Wichita Vortex Sutra / The Wichita Vortex

“Wichita Vortex Sutra” – The first full reading of the poem took place on February 21, 1966
in the ballroom of the Student Union of Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas.

KPTS (Kansas Public Television)’s documentary  (part of the 50th anniversary events) presents the context and the concept – “Wichita Vortex”  (attributing the term to Wichita’s San Franciscan exiles Bruce Connor, Michael McClure and David Haselewood, and noting the contributions of, amongst others, Robert Branaman and Charles Plymell).

Wichita Beats

Rolf Potts, writing, a decade earlier in The Nation (originally in The Believer), in a challenging, and still disturbingly-timely, essay, deems it, arguably, a more important poem than “Howl” – “the last anti-war poem”, one that “speaks with a jarring relevance”:

“Because Ginsberg’s revelations are difficult – because they seem to question the potency of poetry…”
“Poetic language might aspire to have political potency in a censored society, where brave dissent could be heard amid the repressive silence – but Ginsberg’s free, media-saturated America had come to the point where truth and untruth, politics and entertainment, had become so intermixed as to become indistinguishable..”

–  (ring any bells?)

“Wichita Vortex Sutra” reads like a prophetic and final antiwar poem, he concludes, “an elegy for the power of language in an age of competing information.”

More detailed analysis of the poem (from 2006) by Stephen Kirbach in Jacket  here

Bob Herz, Phil Memmer, and Stephen Kuusisto discuss the poem  in a two-part podcast here and here

Paul Carroll on Wichita Vortex Sutra
Michael Davidson on Wichita Vortex Sutra

and here’s Allen’s own schema

Recordings of the poem are available, notably from 1995, Allen’s complete reading, recorded live in New York City at The Knitting Factory here, here, here and here

and from the previous year (released in 2004) – his  Wichita Vortex collaborations  (from a recording made back in 1994 at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, NYC, in conjunction with a stellar group of musical collaborators, gathered together, (amongst them Philip Glass, Elliott Sharp, Lenny Kaye, Marc Ribot, Arto Lindsay, Steve Shelley and Christian Marclay).  The whole thing  produced (but of course) by the ubiquitous and remarkable Hal Willner 

and then, in recent years,  there’s the Philip Glass recordings and Philip Glass’ setting (perhaps this is how now these pieces are best known?)

and the recent publication of The Fall of America Journals has further spotlit the work with more on the context and more of his auto-poesy

and here’s a treat – from the Stanford archives – an unidentified recording, dated 1966 (could the concluding poem be his Wichita State reading of “Wichita Vortex Sutra”?)

(Prior to that he reads the related poems. “Auto Poesy – On the Lam from Bloomington” and  “Kansas City to St. Louis” (both from  The Fall of America) and  “Chances R”  along with “Wichita Vortex Sutra – Part 1”  (both available and published in Planet News“))


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