“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That is what poetry does”.
Tracking another Ginsberg meme. The ubiquity of the Ginsberg meme(s).
Certainly the internet’s seemingly random harvesting of anodyne simplistic palliative quotation must take some of the blame but why those particular quotes, why not others? and who decides or feels the need to extract and spotlight them?
Well, a reader tasked us with tracking down the source of the above.
So here it is.
Allen did say it
The source is Paul Carroll’s 1969 Playboy interview:
PC: In your poem, “Death To Van Gogh’s Ear”, you wrote that you’d die “only for poetry that would save the world”. What exactly did you mean?
AG: I meant that the only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does. By poetry I mean there imagining of what has been lost and what can be found, the imagining of who we are and the slow realization of it. First come prophetic images from the unconscious – like the scary image of Moloch “eater of children” in “Howl” – and then the gradual realization that such an image isn’t merely an :image: but an articulation of what one actually sees and experiences. See, back in 1959, Peter (Orlovsky) and Gregory Corso and I read at a benefit for Big Table magazine in Chicago. Not quite unconsciously we said there was a god abroad in the land that ate children. At that time, it wasn’t clear whether Moloch existed only in our imaginations. But today , that same Moloch, “whose eyes are a thousand blind windows” looks like Mayor Daley‘s main civic concern, he’s building larger and larger, mire demonic robot-like buildings in mid-Chicago till finally one sees this 100-story black John Hancock Tower of Babel, whose site and shape are by-productds of usurious land-speculation. What’s sacrificed to such a Moloch are the care and cultivation of Chicago’s tear-gassed children – and greenery, and the souls of men. In a more general sense, Moloch is the military-ward-heeling-IBM police-state we’ve been living in for years without knowing it. What I didn’t realize twenty and even ten years ago was that images from the unconscious that went into my poems, which I thought were visionary and transcendental, were really literal realism, simple common sense.”
One brief quote from one of Allen’s most extensive and most important interviews.
The full interview is included in Spontaneous Mind – Selected Interviews 1958-1966 (Allen says a lot more quotable things) and can (and should) be read in its entirety here