David Gascoyne

Today marks the anniversary of the death (in 2001) of the pre-eminent English Surrealist poet, David Gascoyne. In 1986 Gascoyne contributed to Bill Morgan‘s 60th Birthday festschrift for Allen, Best Minds. The text was subsequently reprinted posthumously, in 2016, by Gascoyne’s English publishers, Enitharmon, as Anniversary Epistle to Allen Ginsberg.
Here follows a few brief selections from that note:

“So this year you will reach sixty, and I shall be seventy four months later. Big deal! not a big difference. Its supposed to take fifteen years to make a generation; if so, our generations must overlap, though they seem to be quite distinct . But what’s in a decade or an Atlantic crossing nowadays. Gone in a flash, though each end is still different. When “Howl” made your name you must have been thirty. At twenty, I was involved in London’s prewar International Surrealist Exhibition. When we first meet in Paris in the late ‘fifties with Peter O (Peter Orlovsky) and Bill Burroughs, you seemed to treat me with a kind of deference I found hard to understand and, come to that, still do: “from his admirer and student” you inscribed the copy of Mind Breaths that you gave me in New York in 1981 (startled italics mine). Before Judy (Judy Lewis) and I arrived in the States that year, you had written me a letter (about the schedule you had generously helped plan for my visit) containing the sentence: “We’ll talk when you’re here”. We did of course talk, particularly in public at the NYU Loeb Student Center, on an occasion when you chose to describe yourself as a “bumpkin”; but not nearly so much in private as I should have liked. Had I been able to make it to Boulder that year, perhaps we might have managed to have one or two real conversations about mutual concerns. I’d not yet read the Paris Review‘s Spring ’66 interview with you, and did not realize that among the interests we shared were, for instance, Cézanne and Martin Buber….”

“Do you remember an incident that occurred during our ’81 discussion at the Loeb Center, when I expressed some reserve about Mallarmé, provocatively describing him as “bourgeois”?  In the audience, Nico Calas rose to the bait and his feet, and a brief heated argument ensued. I regretted this afterwards, as I should have preferred to tell Nico how grateful I have always been too him for taking me out, one afternoon in 1952, to visit Doc Williams in Rutherford, an occasion I have never forgotten….A belief that W.C.Williams’ poetry represents an unsurpassed peak of a specifically American poetry of this century is scarcely original, but I want to declare it here, feeling sure that you share it, and imagining how much the man, his work, and his early recognition of your worth must have meant to you.”

“I should no doubt be telling you how great it is that you’ve lived to be sixty despite all the hazards of Beatmania, globe-trotting and drugs, and have established yourself as one of the most powerfully authentic poetic voices of your/our time. And when I say “one of” instead of “the”, I do so knowing you will take no offense, for one of your great virtues is that recognition and adulation have never made you big-headed. Your praise of and loyalty to Kerouac, Burroughs, Orlovsky and Corso, even myself, is proof of a generosity of spirit that is to me inseparable from greatness, while at the same time I agree with Eliot‘s “- but there is no competition”. In a time when the choice between screaming and silence is as taunting as a koan proposing there be life through the Hydrogen bomb, you have poured out an unquenchable torrent of agonized imprecation and lament, rhapsodies, lullabies. love songs and blues of unparalleled variety and force.”

“To me you are indeed just one of those who stand in the authority of the spirit, perhaps most of all when you speak of “the live corpse of Ginsberg the prophet/Hopeless”(from” Yes and it’s Hopeless” in Mind Breaths), or assure us that you’re “putting your queer shoulder to the wheel”, or declare “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear”. Because I believe you to be one of “those among us” (to quote Buber) “who feel most deeply the sickness of present day many and who speak in his name the word without which no healing takes place: I will live”. Only someone who has accepted the ultimate fact of life as you have, most typically in the “Father Death Blues”…has the ability to say; I (or we) will Iive, convincingly. You have already won the satisfaction of being able to tell yourself without deception : I have lived and sung too the utmost…”

“Affectionate fraternal and respectful greetings, Allen, and long may you live, howl, and jubilate..”

Some Enitharmon Gascoyne titles:

David Gascoyne rare footage – the film of his performance that was presented at the Royal Albert Hall London in 1993, (Allen was there too),  as part of the evening entitled “The Return of The Reforgotten“:

David Gascoyne reading “Variations on A Phrase” (and the phrase is from Arthur Rimbaud):

Gascoyne’s biographical story is nothing short of remarkable. Robert Fraser‘s Night Thoughts – The Surreal Life of the Poet David Gascoyne (2012), a must-read, is the ultimate biography.

Iain Sinclair digests and reviews the story here

Jeremy Reed, poet and close friend of Gascoyne, discourses on the poet here – “David Gascoyne and The Journey Through Madness”

Remembering David Gascoyne here on The Allen Ginsberg Project

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