Ginsberg/Lowell, 1977

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St Mark’s Church, New York City, February 23, 1977. Photo:  Martin Wechselblatt

Robert Lowell (1917-1977), 1977 (printed c. 1993) – photo by Judith Aronson,  National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC

Allen Ginsberg recordings from the Stanford Archives.  We featured a sample (a 1994 BBC interview) earlier this week. Here’s another, this time a reading, a legendary reading, in fact – Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell, in 1977, reading together at The Poetry Project, St Mark’s Church, New York City. The original tape (featuring the entirety of Lowell’s reading) is among the trove of recordings from St Marks which were delivered to the Library of Congress some years back and are now currently being digitalized and will eventually be made available via the incomparable PennSound.  Regrettably, Allen’s tape has only his introduction and the first poem of Lowell’s reading  (“In Memory of Arthur Winslow”). It does, however, have the entirety of Allen’s participation on this notable and historic occasion.

The audio can be listened to – here (and via PennSound – here)

For full details/further details (including details of the poems Allen reads) –  see here

Here, by way of addenda to that post (of September 13, 2012), is the introduction to Robert Lowell given on that evening, and also Lowell’s introductory remarks:

Introduction (Michael Brownstein):  Ok is everybody stretched enough? alright take a deep breath, exhale slowly and sit down.  Robert Lowell was a conscientious objector during the Second World war and served time in a federal prison for his beliefs, I believe, and he studied with Richard Eberhart and also with John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College, and from his very first book, Land of Unlikeliness, wrote tough and accomplished poems on religious and political themes. His work is great.  His books include The Mills of the KavanaughsNear The Ocean, For the Union Dead, Notebook, For Lizzie and Harriet, The Dolphin, History, Lord Weary’s Castle, a book of  plays called The Old Glory, a book of translations called Imitations, a book of Selected Poems and Life Studies, which was awarded I think the National Book Award 1960. He’s a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and he’s also a definite member of the company of inspired. authentic American bardic tongues and we’re very pleased to have him here at the Poetry Project tonight and we can’t wait to hear him read. So here he is.

RL: There was a notice in the New York Times, a tiny one, that said Ginsberg and I were as opposite as poets could be (but he said it in a more literate way, “opposite ends of the poetic spectrum”, and, well, we’re not really as opposite as all that, maybe opposite ends of William Carlos Williams.  Williams we both knew quite well and he had a technique by which he used a great deal of description and describing ordinary things and the description was always used, I think, for some almost symbolic idea that.. they weren’t, they were never mere description. Well, the number of poems that Allen and I have really derived from Williams is probably quite a few because… and it’s very bad to imitate Williams very much, it’s as bad as imitating Auden or any powerful poet to turn out to write inferior Williams. That’s happened to people. But bad things happen to you anyway if you don’t imitate people, How am I going to tactfully put this, I was glad to hear Allen’s poems about his father because they remind me of what I regard as his masterpiece, a terrible masterpiece, “Kaddish”..

er.. I don’t know where my poems are.. I’m looking through “Contents” –  the nightmare of having left out of your Selected Poems the poem you want to read!  –  that happened!   [Editorial note – audience-member asks Lowell which of his poems of his he considers his favorites – Lowell’s reply:  “Oh, in certain moods, none! ]

I don’t like this one entirely but I have reason for reading it.  It’s called “In Memory of Arthur Winslow”, and,  oh, when I was about twenty-three, I think it was the first, I thought at the time, good poem I’d written. And it was less tortured, and it had real description in it –  and it had a grandfather in it. Well, as time went on, and I’ve had many critics, they always single this one out and they say the grandfather disappears in the rhetoric. And later I learned to describe a girl or a stone as they were, but not in this poem. But I’ll.. well, he’s in the hospital and it’s something in Boston called Phillips House, and the reason I’m reading it is that just recently I came myself to Philips House with water on my lungs, and this is a cyclical theory of life, and there I was without pain and in what I thought great danger and the.. and then the water was drained out.  I want to contrast the two poems (sic). I was very religious when I wrote the first one which confused things. In fact, it was shortly after I was married in this church (and that’s true)

Allen, typically, throughout his reading (especially since it’s a packed and over-crowded hall) and with Lowell’s reading too is concerned about the sound system 

AG: (attentively) Why don’t you see if you can be heard?
RL:  Can I be heard clearly?
Audience.  No, louder.
RL: When I lean, it’s alright   [AG dutifully adjusts the mic] –  does that make sense? – yeah – wait, now it’s…now lets try it – Now can you hear over there? – that’s good-  Yes, can you hear over there?   I’m not going to ask,  “Can you hear back there?” – It sounds like I’m going to lead a cheer!
AG: (You should stay close)
RL: Yeah.
AG Probably about three inches from the microphone
RL: This way, yeah.

RL proceeds then to read from “In Memory of Arthur Winslow” – (part one- “Death From Cancer”):

“This Easter, Arthur Winslow, less than dead/ Your people set you in Phillips’ House/ To settle off your wrestling with the crab -/ The claws drop flesh upon your yachting blouse/ Until longshoreman Charon come and stab/ Through your adjusted bed/ and crushed the crab. On Boston Basin…’ – (On Boston Basin  – that’s the river in front of the hospital)  – “..shells..” – (rowing shells) – “Hit water by the Union Boat Club wharf;/ You ponder why the coxes’ squeakings dwarf/  The resurrexit dominus of all the bells./   Grandfather Winslow, look, the swanboats..” – (the swanboats – that’s nothing out of Tennyson, but they’re little boats with swans in them – a man sits in the swan and paddles the boat in Boston) – “the swan boas coast/ That island in the Public Gardens, where/  The bread-stuffed ducks are brooding where with tub/ And strainer the mid-Sunday Irish scare/ The sun-struck shallows for the the dusky chub…” – (it’s an odious inedible little minnow) – “This Easter and the ghost/ of risen Jesus walks the waves to run/ Arthur upon a trumpeting black swan/ Beyond Charles River to the Acheron/ Where the wide waters and their voyager are one.” –   Well that was my furthest stretch towards realism but nobody thought it was.  Now the later poem … tape cuts off here

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