On Mexico City Blues (17th Chorus)

 Allen Ginsberg on Jack Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues continuing from here 

AG: Now, here is the formula for this kind of poetry in the next one, the 17th chorus, one of his great ones also, I think.  This was written actually — the whole thing, I looked it up – it was written August 1955, which is the time, I think I mentioned, when (Gary) Snyder and (Philip) Whalen, poets, and myself and Peter (Orlovsky) and others were centered around a little cottage in Milvia Street, Berkeley, that Kerouac had visited before.  So he’d gone down to Mexico and was sending us these Buddhist poems.

“Starspangled Kingdoms bedecked/ in dewy joint -”  ( That is, the shining essence of universes of stars disseminated about).

“Starspangled Kingdoms bedecked/in dewy joint – (Whatever “dewy joint” is – his joint, his cock or groin or dewy or dewy joint? – maybe it might be a joint.  Bedecked in a dewy joint, a muggles [Editorial note – “muggles” contemporary slang for marijuana]


And that’s in caps.


He’s talking about how he’s composing his poetry – and he’s high on grass, of course.

“DON’T IGNORE OTHER PARTS/ OF YOUR MIND, I think,/And my clever brain sends/ripples of amusement/Through my leg nerve halls/ And I remember the Zigzag/ Original/Mind/of Babyhood/ when you’d let the faces/crack & mock/& yak & change/& go mad utterly/in your night/firstmind/reveries/    talking about the mind/ The endless Not Invisible/Madness Rioting/Everywhere..”

So that’s clear, isn’t it?  This one.  Is there anybody doesn’t understand what he’s referring to here?  Referring to his present mind, high on grass, but also comparing it in depth and awe and sacredness and strangeness and newness and vastness outside to the “… Zigzag/Original/Mind/of Babyhood” – (Zigzag, of course, is Zigzag (cigarette) papers, but also … “Zigzag/Original/Mind/  of Babyhood”

And “original mind” is a Buddhist phrase also – the first mind, the natural mind, non-conceptual mind.  So he’s got – “And I remember the Zigzag/Original/Mind/  of Babyhood”

So I guess he’s thinking of the original mind of babyhood when you’re lying in a cradle and looking at the wall or looking at television or looking at the ceiling with people coming, bending over.  And – “when you’d let the faces/crack & mock/& yak & change/& go mad utterly/in your night/firstmind/ reveries”

So the reveries of a new baby in a pram or a cradle.  That makes sense, doesn’t it, as a reference to your own mind?  Do you have any vague recollection of your first mind of babyhood in infancy as being like that, because I do.

Student:  Can you read that again?

AG:  Yeah.

“Starspangled Kingdoms bedecked/in dewy joint -/ DON’T IGNORE OTHER PARTS/OF YOUR MIND..” – (Meaning don’t ignore the non-rational parts of your mind, don’t ignore the phantom flashes, the disparate associations, the irrelevant Lookout Orks, the sounds, crack and mock and yack, the yack – don’t ignore the yacking in your mind)

“DON’T IGNORE OTHER PARTS/ OF YOUR MIND I think,/And my clever brain sends/ripples of amusement/Through my leg nerve halls..” – ( In other words, little subliminal thoughts, like a little shiver in the nerves of the leg, which, if you’re high on grass or if you’re lying still or on junk, parts of your body are like a great huge corridor – meaning you might feel the immensity inside -the hollow immensity inside your body or “leg nerve halls.”  I guess the passages of the nerves along the leg.  He had a little itch)

“And my clever brain sends/ripples of amusement/Through my leg nerve halls” – ( I love that.  I always thought it was so completely physiologically accurate to what interior personal thought is like – everybody’s got constant messages going to and back – to and fro from the sole of their feet or an itch in the back of the scalp –  like my clever brain sends scratch to the itch to the back of the brain under my hair or something).

“And I remember the Zigzag/Original/Mind/  of Babyhood/when you’d let the faces/crack & mock/& yak & change/& go mad utterly/in your night/firstmind/reveries

Then he has this little caption for the reader to tell you

“talking about the mind” – (“I am talking about the nature of the mind” and how it relates to the composition of poetry, is what he’s saying:  That the poetry should include all the original mind – could include -his poetry includes all the original mind, all the original subtle subliminal yacking and paranoias and mockings and weird statements, and shadow recollections and lunar fantasies and north polar masturbations and south polar freezings.  All of which come up at one point or other in this).

Audio for the above can be heard here,  beginning at approximately thirty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in

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