Allen begins his 1979 Summer session on William Blake (on August 1st) by proposing an assignment
AG: For those who are credit students, I’d like to do the roll (call) [completes roll call] – The assignment for those who are taking the course for credit will be a paper, or homework, and those who are not taking it for credit are welcome to do the homework. So the assignment for the end of the term is – to write “Book One’ of a Prophetic Book of your own. The rules of this, (or) the understanding, is that (you are to) write it in long lines, somewhat like the Vala (Four Zoas) lines, or else in that trimeter, that three-beat line , which I think was anapestic, we said – as in Ahania or The Book of Los But I think it might be more interesting if you just try the long line, which is basically six nodes or six beats. It’s a little longer than the Shakespearean blank verse.
[Allen is distracted by late attendees] – Oh, come on in. Come on in, dolls. There’s some chairs over there. Peter (Orlovsky) could you help get chairs? Is Peter here?
Peter Orlovsky: Hi, Allen.
AG: There’s some chairs there. Could you Mike (sic)? Could you help them?
Student (1): You can have these back here…
Student (2): There’s some over here.
AG: Yeah, wherever it’s convenient. There might be more room back there or over there, Pete. Yeah. Right there. There’s plenty of room there. In the gulf. There’s another chair there. There’s more chairs in the back and I think… Has Gerda (Norvig) got here? You might leave a chair for Gerda. The professor, Gerta Norvig. Her name (is) Gerda Norvig, you know, (the woman) who’s been helping us from C(olorado).U(niversity).
Okay, so the assignment is to write a Prophetic Book, probably “Book One” of your Prophetic Books. A statement of your own basic psychological metaphysical condition, as you see the universe itself. Invent your own symbols, your own personae, invent your own plot. It can be occupied with your own sexual struggles to get laid for the first time, if that’s what your problem is, or, if you’ve got cancer and are facing death, then you might have the cancer as one character, and various portions of yourself and your limbs as another. Or, if you’re involved in (the) Rocky Flats Truth Force (sic) you might want to symbolize that, or make use of that, as the great jellyfish or whatever – the polypus (octopus). Or whatever you want to do. The “satanic mill”. But you don’t have to use Blake’s symbols – make up some of your own. In other words, use your own imagination. It doesn’t have to be too long. Try and make a statement with most of the elements of your universe in it. In other words, you’re here in the universe, right?
Student: Sometimes I wonder!
AG: Well, then the wonder, the Spirit of Wonder, can be your main character. This vague vaporous spirit drifting about beneath the trees to Casey High School (Boulder), wondering if she’s in the universe.
But, anyway, since we are in the universe, we have a number of elements – We have our elemental beards. We have long-haired characters, we have blond characters, we have trees, we have streets, we have mountains about us, we have great plains about us. We have all sorts of magicians in town – witches, lamas. So there’s lots of characters to deal with, or lots of points of view to deal with, lots of elements of our own consciousness to project outward into poetic symbols. So, therefore, it’s not such a hard assignment, actually.
Use the six-beat line. Is that clear? (For) the prosody. Let your ear be influenced by Blake, and let your sense of sound be influenced by the “thousand twangling instruments” that drop about your ears. [Editorial note – “Sometimes a thousand tangling instruments/ Will hum about mine ears” – Caliban, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest)]
Has anybody got any questions? So this is obligatory for those who want credit, and is welcomed for those who are not seeking credit but just beauty, to create more beauty.
Student (Mario): How long do you want into be?
AG: A thousand pages! But two pages will do as the first book, or the opening section.
So the opening section might include an address to whatever muse you follow, whether it be Saraswati, or perhaps the Fates, if you want, or any of the nine Muses – Calliope (the muse of epic poetry), (Clio), history, or whoever you wish. Or you might invoke the National Bureau of Standards if you’re involved in some political cause, or the American Archives. You might address it to Congress if you want. It can be in the real world, also. You can take the real world and exaggerate. You might make an epic beginning in the basement of the U.N. building, or any of the offices. Yes?
Student: Do you want a dictionary? (defining terms)?
AG: If it’s too difficult to understand, please make footnotes. If you can’t get it by reading, please save us the (work). Or if it’s too beautiful to footnote, you don’t have to. However, footnotes would be helpful, maybe for you, in determining what your cast of characters are and what they represent, if they represent anything (and they can be contradictory footnotes, too, as long as you’re aware of it).
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and concluding at approximately seven-and-three-quarter minutes in