Blake first saw that the Industrial Revolution was a Satanic plot to besmirch the breast of Mother Nature

DS: Now, you have put these words into music

AG: Yes. I’ve been putting Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience into tune and putting out a record of them now

DS: Right, and I have this copy right now. But at the same time, perhaps we should say, is it just really right off the press, and is it available or not?

AG: Uh, yeah, it‘s probably available by now, I guess..

DS And this is by Allen Ginsberg

AG: …I just picked up a copy before I left.

DS:  Oh, good

AG: It’s Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience

DS: Alright, now, of course…

AG: You want me to sing you one that’s ecologically oriented?  That would make sense rather than just talking – Okay. It’s the “Introduction” to (“Songs of) Experience” by Blake (which is a poem that many of the students know, actually)

Allen takes out his harmonium and performs one of his settings from William Blake  – (“Hear the voice of the Bard!…”….”The starry floor/The winter shore/Is given thee till the break of day.”)

What that is is an appeal to a maddened money-hungry, junk-addicted bank system to get off its war-making Earth-destruction kick and get back on to some kind of useful ecological reconstruction to Earth, Spirit, Sex, Love, Humanity, away from a police state that is right now beginning to devour not only the United States but the entire planet in its maw.

DS: Away from violence as a form of aggression and adaptation?

AG: Yeah, away from a violence proposed by the State, promoted by the State, sent to the citizens by the State, from the top down (including, as is so obvious from today’s, this week’s newspapers, the violence in Laos), which is a secret violence perpetrated by the CIA, working through a supposedly peaceful organization, the AID program, kept secret from the American public, as the Vietnam War had really been kept secret for many years, from ’56 to ’62, violence that spread all over the world, that has come home in terms of blastings and bombings inside the United States, and a violence that has, as its source, the mad dream of bureaucrats in Washington who are making money from the war, and their friends in Industry who are making money from the war, who are like a bunch of junkies addicted to a war economy.

DS:  Now is that thing, that, some of the same threat of the violence that we have been so proud of throughout our history as people are consuming the resources of the world?

AG: Consuming the resources of the world, in the sense that, yes, we do consume – what is it? – forty-five percent of the raw materials consumed by the world, tho’ we have only six percent of the population.  So that one American is more dangerous to world ecology than twenty Indians!  The same violence that we were so proud of in terms of the murder of the Indians who were the owners of this Land and took care of it better than we did, the same violence that led us to murder the fifty million bison that covered these Great Plains.

DS: Now what threat does this carry with the recent trials in Chicago?

AG: Well, the trials in Chicago were trials of that vision, actually, I think, on the part of a violence-prone municipal government with its police, as described by official reports, the violence commission report, the Walker Report, as a group of police, prone to violence, creating a police riot during a Democratic Convention there. It was a trial of the people who came to make a political protest against the encouragement of police state and the affirmation of military tyranny through the Democratic Party in its Convention. It was a trial of pacifists, like Dave Dellinger, who’s an exquisite old man with an old Catholic pacifist background, it was a trial of comedians and actors playing political roles more brilliantly than (Richard) Nixon plays his black magical political role. So, actually, it was a trial of the new awareness and an ecological awareness, and unfortunately, that trial was allowed to go on by the good solid citizens of the country because the good solid citizens of the country seem to me at this point to be so confused about their own relation to Nature that they’re willing to buy a police state for fear of having to kick their matter-habits. for fear of having to kick their refrigerator-habits, and kick their automobile habits, their oil-burning habits and their gas-burning habits

DS: And I was going to ask how this affects you, and how do we go from here, but we’re out of time. Our guest has been Allen Ginsberg, poet, and he participated in “Focus”, the Spring Fine Arts Festival at Iowa State – and thank you.

AG: Hare Krishna!

One comment

  1. Thank heaven for Alan Ginsberg – that his voice may be heard today like this. He spoke with a lone voice in public, back in 1968, like a true son of Blake and Whitman. We are lucky to be within earshot of this voice – thanks to those who supported his work.

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