Leave The Word Alone/Ed Marshall

Allen Ginsberg’s 1981 Naropa class continues from here

AG:  Anyhoo..How did we get onto that? –  Spontaneous versus revised.  Yeah, that was the point.  So, if you have an interest in the aesthetics of first impression, first take, first thought form, if you’re preoccupation is getting that raw material and the feel of that, because there’s a special feel that it has in, say, Kerouac’s writing (or) in William Carlos Williams … because there’s a whole thing to define that sense of somebody being caught inadvertantly thinking something brilliant or interesting or vivid, that I find in my own poetry – that’s what I try (to) achieve.  And my models for it were a long poem by Ed Marshall called “Leave the Word Alone“, which you can find in the Don Allen anthology, “Leave the Word Alone.”  And I wrote a little preface for it a couple of years ago and I think we’ve got it in the library – the prefatory thing.  It’s a big spill-out vomit thing all about his aunts and uncles in the bughouse, in Massachusetts.  Ed Marshall.  That was originally published by Robert Creeley in “Black Mountain Review #7.”  Marshall and John Wieners were friends and Creeley, and they were the Boston group – a group of poets from Boston, friends of Olson.  There was a guy named Steve Jonas, Ed Marshall, John Wieners.  Creeley was from Boston, so he dug them.  And …

Joel Lewis:   (Jack) Spicer was there, also at that time.
AG:  … yeah, I guess so.
Joel Lewis:  And Robin Blaser.
AG:  Yes, and Blaser.  And Blaser knew that group also – they all knew each other then some went to San Francisco and … how do you know all that?  More than I know.
Student:  UNIVAC. (the (early) computer)
AG:  Pretty good.  It’s nice.  Perfect T.A (Teaching Assistant) for this (course).

So Marshall was much considered then.  (He) was considered quite a comer, quite a poet, but he got into a religious jag and all his poems were about coming on as if he were the priest of some kind of an esoteric church.  Except he was chasing boys in a Turkish bath all the time and coming on as a priest in the Turkish bath also!  So he was a unique priest, a curious priest, sort of self-ordained.  Or maybe a priest ordained in some really strange little Christian sect that nobody else had any connection to.  He was writing these priestly poems.  It got him to some kind of a sidetrack or, because of his peculiar position, he didn’t want to get involved in the world of publishing, or fighting for a place in the poetic sun, but he’s a real remarkable poet.  His body of work is unpublished except for a little book put out by Irving Rosenthal in the ‘Fifties, late ‘Fifties,  “Leave the Word Alone,” which was in Black Mountain Review and in the Don Allen anthology, which is a long poem.  Do you know that at all?

Randy Roark:  I know it.  I’ve read the poem.

AG:  You’ve seen it.  That was my model for Kaddish, actually.  That’s what turned me on.  That completely open form where anything can come in, where he starts talking about his family… “Leave the word alone it is dangerous/. Leave the Bible alone it is dangerous./ When you go into the country to see the moo cows/ Like my Aunt Lena did with the wolverine pack of girls  of 1929..” – [Editorial note – Allen is quoting from memory here – the poem actually begins, ” Leave the word alone it is dangerous./Leave the Bible alone it is dangerous./Leave all barbed wires alone they are/ dangerous./ When you go in the country/  au campagne  watch for/ the cows … beware of moo-/her- moo-her/ There aren’t too many bulls, but there are harsh/ fathers who still insist on/ impregnation at 35 while he is 41..”]

It’s a funny interior monologue.

Randy Roark:  Yeah, yeah.

AG:  Remember, he’d talk about his family.  You’d think it’s on the borderline of being crazy and being somebody confessing all.
Randy Roark:  Yeah.
AG:  Confessing all.
Randy Roark:  Yeah.

AG:  It’s a great work.  Sometimes I used to try and teach it and I’d cry it was so poignant, because it was like somebody … it ends (sic) “If I could finish this poem without cracking up … /…onslaught resurrection”. [Editorial note – the line actually appears in the middle of the poem –  “If I can finish  this poem  without  cracking up  and/ becoming victorious – onslaught resurrection.“]

It’s a strange language, actually.  It’s like the guy sat down and wrote it in one long, long sitting, and it’s this big beautiful romantic explosion of personal details and feelings and recollections of his aunts and uncles.

I brought him up because in that work he has that sense, he leaves behind that sense of the raw imprint of somebody thinking as he’s writing.  And the writing itself, during the writing, arriving at an understanding and tears. Arriving at a point where he realizes he’s mortal and he’s born and his mother is dying or dead and he’s weeping and he’s writing this hymn to existence.  The pain and beauty of existence, and crying at the truth of it.

And there are little moments like that in Williams, like when Williams says – “as if the earth under our feet/ were/ an excrement of some sky/and we degraded prisoners/ destined/to hunger until we eat filth”

I get the feeling of him having arrived at some real deep aware truth and writing it down in the only way he could find to write it down in some raw, raw form, that invents itself just for that occasion.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *