Ginsberg Naropa 1981 – Remembering Basil Bunting and Tom Pickard

Basil Bunting with Allen Ginsberg at Morden Tower, Newcastle, England, 1965 – Tom Pickard, in white trousers, is at the far right-hand side of the picture

We’ve serialized transcriptions of a number of Allen’s Naropa classes here on The Allen Ginsberg Project. We continue today with a class from April 1st, 1981 (April Fools Day). Allen is substituting for the regular teacher, Tom Pickard and begins the class by asking the students what they’d learnt in previous class(es)

Student (Joel Lewis):  …that poetry.. we talked about the relation of poetry to music,  talking about “official poetry” as opposed to real poetry.. uh, the officialization …you know, the making poetry an official art, and…  We covered a lot of stuff.  It was a fairly intense statement.
It’s all captured on a tape somewhere, but I don’t have it.
Student ((2):  I’ve got a copy of it. I can get it to you sometime.

AG:  Yeah.  Did he get into the subject of condensation?

Student (2):  Well yes, very much so, especially within the study of the people’s … you know, going over people’s poetry. It was theory into practice.

AG:  I had an interesting experience that way with Bunting (Basil Bunting) directly.  I went to Morden Tower where Tom (Pickard) was teaching and this (was) 1965, when Tom was running the readings there with his wife, Connie.  And Bunting was like sort of  the grand old man around town.  He was working, still, (on) the Financial Times, [sic ] – Editorial note – for a decade before his “re-discovery” by Tom Pickard, Bunting worked as a proofreader, working, not on a national level, but on the financial section of the local paper, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle] and (he) was still considered a provincial creep that nobody knew about, except Jonathan Williams, who had come through, and Tom, who had smoked some hash with Bunting, and I think..  Did he tell you Bunting had been in the Middle East?  At all?

Student(s):  Yeah.

AG:  And apparently he had developed all sorts of local vices, or whatever.  But anyway,  Tom turned him on again and that got Bunting interested in life, or I don’t know … (it was) just a relationship with a young kid and a group of younger people there, after being out of circulation and living by himself with his family for decades.

So, anyway, I read at Morden Tower, and because Bunting was there… See.. that was ’65..  In ’53, ’54, a copy of Bunting’s Selected Poems (Poems 1950) , issued by Dallam Flynn, Cleaner’s Press, Galveston, Texas, a little thin volume, was circulating around San Francisco. There were copies around and Robert Duncan was reading it and (Gary) Snyder was reading it and I had a copy, (Philip Whalen borrowed mine I guess).  So it was really circulating around and had a big influence ‘Fifty-four, ‘Fifty-five, “Fifty-six,  on all the poets around San Francisco, oddly enough.

[Editorial note –  re Poems 1950  –  The original edition was apparently published in early 1950, at the instigation of Ezra Pound (Flynn was one of his disciples) and without any input from Bunting, who was in Persia at the time.  T.S. Eliot was interested in publishing the book at Faber and Faber but felt the inflammatory preface by Flynn should be removed.  Bunting felt that since Flynn had gone to so much trouble to put the book together that it should remain, so Eliot never did publish any Bunting]

Student (3):  You made no attempt to contact him (Bunting)?

AG:  Well, I don’t know.  No.  It was far away, or something.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here , beginning at the start of the tape and concluding approximately three minutes in


AG (to class, pointing out departing figure)  you know who that is? That’s nam-myoho-renge-kyo,  meaning..  
Student:  Yeah, I think.
AG:  …peace pacifist.  He’s been joined by three other monks now, apparently.
Student:  The chant works.
AG:  Yeah.  Yeah, everytime I hear it, it wakens me up.
Student:  I use it when I’m hitchhiking, you know.
AG:  Um-hmm.
Student:  It always helps.

Editorial note:

“Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō (南無妙法蓮華経) are Japanese words chanted within all forms of Nichiren Buddhism. In English, they mean “Devotion to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra” or “Glory to the Dharma of the Lotus Sutra”. There was a Japanese monk who lived in Boulder at the time who dressed in white and walked every day to the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons factory beating on a drum and chanting.”   (This is who Allen speaks of in this brief aside)  

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