Allen Ginsberg at Canton High School – 2

Allen Ginsberg Canton High School reading/lecture continues from here 

Student: Naturally, a lot of..  everyone’s heard  about.. you’ve been criticized for some of them (some of your poems) being somewhat explicit and graphic, I was wondering if you were doing that for different motivations in different poems, or..

AG: Well, give me… way back, there’s this problem – am I doing it to shock, or rebellion? – or am I just..? –  what’s the motive for being explicit and graphic. I didn’t know that people..   I mean, it seems a strange idea that one has to explain the reason for being explicit and graphic, but, to use another word, Walt Whitman used the word “candor” – frankness and candor – C-A-N-D-O-R, and he said “poets and orators to come..”. He was calling for poets in America in the future to be candid. So, if I’m taking down, like a stenographer, the contents of my mind, I can’t censor it (I could, but it would..fuzz the picture, and the subject matter of my poetry is the contents of my consciousness, not the external world but how my mind sees them). And it seems to me that, politically and socially, and personally, (it’s a) a relief to be candid in public and talk about what’s real to me rather than hide it, mask it, or surround it with bubble-gum. I think it cuts down the amount of public paranoia because if paranoia comes from not knowing what’s going on and guessing wrong…  you know, like the Pentagon has all these secrets and nobody really knows what’s going on, and naturally everybody gets a little jittery. So poetry seems to be a sort of laser-beam weapon..  the Star Wars thing, that clears the air of paranoia. So that’s the social public function of “dirty words”,  to make a long story short. I’m using the language that’s spoken every day by everybody including me, except I’m letting them be into formal poetry. And that goes back (over) a hundred years, when (William) Wordsworth said we should use the diction of ordinary men of intelligence in our poetry. Rather than using a worn-out poetical used-up traditional language, we should revivify the language of our own mouths every century. So just using the talk that we actually talk, writing in the American language, rather than the English, or the anthology language, but writing in the American language as spoken in Paterson, New Jersey, or Detroit, Michigan. Yes?

Student: Could you explain the influence of Jack Kerouac on your writing?

AG: Can I explain the influence of Kerouac on my writing?  It seems to me that Kerouac was the primary seminal genius of American poetry and prose in the latter half of this century in that he broke through the idea of restrained and obstructed syntax and language and thought forms to unobstructed prose poetry and record of his mind, record of his mind.

The training and discipline is in disciplining and training the mind, not revising on the page which is superficial compared to having a clear consciousness of your own mind and noticing what you notice and being able to write it. So he had a number of rules for writing but one of the most useful for anybody is, “Don’t stop to think of the words, (comma), but to see the picture better. That’s the discipline – knowing to go back to the primordial mind or the first flash or the first thought best thought, first thought is best thought – primordial mind, first unobstructed perception (which is pictorial very often for prose poetry writers, going back to that first glimpse, raw glimpse, raw mind, and relying on that for the language to emerge and the picture to emerge and the structure of the sentence to emerge rather than forgetting about the original material picture image that you’re trying to recollect and describe and getting tangled in the words, forgetting about the original picture. So “if the mind is shapely, the art will be shapely” is the slogan. Mind is shapely, art is shapely, If your mind can be clearly focused on what is happening within your mind, if your attention is clearly focused on what is happening, what is passing before your mind’s eye and you become the stenographic recording angel of your own intelligent mind thern there is no problem of obstruction in the language or problem with form because the mind itself already is one mind shapely. And so following your own mind you will have a shapely form in the art.

The other slogans for that kind of writing is (are) Ezra Pound’s “Direct treatment of the thing” (which means pay attention to the original thing), direct treatment of the thing, avoiding abstractions, (and) William Blake – “Labor well the minute particulars”… pay attention..” “Labor well the minute particulars/Take care of the little ones”… – Labor well the minute particulars/Take care of the little ones. Generalization and abstraction are the plea of the hypocrite, thief and scoundrel” – Ronald Reagan!– generalization and abstraction and vagueness – Ezra Pound – :The natural object is always the adequate symbol” – in other words, if you see the real thing and write about that real thing, it will be symbolic of everything else also – or “Things are symbols of themselves” (rather than something them). So you pay attention to what’s in front of you clearly in your mind’s eye, or outside you.

So Kerouac sort seemed to encompass all those clever, intelligent, witty and soulful and profound ideas about writing and wrote spontaneously, able to pay attention to his own mind and broke through by declaring his independence of revision, burning his bridges behind him and saying, “everything I write in sacred world of sacred mind is sacred writ and therefore I can’t revise it”

So that was sort of an example to Gary Snyder, to myself, to Bob Dylan ultimately, to Philip Whalen, to all the West Coast poets, to Robert Duncan (who was already interested in Gertrude Stein, who did the same kind of thing, writing ahead and not revising things and just writing the contents of the mind, following the mind itself. And it influenced Robert Creeley, Gregory Corso somewhat, almost all the poets that we read now, Ted Berrigan or Anne Waldman, many of whom teach at Naropa Institute in Boulder at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics,in a Buddhist Academy, the first Buddhist University in the West, Naropa in Boulder, where (William Burroughs), myself, (Gregory) Corso, Anne Waldman, Amiri Baraka, and other friends of Kerouac will be this summer, July 15 to August 15, teaching, as we’ve been for the last ten years. (So, actually he founded a whole school, without even trying. So that was his influence, spontaneous mind, recognition of spontaneous mind, respect for spontaneous mind in America. But this is an old tradition in Japan China and Tibet, (and) India, That’s the way they make haiku, calligraphy, and flower arrangement, and archery and poetry. The One Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, spoken into the air, taken down by his students, spontaneously done, in Tibet – or the haiku practice where you see a thing and spit forth intelligence on the moment. So that’s an old, that’s an old tradition, despite the right…  The notion of spontaneous accuracy is an old Oriental practice. It’s not some new-fangled hippie thing that sloppy writers discovered because they were lazy in 1950, it’s  actually a classic tradition (going back in the West to the old bards or, in this century, to the great classic black blues singers who made up improvised songs knowing their form well, or calypso singers, who specialized in improvisation on erotic or political subjects. It was an improvised art.)  So it’s an old old tradition in both the East and the West, (very often persecuted and neglected because it tells the state secrets and tips everybody’s mitt as to what’s actually going on and says embarrassing things because it’s all real and personal rather than impersonal objective and meaningless television hypnosis). It breaks through that hypnosis to some raw thought. And, as Plato said –“When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake” – When private understanding becomes public and a new body-rhythm or new understanding lets loose, gets loose, and is let loose, on the public understanding, everybody’s sense is slightly changed and they begin to look at their television set –“Who is this actor? – They’d say, ”Who is this actor? – They’d notice that he’s reading lines rather than using his spontaneous mind and being honest.

( Allen looks at his watch) –  So what’s our

Student: Before you leave, do you have any.. “advice to the young”?

AG: Learn how to meditate. Get yourself a teacher. Learn a musical instrument.  As Confucius said and Plato said, music is the harmony that gets the soul together, so music is part of the basic education). Learn some kind of physical balance thing like tai’chi, aikido, or anything that will unite your body and your mind. Practice the arts that unite your body and your mind so that you escape the schizophrenia of television, and pursue an art, and do the best you can, and always address the Buddha-nature or open sky mind with anybody you talk to and you will never go wrong.  Thank you.

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