Allen Ginsberg 1977 Woodmere Reading – 1

From Zev Golan

“When I was 14, Allen Ginsberg suggested in a letter that I “try” Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience”. Perhaps at the time I was too young for Ginsberg’s own poetry (and most of Blake), but the Songs were just right. I later recorded this reading at the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, (Hewlett, New York), Feb. 27, 1977.  Ginsberg invited the younger members of the audience – there were a lot of us – to sit on the floor up front so some of the older folks could find chairs. He opened with a meditation (the Heart Sutra mantra (“Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!)), then read from some of his 1950’s work, (“America“, “Sunflower Sutra”, “Kaddish”) – and this part of the recording concludes with a song written in 1975 (Gospel Noble Truths)”

The recording continues in two parts. (the second section will follow tomorrow)

Allen begins the reading with a brief explanation of the Heart Sutra

“There is a Buddhist mantra, Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!  –  “Ga-te”
– So in Buddhism, it’s in Sanskrit, an Indo-European language – “Gate”, the same as “gone gone”, “gone gone” – “Gate gate” – “gone, gone” – like your great great grandmother – “gone gone” – “paragate” – completely utterly gone, over the river, to the other side, “para-” – highly gone, over-gone – parasamgate –   like summit,  highly completely gone – “gate” – gone gone- completely gone – completely utterly gone – over the river to the other side – “bodhi” – wakened mind – that is, svaha!  – Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!

Allen chants the Heart Sutra (accompanied on the harmonium) 

He then continues (mapping out the reading)

“I am going to start reading with older poems which some of you, some of you who are younger, or are in school,  or some of your children, will have studied in school, poems written in the 1950’s and the 1960’s. So I’ll read in the first part, I’ll be reading poems that are older and more familiar, and then I’ll finish with poems written up to the last few weeks.”

He begins

“America”  (1956 is the date of this (so) it’s toward the end of the early… toward the end of the  McCarthy period here – (“America, I’ve given you everything and now I’m nothing…”…”America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel”

At this time I was preoccupied with an elder poet, William Carlos Williams and another  poet Jack Kerouac, both of whom (seemed.. )  I was preoccupied with verse by Jack Kerouac and by William Carlos Williams, and I was interested in seeing if I could get some kind of American speech pattern. There was a long breath. So “Sunflower Sutra” (which is Berkeley,  1955 (“I walked on the banks of the tin can banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive…”… “mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tin can evening sitdown vision”)

Next Allen introduces his long poem, “Kaddish”  

And so (it’s)  sort of actually a family audience and so I would like then to read part of a family saga, Kaddish, the opening section and one or two other sections that are brief, from that poem which is a kaddish, or a mass, or elegy for my mother, Naomi, who died up here in Brentwood, Pilgrim State, in 1956. So this is the proem, or beginning of Kaddish, for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956). . I just want to read… each.. I’ll read little sections of  the poem, skipping in and out, so, I mean, the basic structure. So, since the whole thing is quite long… (I’ll (be)-picking out) ecstatic sections…”

“Strange to think of  you , gone without corsets and eyes…”….”Death, stay thy phantoms!” – “Two years after a trip to Mexico – bleak in the flat plain near Brentwood (New Jersey, in New York) …”…”huge cities of the moon (leaving Pilgrim State)”…”nor Louis retire from this High School -” …”In the world which He has created according to his will Blessed Praised…”…”Blessed be Death on us All”….”O mother/what have I left out..”…”  with your eyes/with your eyes/with your Death full of Flowers”

Allen ends this part of the.reading with Gospel Noble Truths”

“That’s very heavy – being a poet..  I’ll finish (or, rather) change the.. before we take a break.. change the (mood) a little bit with (a) song… (a) country and western (one).  It can be considered a commentary on (punk)..   With me here Steven Taylor on guitar  – (“Born in this world/, You got to suffer…” ….” (and you) “Die when you die”)

continued tomorrow

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