Ginsberg – Advice From William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Williams ( 1883-1963)

Allen Ginsberg 1981 Naropa class continues from here

AG:  Well, Williams was a little bit different.  Williams didn’t have any mystical idea of this Frankenstein poem out there that takes over.  It was more, well, let’s see.  The material I gave Williams was material which is in Empty Mirror, (and there was about twice as much).  And what he did was, first of all, he separated out the pages that were interesting from the pages that were not.  In other words, the little poem-lets  (they’re just small poems, maybe five lines or ten lines). So he separated out the ones that were interesting from the ones that were a little bit more vacuous, or didn’t have punch.  Just simply, on the simple…  nothing mystical, just whether it had a punch or not.  Usually.. whether it had something you could see, or whether it was just some play of words or trick words.  Then, in the poems that had some punch, he then eliminated… he didn’t do much to them, actually, but there was one long thing that is published under the title “Paterson” – “What do I want with these visions of money if I cut my hair and shave and shine my shoes, what’ll I get but….”  I forgot.  It was a long ranting put-down of middle class life in Paterson.  And it was begun with a long philosophical disquisition and then it ended with another philosophical disquisition about God.  But the only thing interesting was all this stuff, a description of the garbage and the City Hall and Paterson, New Jersey and what do I want with these visions of money and charring (sic) my body down a diner on the road to Mexico.  So there was a lot of active picture stuff.  Then the beginning, which was the important philosophical part, and the end which was the important conclusion, he blue-pencilled, and all he left was just this stuff that you could see, physically, visual matter.  So I said, “Isn’t that part of it?”  What he said was, “One active line is worth a whole page of writing that nobody’s going to read.”  Just one active.. meaning one thing that somebody will actually look at and be interested in, is worth.. is  active, is real, whereas otherwise both you and the reader is going to be running his eyeball along the line and, you know, sort of looking for things, but blanking-out and spacing-out until it comes to this little thing, then they’ll get.. cling on it, and (get) attached again.  And the mind will start working again. And then you’ll run your eye along the lines looking for it.  Because I know when I read poems in magazines, or poems that I get from students, or anything, I open up a poetry magazine, if I have to read it, (so I sit in bed, and I’m reading it), my eye will run along looking for something, rather than reading.  It will just run along looking for something red,  a red bandanna, or something, something that sticks out auditorily or visually.  And then I’ll be thinking about something else and daydreaming if there’s nothing there.  And, actually, after a while, my eyelids will get heavy. and if it’s long, long sections of stuff where there’s just rambling-on abstractly, my eyelids generally get heavy and I tend to go to sleep –  even sitting up!   So there’s..  I began to notice there’s a physiological reaction that gets set up sometimes.  Literally people go to sleep or space out…

to be continued

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

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