Dharma Poetics – 2

Allen Ginsberg’s 1982  Dharma Poetics lecture continues from here

Student: Vipassana? –  Samatha-Vipassana?

AG:  I’m sorry.  My mind is wandering.  Samatha  Samatha  I’m sorry.  The vipassana aspect
of it was the noticing the detail in the space around, right? The Samatha… how many here know what samatha means? was my question.  And how many do not?  Do not know the (word) samatha?  How many here meditate, actually?  practice meditation.  And how many do not?  So there’s quite a few that don’t, so we didn’t fully take that into account, actually, in our discourse before.  And I ballsed it up a little by talking about vipassanaSamatha is a local term – Sanskrit –  for paying attention to the breath.  Sitting and paying attention to the breath and, in theory at least, prolonged or short or long sitting paying attention to the breath, settles you down so that you begin to notice the space around you and the details in the space around you and (you) begin to develop some calm and quiet so that you hear and see and smell and taste a little more sharply, let us say, or at least see visually.  There’s nothing to interrupt.  Since you’re not daydreaming, you might notice that you’re being rained on.  You might notice your breathing, actually, is what it boils down to.  Precise awareness of the fact that you are breathing, since you’re not totally occupied daydreaming or since you’re not totally spaced-out, so to speak.

So that’s the general theory of sitting around and meditating.  And in Buddhist explanation and practice there is the idea that if you do sit then you slowly develop an awareness of space around and an awareness of detail (or the buzz words for that are “precision” and “detail”) in the space around you. So all I am doing now is pointing out that there is some parallel between the mind training of sitting and the mind training of 20th century poetic practice which involves paying attention to detail and writing about something.  Noticing things rather than writing about “dim vales of peace” and “purple clouds of nothingness misery.”

So as part of the path…. [Students are laughing at this point] well, I’m quoting the mind!
So, as part of the poetic path, there is the pleasure or joy of being articulate and precise
with the language that you speak, as well as with their senses.  One kind of precision that modern writers feature is precision in the idiom – that you actually use your own language, that you’re aware of the material.  Just as, say, the meditator is aware of his breath, say, so the writer is aware of his language as a sort of continuum.  The language that he speaks as
a kind of continuum and might refer to the … let’s see.. the sanity of his thought to the basic common sense sanity of the language that he is using.  And in modern times that’s been interpreted by many poets like William Carlos Williams, Charles Reznikoff, (Charles) Olson, (Robert) Creeley, myself,  (Jack) Kerouac, and others, as being attentive and appreciative of the actual idiom spoken in America.  The American idiom as distinct from a pseudo-literary idiom, or English idiom, or high-falutin’ idiom, or “poetic” idiom.  Just our own basic speech as we have a basic continuum of breath, there is a basic practice of speech that people suddenly recognize if they’re poets and say, “Oh, this language is the one I’m writing.”
So there’s the beginning of appreciation of the speech that you actually use day-to-day.
And those elements of the speech which are vivid enough to use for composition in language, in poetry.  If you ally that with details, for instances, and avoid generalizations, somewhat in the style that I was expounding last time  when I pointed (out) Shakespeare’s illustrations and for instances for winter, spring, and summer in the “Song” from the play (Love’s Labour’s Lost), “When Dick the shepherd blows his nail, and icicles hang by the wall, and milk comes frozen home in pail” – [“When icicles hang by the wall/And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,/And Tom bears logs into the hall,/And milk comes frozen home in pail…“]

If you combine direct treatment of the object, direct sight of the phenomenal world with direct use of your own idiomatic language, you have a very delightful combination that has a basic sanity to it that’s completely workable as an art path that (is) inexhaustible and that is at least communicable to other people.  So it allows you to spread your mind out a bit.  Appreciation of one’s own native language – the elements of one’s own native language -also tends to lead to appreciation of one’s own phenomenal world.  That’s the beginning.  That’s just another part of our phenomenal world.

to be continued

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