Another dive into the wonderful trove of audio tapes available in The Allen Ginsberg archive at Stanford. This one from 1990, Portland, Oregon radio (199 FM), on “Voices of Writers”, features a reading the poet had given the previous October at the town’s famed Cinema 21. Listen to the recording – here
First, an introduction:
Allen Ginsberg has become a dean of American poetry by sheer dent of talent, genius, chutzpah, wisdom, and promotional skill. He deserves a crown of Ivy leagues. Through the decades he’s shared the erotic, the political and the transcendent with new generations of seekers. Like the outgoing rings of wavelets in the palm of human consciousness, he has touched us all, Beatniks, Hippies, Radicals, Eco-Saviors, Buddhists, Gays.
The first time I heard Allen Ginsberg sing was at the Troubadour, a now-defunct club in Los Angeles in the 70’s, shortly after the death of his father, and it was a spiritual experience in a dark, smoky, entertainment nightclub . Lines like “We’ve all gotta suffer”, “Breathe when you breathe, die when you die” [from “Gospel Noble Truths“], these were the prescriptions of a practicing Buddhist, one who would start the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Ginsberg’s poetic vision harks back to William Blake and Walt Whitman. In the January [1990 –sic] Harpers Magazine there’s a fascinating debate between the poet and a fundamentalist [John Lofton], an ex- Washington Post columnist. Today every small-town library in America now houses Ginsberg’s words. He’s working on his memoirs, and his Collected Poems are now available in a fat and worthy volume. At sixty-three, , the poet almost impatiently recognizes his own mortality and projects an urgency about that and that’s what you’re going to hear in this upcoming performance. But Allen Ginsberg also is a walking and breathing testament to quitting smoking and meditating. What awesome lung power! He’s a master performer. So listen here folks, you’ve got Allen Ginsberg. October 6, 1989 at Cinema 21. You’re gonna enjoy this tape
tape then begins
AG: Everybody in from outside? .. I’ll begin with some music, read from early poems, take a break, and then read up to present. So try and cover thirty, forty years of poetry – high-spots. I’ve forgotten when I was last here in Portland but I think it was quite a while back – how long?
Audience member: Reed College
AG: Reed – and when was that? That’s.. when
Audience member: Five years ago
AG: Five years. Ok, so I have five years of new poetry, plus a lot of old things.. old poems. How many here have heard me read before or have been at a reading where I’ve read? [Audience gives a show of hands] – and how many have not? – [a larger show of hands] – So it’s the majority, not, here. So that makes it more interesting. So I’ll begin with a song and then go into early poems
Allen begins the reading
To begin with, starting with something recent , an old poem from 1970, “CIA Dope Calypso”, (updated for the Reagan-Bush administration) – (“In nineteen-hundred and forty nine, China was won by Mao Tse Tung ..”…”and Bush is in the White House of the USA)”
So next I’ll sing some earlier songs, or an earlier song . The first song I ever wrote, Paterson, New Jersey, August 1948, (“A Western Ballad” (When I died, love, when I died..”…) –
Next, to finish the music at the beginning, a non-smoking anti-commercial – “Put Down Your Cigarette Rag” (“Don’t smoke, don’t smoke…”)
I’ll follow up with “Do The Meditation Rock” (“If you want to learn how to meditate..” “…Generosity!)
[Allen moves next to unaccompanied poems]
Going back in time, 1956, “Sunflower Sutra” (“ I walked on the banks of the tin-can banana dock…”)
These poems are part of what was called, for those of you who are too young to remember, part of, at the time, what was called “San Francisco Renaissance”, which involved a number of very great poets, most of whom are still alive, healthier than ever, and more ripe and mature and productive than ever, including, from Reed College, Portland, Philip Whalen, (now a Zen master, Philip Whalen, sensei, now given transmission to teach Zen so he’s the first of the Beatnik-Hippie-San Francisco-poets Zen masters – “nothing promised that was not performed”), Gary Snyder (the famed ecologist), the late Lew Welch, (who came down from Reed with them and then went out to Chicago and came back to the Bay Area), Jack Kerouac, (great poet as well as prose writer), Philip Lamantia, (primo American Surrealist), Michael McClure, (who’s been through here with Ray Manzarek, recently, extending his poetics into music), William Burroughs (who you know of), Robert Creeley (who was around in San Francisco in the mid ‘Fifties), among others. So, there was quite a phalanx of geniuses at that time and these poems are of that era/vintage.
“America” (America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing..”..”America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel”)
In about a month I have an album coming out called The Lion For Real with a lot of poems (spoken poetry with music – Steve Swallow and Arto Lindsay and Bill Frisell, and many musicians who work with Tom Waits and Marianne Faithfull). So this is a key poem and the title poem of that album. – “The Lion For Real” (the lion is actually symbolic of a mystical experience, in case you couldn’t guess later on). Beginning with an epigraph from.. (Tristan) Corbiere – “A Rhapsody of the Deaf Man” (because the last stanza paraphrases the last stanza of his really great poem (“Soyez muette pour moi, contemplative Idole..”),
– (“I came home, I found a lion in my living room. ..”…”I wait in my room at your mercy”.)
And also in Paris, (19)58 – a situation of Gregory Corso living there – and Peter Orlovsky and William Burroughs completing the first coherent and extended chapters of Naked Lunch, a little recollection of Newark, New Jersey – “To Aunt Rose” (“Aunt Rose now, might I see you..”…”The war in Spain has ended long ago Aunt Rose”)