Allen Ginsberg 1993 KPFA reading

Last week we featured the irrepressible Wanda Coleman.  On April 8, 1993, in a benefit in Berkeley for local radio station KPFA & the Middle East Children’s Alliance, Allen took part alongside Wanda and Piri Thomas (“high-voltage poet & playwright, author of Down These Mean Streets and Stories from El Barrio“). Regrettably, in Allen’ archives at Stanford, we don’t have Wanda and Piri’s reading preserved, but we do have Allen’s

Listen to the full recording – here 

AG: Good evening. What I thought to do would be begin with some music, invocation to the poetry spirit, the energy of poetry, by William Blake, then a couple of songs, and then one or two poems from mid-Seventies, and then continue to recent poems, ((from) 1986 but mostly 1991,1992, bringing it up to date). So beginning with William Blake’s text,”The Tyger, which is about poetic inspiration – the hammer, the anvil, the instruments of his symbolic figure, Los, creative poetic imagination, done in trochaic meters, or heartbeat, the import being that we created the lamb and the tiger ourselves, it came out of our own breasts, it was not from old Nobodaddy above.  [Allen, accompanying himself on harmonium sings “The Tyger”] –
(How is the sound combination. Is the harmonium too loud? You can hear the words. Okay – balance ok)

[Allen continues] – Now to present politics ( referencing Middle East and ecological concerns) – “The National Security Agency Dope Calypso”, a true history of recent events in the Capitol and south, followed by the “Just Say Yes Calypso” (“Now Richard Secord and Oliver North…”… “When they wave a yellow ribbon and an oily flag/Just say yes or they’ll call you a fag”)

Continuing with my contribution to “the War on Drugs”,  a song about the number one killer drug in America, a “killer weed”, with statistics enclosed in the poem. So I won’t footnote it any further, just to say it is “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag”  (Allen accompanies himself on aboriginal songsticks) or “Don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke…”

(Next)  – Two poems from… several poems from 1970’s mid ’70s,  one tiger-ish or wrathful with hortatory oratorical insistency, let us say, then a second , more conversational. So ranging between… as Louis Zukofsky, the poet, defined the range of poetry between lower-level speech, upper-level, song. So the second poem goes from conversational voice to song, and the first, oratory. We’ve all read more or less some fragment of the news about J.Edgar Hoover being a drag queen (or at least a closet queen). Everybody knows about that. Many people knew long ago and many people were aware that he was in some sort of malignant relationship to the mafia, organized crime, since he denied it existed all the way through my middle manhood. So this is a poem written May 30th 1975 3 a.m, (so, seventeen years ago), “Hadda Be Playing On The Jukebox” (“Hadda Be flashing like the daily double…”…Hadda murder in America”) –

My father, Louis Ginsberg was a poet. So this is the second of a small set of poems written in 1976, as he declined, in illness, towards death. So this is a few short poems, notes, written while he was failing. When we were young, when we were younger, when I was younger, he had some difficulty with my sexual orientation and accommodating to my friendship, or marriage, or love, with Peter Orlovsky. But as time went on we got to be more familiar with each other’s..sensibilities, and by the mid-“Sixties were close and gave poetry readings together. So this is a series of poems called “Don’t Grow Old” . And at the.. I spent the spring taking care of my father and then in summer went to Boulder to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute to teach and heard about a week later that my father had passed away. So I flew back, and on the plane, returning, wrote a threnody or a death song, death lament,“Father Death Blues”. So I’ll read the poems and then sing that song  (“Old poet, poetry’s final subject…”

(And now I’ll conclude with) poems since 1987, and mostly later – [Allen reads two short poems], “Proclamation” (“I am King of the Universe..”..),  and “Hard Labor” (“After midnight horse-radish beef…”)

[This is followed by remarks on his visits to Czechoslovakia, later the Czech Republic]”In 1965 I was in Prague and was elected “King of May” and kicked out by the Minister of Education and Culture. The May King celebration, a phallic fertility festival for May Day, was not held again.. had not been held since the Nazi’s invaded until 1965, and, since I had been elected by a hundred thousand students as a sort of anti-government demonstration, it was not held again until the fall of the Communist government in 1990, at which time I was invited by the Mayor of Prague, Jaroslav Kořán  , who was the translator of Gary Snyder and the editor of a book anthology of American poetry, to return to Prague and get my crown back and pass it on to the next elected. So, when I got back, May Day, we had a celebration and I was led to President Havel‘s coffee-shop table, where he reminded me that we used to hang around together in the Viola Cafe (though I don’t remember having put the make on him in those days when he was a young student!). In any case, he liked a poem that I had written at the time called “The King of May” (“Kral Majales”), when on that plane, leaving Prague airport, deported to London. And I thought it would be interesting if, returning, on April 25th, 1990, I wrote another poem, called “Return of Kral Majales” or “Return of the King of May” as the plane landed in Prague (the earlier poem as the plane landed in London). So this is not as good but its a little squeak of a senior citizen! – (“This silver anniversary…”

Some form.. among Tibetan Buddhists that when your teacher (who was Chogyam Trungpa,  my teacher) dies, you, or his teachers, or his students, write a kind of formal buzzword-type prayer asking for his rebirth. And so I tried to use the old stereotype and put a little bit of American tokay into it. So it’s “Supplication for the Rebirth of Vidyadhara (knowledge-holder), Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (“Dear lord guru, who pervades the space of my mind..”)

[Allen concludes with a few more short poems] – “After The Big Parade” (“Millions of people waving flags..”) – When Indian saddhus raise the chill of ganja to their  lips, the mantra is often  “Om Namah Shivaya!” or “Hum Bom!  [Allen reads Hum Bom”] – A poem relevant to the evening “Yiddishe Kopf”. (for those of you who don’t know, “Smart Jew’, “Yiddish Head”) (“I’m Jewish because…”) – Similar theme- “Thieves Stole This Poem” (Thieves, they steal everything…”) – “Get It?” (“Get beat-up on tv…”) “Thoughts in Fort Lee” (‘”thoughts”, meaning, like, what I thought up on a bus, coming from Paterson to New York on the bus, approaching Fort Lee) (“Diana and Roger Napoleon…)

And [finally] here’s a series of odd poems written in the style of Baul, northern Bengali saint poetry, in which generally the poet names himself (the Baul singers are wandering minstrels who wear patchwork clothes and play a one-string, ektara and sing to Krishna and Shiva, Allah, Christ, Ramakrishna, Radha Ramana, Buddha, anybody you got, they’ll sing to it –   devotional – bhakti – and Lalon Shah was a nineteenth century Bhakti Baul singer, and someone, a friend, Sunil Gangopadhyay sent me a book of translations of his and I was tickled by them and wrote sort of imitations of the style of translation-ese. The old tradition there is you write a verse and then you name yourself at the end of the verse, like in a fourteenth-century one that always stuck in my mind was – Nivruttinath drank the fragrance of clouds,/ Sopan inhaled the nectar of fire,/ Muktabai fed herself on cooked diamonds./ The secret of all three has come into my hands. So says Changadeva” – So at the end the poet names himself. So. So these are a series of short poems I wrote one night after reading the translations of Lalon Shah  (“After Lalon”)  (“It’s true, I got caught in the world..) –
“Allen Ginsberg warns you don’t follow my path to extinction”

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