Ginsberg Naropa 1981 – Remembering Basil Bunting and Tom Pickard – 2 – (Jonathan Williams)

Allen Ginsberg on Basil Bunting and Tom Pickard  – Jonathan Willams

Allen Ginsberg’s Naropa class ( from 1981) continues from here

AG: So, we didn’t make any attempt to contact (Bunting), though I heard a little bit later that Jonathan Williams, who was of the same social circle  – that is to say, friend of (Robert) Creeley..  You know Jonathan Williams at all?  Anyone? Here?.  Well, let’s see.  He was a friend of the Black Mountain School people.  He published Jargon Press and published early (Charles) Olson, early (Louis) Zukofsky, early (Charles) Reznikoff.. Larry Eigner – (actually, his work is interesting).  Jonathan Williams is a poet himself, but he also is, like,
a mandarin of letters – someone who goes around and checks out the old folks and elder generations and looks up younger talent and has a kind of elegant attitude toward it.  He knows some rich people and so he was able to get his Jargon Press supported, I guess.  I don’t know when he first started, but it must have been in the early ‘(19)50s.

Student:  It was right after Black Mountain.

AG:  Yeah.  He was related to the Black Mountain poets, which is to say, Olson, Creeley, Duncan, (Michael) McClure. [Editorial note – Allen is at error here, McClure was never a member of Black Mountain College]  The first I heard of him was..  Jonathan Williams had published a little tiny poem of McClure’s called “For the Death of 100 Whales,” published as part of a little chapbook, a little fine specially-printed folder. McClure had read in Time magazine about mass destruction of whales and had written one of the first ecologically-oriented poems around San Francisco – that I heard of, anyway.  Somebody. .
I never heard of anybody writing about whales except (Herman) Melville.  But as a topical poem by somebody smart..  That was about ‘Fifty-five.  [Editorial note – McClure also, of course, read this poem at the famous Six Gallery where “Howl” was premiered]

And Jonathan Williams, who is gay, was in love with McClure (just the way he looked – because McClure was a real nice-looking black Irish face), so Williams had a fix on him, so he started publishing his poems.  McClure was studying with Duncan, was in Duncan’s poetry class in San Francisco State, and I had just arrived in San Francisco from New York and San Jose, so I looked up Robert Duncan and I went to his class and I met McClure. And   I was struck (by) how handsome he was, too.  So, apparently Williams had this platonic love (because he couldn’t make out, anyway) for McClure.   So Williams was into publishing  –  one of the first things he did around 1956 I think was a little chapbook of many, many….

(Allen is momentarily distracted by a student leaving –  (“You going?  Okay.  See you… Yeah..Nice to work with you. Hope something good comes of it.”) before returning to the topic of Williams)

AG:  Williams came to New York and did a little chapbook in which he went around to all the poets and he had Fielding Dawson do drawings, I think it was, and then he got Duncan and myself and (Jack) Kerouac and (Gregory) Corso and Peter Orlovsky and Ed Marshall, John Wieners, Robert Creeley, to write little short one-page poems.  And then everybody got their pictures drawn,  like a fast zippy drawing, by Fielding Dawson.

So he was circulating around the whole new poetry scene and was a friend of William Carlos Williams, and was interested in Ezra Pound, and on account of those interests he went and took a long walking tour of England.  He was also interested in local color – (Jonathan Williams) – and local particulars. Carrying it out to… He was from South Carolina, I think.  Chapel Hill, somewhere around there.  He took a walk along the Appalachian Trail -the entire length of it.  And then wrote a little book of poems about that.  Then he took a long walk in the Lake District of England.  And then he went up to check out Bunting, because he had read about Bunting.  So he was the first one to contact Bunting.  And then I think he connected Tom Pickard with Bunting.  Is that right?

Student:  Yeah, because Tom said he had a correspondence …
AG:  What did he say?
Student:  … with Jonathan Williams, and Williams said “You should check this guy out living
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  … in your neighborhood.”
AG:  What year was that?
Student:  Nineteen sixty three.
AG:  Yeah, so this is maybe six years after the time I’m talking about.  Eight years after 1955.  San Francisco.

Williams has always had that connoisseur’s view, connoisseur’s look on poetry.  I don’t know … I’m surprised you don’t … well, I don’t know, I guess I’m not surprised.  But anyway, if you get to take a look at a Jargon Press catalog, or any of the Jargon Press books around here, or go to the Special Collections in the library, it’s really worth it, because he’s had the caviar of all the avant garde poetry that’s been going on in the last thirty years.  His Jargon Press, Jonathan Williams, (if you’re interested in that kind of literary history at all).

But if you actually took a look at all those books, you’d realize that somebody was on the ball, really on the ball, had a good eye and knew what was going on.  He also was one of the first people to publish interesting photographers, way back in the mid-Fifties.  There’s a whole slew, a whole vogue of photography now where the photographs sell for a lot of money, but he was one of the people who began specialized interest in that.  Like Diane Arbus, I think, he was one of the first people to recognize her work.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately three minutes in  and concluding at approximately ten-and-a-quarter minutes in


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