A Mexico City Blues Classroom Assignment

We’ve been posting this past week (and will be posting in the coming weeks) transcription of Allen Ginsberg’s October 1981 Naropa class (sitting in for Gregory Corso) – on Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues
Today, some conversation about the class assignment  – to write a short piece in the style (“associative assonance”) of that book 

The tape begins in media res 

Student:  ….It was just like one (word and)  the word would suggest something else..
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  and….
AG:  How many lines is that?
Student:  It’s just four lines.
AG:  It makes sense.

AG: (to Student, Rosalie Robinson) Rosalie, do you have anything?
Rosalie Robison:  I must have not been listening.
AG:  Pardon me?
RR:  I must have not been listening, I didn’t …
AG:  Yeah.
RR:  … hear the….
AG:  Okay, so the assignment was …
RR:  Next time.

AG:  … a continuing assignment, every day, for each reading while we’re doing it, is write one ditty – not-necessarily-rhymed little ditty, just something notebook-sized – small notebook size –  to read in class, and try,  and not so much … I guess just as well try and imitate the (Jack) Kerouac style of associative assonance  -assonance being vowels.  Mouthfuls of energetic talk.  Mouthfuls of energetic talk that are more or less continuous, or have some kind of a jazzy junk in them.  Is that too vague a description?

Student:  No.

AG:  It’s a peculiar style of poetry that is not exactly like an iambic poem, it’s not exactly like blank verse, it’s not exactly like (William Carlos) Williams, because it’s more composite, and it’s more going along the lines of sound…

AG: (to Student, David Patton)  David?
David Patton:  Yep.  I wrote one.
AG:  Great.
DP:  As you can, see it’s in short….
AG:  No, that’s just right.  That’s notebook-size.
DP:  It has nothing to do with sounds.

DP reads

“There’s color in heaven without light – no vertical hold, no watts, heaven got janitors, dishwashers and waiters, cooks serving veal, cooks serving chili on your burgers, side order rings, heaven it gets dark a 55-acre part with slide board and  swings, sand instead of gravel, kids don’t get hurt, heaven runs on dreams, bedroom carpet soft, at the end we turn in our keys, heaven is earth, it was seen.”

AG:  That sounds nice.  It’s coherent, it’s actually one subject.  Working in a restaurant in heaven, washing dishes in heaven.  Dish-washing in heaven.   So, okay.  One more time.  Because I missed some of the words, actually.  I missed some of the….

DP reads his poem again

AG:  That’s pretty good.  It’s a continuous run-on line – that is, the breath seems continuous in it, like in some of the Kerouac poems later on.  Instead of.. like one single long thought that takes the possibility, one single long thought, that keeps jumping around but keeps coming back and takes it in – or, if it takes itself in, takes itself to the end and has some kind of coherence.  But there’s a kind of music in that that’s continuous, or rhythmic – (a) rhythmic thing that’s continuous.  So read aloud it sounds like one long, one long gulp, or one long exhalation.  His idea was like one long exhalation like a chorus if you were playing a wind instrument.

AG: (to Student (2)) You got one?
Student (2):  I wrote a little one.
AG:  And there’s  some funny lines in there,  just the whole conception of serving a meal in heaven.

Student(2): ” Beauty, an entrancing maid, a cult of subtle distraction.”

AG:  Is that after the Kerouac thing?
Student(2):  No.
AG:  Related to it?  No.  What we were looking for (was)…
Student (2):  Oh, I don’t have the assignment.
AG:  … the assignments.  I made you an assignment, didn’t I?
Student (2):  Yeah.
AG:  Well, it’s a permanent assignment for each class, okay?  While we’re doing the Kerouac. – Did you..?    (to Student (3) ) You weren’t here for the last class?
Student (3): No
AG:  Okay, well, the assignment is to write a little poem like Mexico City Blues. You know  Mexico City Blues  at all?
Student (3):  Um-hmm.
AG:  Okay.   (to Student (2)) Go on with it.
Student (2):  It’s the words I wrote down afterwards.
AG:  Well, it’s very refined like Dantean ideas rather than just a straight …
Student:  Hmmm.
AG:  … maybe something else.  I was just trying to isolate that quality of fast vowel.

and another moment:

AG: (to Rosalie Robinson)  That dog.  {Editorial note – Rosalie Robison has brought a dog to class and it’s making a lot of noise}
RR:  I’m sorry.
Student:  Maybe if you just took off his tags.
AG:  You don’t have to take him out now.
Peter Orlovsky (sitting in, in the class):  Take his tag off,  his collar.
AG:  Yeah, maybe just take off the tag.
Student:  Actually, take off the whole collar (then he can walk around the chair)
AG:  Yeah, then it won’t make me….  Is he a permanent part of your existence?
RR:  No, I just couldn’t….
AG:  Find a babysitter.
RR:  I didn’t have time to take him home.

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding at approximately one-and-a-quarter minutes in – and also here, beginning at approximately eight minutes in and concluding at approximately eight-and-a-half minutes in

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