Sensory Reading/Sensory Language

Jean-Baptiste Greuze  – A Schoolboy Sleeping On His Book (1755) – 65 x 54.5 cm, oil on canvas, in the collection of the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France

Allen Ginsberg 1981 Naropa class continues from here. Allen has been talking about falling asleep when reading.  

AG: Does everybody have that same experience?  Or?
Student:  Yes.
Student (Randy Roark):  Yeah, last night.
AG:  With what?
Student (Randy Roark):  I was doing Malory, Sir Thomas Malory, so I happened to get those notes, Cliffs Notes
AG:  Yeah.
Student (Randy Roark):  … just to get more information on it, and I went right to sleep.
AG:  Um-hmm.
Student (Randy Roark):  I literally went to sleep…
AG:  Yeah.
Student (Randy Roark):  …(I went right out) without taking my glasses off.

AG:  Okay.  So what is it that people go to sleep that way?  Well, I mean everybody goes to sleep reading, you do that.  But there’s something about … I think everybody’s had the experience of reading something that they feel they should read for their conscience’s sake, because their friend wrote it, or their student wrote it, or their teacher wrote it, or somebody who was supposed to have been important wrote it, and trying to read it and finding just sort of nothing to connect with.

Student:  (Reading a lot of) philosophy’s like that, too.

AG:  Oh, yeah.  Yes.

Student:  (But surely philosophy is just some sort of justification, something you don’t have to cling to?)

AG:  Well, I don’t know if that’s right.  I don’t know how to answer that because there’s history and there’s logic and there’s philosophy and there’s political writing, but for I guess what I’m interested in is this area of auditory vividness or pictorial vividness, visual vividness or auditory vividness.  I don’t think you can bring in the sense of smell too much, but you can invoke it. (Charles) Reznikoff has in one poem these two cobblers –  or a cobbler in his shop in the basement with the old friend walking up and down with a pot of fish boiling on the stove, hissing and steaming and the smell of fish filled the basement.  And that’s the closest to an olfactory impression I ever saw in a poem – because you can really smell that one.  Or it does remind you of something.  Taste, I don’t know what you can get out of language, in terms of covering the senses, connecting,  connecting directly with senses through a text. Taste you could..

Student:  William Carlos Williams’ lines, “forgive me I ate the plums.”

AG:  Yeah, that’s close.  For tactile impression –  “Forgive me, they were delicious, so sweet and so cold.”

Student (Joel Lewis):  We had an argument in Alice Notley‘s class in terms you don’t find very many poems about touch..the sense of touching, as opposed to…
AG:  No, you don’t.  Because …
Student:  (The) act of touching, but touching itself?
AG:  … Well, how would you have a poem about touching that would be…
Student:  We were trying to figure that out.
AG:  There might be a few images that could connect with running your fingers along the gristle of a fish or something.  Or, I don’t know what.

Student (Joel Lewis):  The only one I could think of is there’s a very brief poem by Ezra Pound in Personae that “everybody was talking about the new morality, and I left her hands were like Japanese tissue paper. When I left the room.  That’s the only thing I could think of.”
[Editorial note – The poem referred to here is “The Encounter” – “All the while they were talking the new morality/Her eyes explored me/And when I arose to go/Her fingers were like the tissue/of a Japanese paper napkin”]

AG:  Well, that’s as much visual, too.
So, anyway, sight.  Sound.  Smell.  Taste you get a little.  Touch you could get some, but you have to really depend on sight and sound, I think.

AG: ...Phanopoeia.  You know Pound’s phrase.  You know Pound’s phrasing?
Student:  Phanopoeia?
AG:  Melopoeia for the sound.
Student:  Phanopoeia.
AG:  Phanopoeia for the casting of an image on the mind’s eye.
Student:  Logopoeia.
Student:  Logopoeia.
AG:  Logopoeia would be the…
Student:  The word..
AG:  … the wittiness or the dance of the intellect among words…
Student: (or thought?)
AG:  … or the smartness of the language.
Student:  The conscious..
AG:  And there is that – conscious smartness in language.  Actually the “onslaught resurrection” phrase from Marshall, I think of that as logopoeia. “Onslaught resurrection” – it’s such a funny combination – or “hydrogen jukebox” is a kind of logopoeia  –  yoking dissimilar things into one phrase.  Or “On purpose laid to make the taker mad in Shakespeare.  There’s that line – “Love is on purpose laid to make the taker mad” –  “On purpose laid to make the taker mad” –  it’s such a funny…  but that’s also melopoeia, that’s also wittiness with those short words.

to be continued

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

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