Lefkowicz-Smith 1979 Naropa Interview concludes

[Naropa University]

Lefkowicz-Smith 1979 interview continues from here 

AG:  Naropa is now certified, or what do you call it?

MS:  Accredited.

AG:  Accredited.  We have to interlock with the rest of the universities so that students get grades and can transfer credits to Columbia/NYU.  That means that I have to formulate grades for my students.

RL:  Okay, for example, do you set forth the criteria for evaluation at the beginning of the class?

AG:  No, because actually the idea of grading is so novel to me that I haven’t thought about it yet much, and now students are coming up to me and saying, “I’m taking this for credit and what do I have to do?”  And I haven’t thought about it, because I automatically give an “A” anyway.  Because it doesn’t seem to me the grading is very important. However, I’ve got to do something to fake it, so what I’m going to do with my class is assign that each student who wants credit has to write a prophetic book.

RL:  A prophetic book?

AG:  Yeah.  I did that last session and it worked out well.  Some brilliant books came out of it.  Challenged, the students came up to doing something really interesting (by) applying what they learned out of (William) Blake, or what I taught out of Blake, or what they invented out of Blake, to their own lives and writing a prophetic book out of their own existence and details.

RL:  Are women treated equally as well as men in your classes?

AG:  Probably, more or less, yeah.  The man that talks the most and gets most put down is David Nauke (sic) and the lady that talks the most and gets most elevated and invited to talk is that lady professor (sic) (Gerda Norvig).

RL:  Okay, I don’t have any more questions about this department (the Poetics Department), because (now) I have to go home and listen to what you said.

AG:  Okay.  Any more questions?

MS:  No, thank you very much.

AG:  However, there are undoubtedly various projections and personal predelictions on my part, and other parts of the teachers, between gays and un-gays, and women and men, and Buddhists and non-Buddhists, and Jews and non-Jews, and blacks and non-blacks, and West Coast, and hay-seed people, and New York people.  It varies. It’s a mix, I think.

RL:  Thank you.

AG:  What else?  –  What is this for?

RL:  Well, we’re going to present it to the other Naropa representatives.

AG:  Yeah?

RL:  And my plan is to ask them these questions first.  They seem to want us to find out.  People who are on the outside of the Poetics Department are always very curious to find out what’s happening within the Poetics Department, and then (and so) they have set us that task.

AG:  Okay, well one thing that is very important, happening this next week, is – we have to determine the structure of the Poetics Program in terms of a curriculum – whether we should have a graduated curriculum, beginning at the beginning and building up toward some high teaching, (which would mean perhaps either (an) historical survey of Western poetry, culminating with modern), or the teaching of certain technical things, like Greek rhythms and English rhythms  –  ionic meters and trochaic meters and iambic meters and quantitative meters.In other words, we could build it up theoretically or we could build it up historically, or… In other words, a scheme.

RL:  Would you treat it … uh-huh…  Would you build it up perceptually?

AG:  Or, as it is being … or build it up perceptually in some form, which I do in my own classes.  (This is) what we’ve got to do for the whole department. But there is no such perceptual scheme for letters, except different critical systems, which tend to turn into a rigid morass anyway.  Or you study the school of I.A. Richards.  It’s the study tenor – your general intention and vehicle – the particular details that you prove it by – or (the) objective correlative of T.S. Eliot, or things like that. But nobody really agrees on any specific set of terminology among poets.  There are many schools.

But the alternative is what we originally planned, which was, assuming an intelligence on the part of the student, and an openness, to then bring in all the geniuses we can in some kind of logical order and expose them to each other.  Because the really intelligent great poets among the young students will then be able to have an opportunity to meet older practitioners on a scholarly and social basis. That’s a hit-and-miss proposition, that way.  But that was the best way, I thought, because that’s just like life, except here you’re just concentrating the life of poetry by bringing together a lot of great poets with a lot of intelligent students.  For instance, when I was young I would have profited much by having had a chance to meet Nathanael West, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, (or) Ezra) Pound for ten minutes. See, all you have to do is meet somebody for ten minutes to get their take and you can learn system after that but to get their glimpse of the universe you need ten-fifteen minutes of conversation.

MS:  Their image.

AG:  Well, no, it’s to get the way they … to see how they see the universe. Like it took me ten minutes with William Carlos Williams and I understood what his sense of reality was and where he looked for reality, and then from then on I was able to check my own sense of reality search against his and learn from the way his wise way was.  For instance, the first thing I asked him (was):  “Do you think of yourself as a doctor or a poet?” And he said, “As a doctor.”  And that turned my mind around.  Because I thought, Oh, he must think of himself as a poet and I’m going to think of myself as a poet and I suddenly realized that he was a great poet and he didn’t have to think of himself as a poet.  So that liberated me from having to think of myself as a poet-identity. See?

RL:  Um-hmm.

AG:  So, (in) five minutes with Williams I already learned a big lesson that I’m still talking about twenty-five (or) thirty years later.

RL:  Do you think it would be hard for students to get over a feeling of self-consciousness?

AG:  Well, it was hard for me to get over a feeling of self-consciousness, too, but once I did then I got my lesson.  The point is … do you mean in this situation, where you got a bunch of great poets?  It’s no different from in a college where you’ve got a student having to kow-tow to a professor. In fact, in a college it’s even more formalized and self-conscious, the division of the caste system between student and professor.  In this case, there’s a little more informality, actually, (although an intelligent student would be naturally a little self-conscious having to confront somebody like Burroughs)But that self-consciousness could be turned into awareness and manners.

MS:  I find it more intimidating in a way here because, like professors, there’s a formal way…

AG (stops):  We’ll go to the corner here.

MS:  … there’s a formal way of relating.  They have to sort of look at your papers. But here, it’s…(I don’t know, it’s not bullshit in a way, but college seemed to me..)
AG:  Uh-huh.
MS:  … that I couldn’t..  I don’t feel like I could snow you at all. And just the experience –   the credentials are so, you know, unquestionable that I find it very intimidating to show work.

AG:  Well, I don’t think that…  I think you’re too self-conscious.
MS:  Yeah.
AG:  I mean, in that sense.  If you think your work is shit, you should show it and find out.
MS:  Yeah.

RL:  Is there where you’re going? (Allen indicates his direction)
AG:  Yeah.

So our main problem is deciding on a curriculum, and deciding on an order, and there is some question whether we should have an orderly curriculum, because that may interfere with the direct…

RL:  We can go halfway.

AG:  … direct experience of leaving the mind open for notating perceptions.

MS (warning):  There’s a car coming at you!

RL:  It may interfere with the correct experience.

AG:  In other words, if we say, “Oh, we should have a real curriculum, where everybody has to learn grammar, everybody has to learn meters – Greek and Western – everybody has to learn how to write sonnets, everybody has to learn the rules of free verse”.  Well then, if we put people through such a order, it may not fit everybody. It may fit a few.  It may fit the five or six dopey dissident drunken Francois Villon goofs, but it might not fit some very refined people here – like Loretta (sic) is already an experienced manager and craftsman, so she doesn’t need any of that.  And there’s one guy in my class who’s a professor of English already.  In fact, there are two in my class – two people in my class who are professors of English. What am I going to do, start teaching them baby-talk?

RL:  But if these classes were taught creatively – were well-taught, creatively taught – then presumably they would hold interest for almost anyone.
AG:  Well, you could say that about anything.
RL:  Yeah.
AG:  The automobile industry would be great if it were done creatively.
RL:  I don’t know what to say to that?    I don’t know which way we’re going.

AG:  We’re going this way.

RL:  There’s one here and there’s one here.

AG:  Let’s go here. Okay.  Can we finish (now)?

RL:  Yes

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