Kerajinan Puisi: Semester dengan Allen Ginsberg



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Deskripsi Produk Kerajinan Puisi: Semester dengan Allen Ginsberg

Kami senang bisa mencetak ulang esai Elissa Schappell, "Kerajinan Puisi: Semester dengan Allen Ginsberg." Lagu ini pertama kali ditampilkan di situs pada tahun 2013 sebagai Pick Anggota Longley, dan awalnya muncul dalam edisi 1995 musim panas Paris Review. Itu kemudian antologi dalam koleksi Paris Review tahun 1999 Beat Writers at Work. Terima kasih kepada Schappell dan Paris Review untuk berbagi dengan komunitas Longreads:

Dari semua kelas sastra yang pernah saya pakai dalam hidup saya, "Kerajinan Puisi" karya Allen Ginsberg tidak hanya yang paling berkesan dan inspiratif, tapi yang paling berguna bagi saya sebagai penulis.
Pikiran pertama, pikiran terbaik.
Ini tahun 1994 dan saya mendapatkan MFA saya di fiksi di NYU. Aku duduk di barisan depan kelas suram dengan tape recorder dan buku catatan. Alat perekam itu adalah untuk merekam Allen Ginsberg, ayah besar dari ceramah "Craft of Poetry" Beat untuk sebuah fitur yang saya tulis untuk The Paris Review. Tidak. Ceramah adalah kata yang salah - opera pemikiran Ginsberg, aliran cerdiknya yang spontan, keceriaan Dharma Lion mengaum - itulah yang saya inginkan untuk ditangkap. Metode pengajarannya adalah, saat dia menjelaskannya, "untuk berimprovisasi sampai batas tertentu dan itu benar-benar nyata dan bukan sekadar hafalan."
Itu sangat nyata.
Pendidikan yang diberikan Ginsberg melebihi batas kelas, dan jauh melampaui kerajinan puisi. Lihatlah ke dalam dan lepaskan, katanya. Perhatikan dunia Anda, baca semuanya. Karena seperti yang dia katakan, "Jika pikiran itu indah, seni itu akan indah."
-Elissa Schappell, 2013
 ***

Kabar bahwa Allen Ginsberg akan mengajar di Universitas New York dilewati di sekitar kampus seperti sebuah sendi, membuat beberapa orang pusing dan gembira, ada yang sedikit bingung, dan masih ada orang lain yang paranoid - guru dan siswa. Daftar tunggu untuk masuk ke kelas luar biasa tidak hanya panjangnya, tapi untuk berapa banyak siswa dengan penuh semangat memeriksa untuk melihat apakah mereka telah pindah ke sana. Sebagai mahasiswa pascasarjana dalam program penulisan kreatif saya diberi dibs pertama. Saya penasaran untuk bertemu dengan Ginsberg, penasaran untuk melihat bagaimana dia akan menjadi komandan kelas Kerajinan Puisi, yang pada masa lalu telah diajarkan oleh Galway Kinnell dan William Matthews. Kutipan berikut diambil dari buku harian yang saya simpan selama semester ini.

25 Januari

Sulit membayangkan Allen Ginsberg sebagai "Profesor Ginsberg." Karyanya, dan juga kepribadiannya di mana-mana, melahirkan semacam keakraban, tidak hanya karena Anda mungkin duduk di sampingnya saat ia makan makanan penutup di Veselka Coffee Shop, atau melihatnya di Toko Buku St. Mark, tapi karena dia adalah ikon pop dan karyanya (dan banyak banyak) adalah orang Amerika klasik.

Ginsberg lebih kecil dan lebih tua dari yang ku harapkan, terlihat jauh lebih konservatif, dan tidak mengenakan jaket flanel abu-abu dan celana panjangnya yang berwarna biru tua. Kacamatanya berwarna plastik bening, janggutnya yang diberi garam dan lada dipangkas dengan rapi. Dia memakai sepatu olahraga Rockport yang berkarat tebal, sepatu yang masuk akal. Meski berusia enam puluh sembilan, dia hanya menunjukkan sedikit tanda-tanda usia tua. Mungkin itu adalah perusahaan yang dia jaga-pria muda yang menarik yang nampaknya j talak melawan penuaan. Saya ingat seseorang mengatakan kepada saya bahwa ketika Ginsberg masih muda, dia tidur dengan seseorang yang tidur dengan Walt Whitman, tingkat pemisahan seksual antara kedua botak itu adalah dosis itu.

Ruang kelas kecil itu penuh sesak - penuh dengan orang-orang yang terjatuh seolah-olah itu adalah rumah kopi. Mereka yang tidak bisa menemukan meja duduk di lantai. Saya belum pernah melihat sebagian besar siswa ini di tempat lain di kampus, bukan di Lit. atau bahkan kuliah Derrida. Ada penyair di mana-mana di rok kasa yang mengalir dengan tinta ungu dan penyair serius dengan kacamata hitam dan blazer lengan bawahnya. Ada juga taburan pseudo-Beats di baret hitam dan kambing seragam dan wanita bermata kohl dalam legging peregangan hitam, dan meski di luar dingin, sandal Diane Di Prima.

Profesor Ginsberg duduk di belakang mejanya yang lebar sambil mengerutkan kening di langit-langit rendah seolah cahaya neon yang kasar menyerangnya. Tanpa basa-basi lagi dia mulai berguling. Entah bagaimana, saya pikir ini akan menjadi tipuan, drop-in-drop-out-kapan pun-suasana hati-setelan-jenis pengaturan Anda. Saat dia memanggil namanya, saya menyadari bahwa setengah dari orang-orang yang dijejalkan ke dalam ruangan mungil ini bahkan tidak terdaftar di kelas ini. Mereka ada di sini untuk melihat sekilas Ginsberg, untuk mendapatkan semacam doa Beat.

Mata berkedip dengan marah karena saran bahwa Ginsberg benar-benar akan membaca karya kami.
Kemudian untuk membingungkan orang-orang yang mengira kelas ini akan mengalahkan bongos dan menggonggong haikus ke eter, dia melewati kelas literatur standar yang sudah tua-sebuah silabus. Faktanya, ada dua, satu "Survei tentang Puisi Historis dari Tradisi Lisan yang Pra-Literasi terhadap Kaum Puisi Multikultural," yang lain adalah "Silabus Percakapan" pada musim semi 1994, yang secara mengejutkan hanya mencantumkan tujuh minggu pertama kelas-hanya setengah dari kelas yang dijadwalkan "Silabus Percakapan" menginstruksikan siswa untuk "Membaca sebanyak mungkin judul buku yang ditulis di atas. Konsultasikan antologi fotokopi oleh Allen Ginsberg saat Anda tidak dapat menemukan atau menyelesaikan buku. Carilah antologi bahasa Inggris Anda untuk penulis yang disebutkan secara sepintas. Gunakan kepala riset Anda untuk orang lain yang tidak begitu jelas: Kalevala, Cavafy, Sappho, Cavalcanti, Bunting, Catullus, dll. Lihat apa pun yang Anda bisa, tapi tenang saja. Anda tidak bisa melakukan semuanya. "

Setelah membagikan surat-suratnya, Ginsberg menjabarkan mur dan baut kelas. Kami bertanggung jawab atas salah satu makalah ("Saya tidak ingin ada jargon akademik, katakan saja apa yang ada dalam pikiran Anda."), Ditambah lima halaman puisi kami sendiri ("Tidak lebih atau saya tidak akan pernah bisa melewati mereka. ") Bibliografi bacaan dari luar yang berhubungan dengan kelas. Mata berkedip dengan marah karena saran bahwa Ginsberg benar-benar akan membaca karya kami.

Ginsberg mengumumkan jam kerjanya: "Kantor saya sudah selesai di Departemen Bahasa Inggris. Setiap orang harus mendaftar untuk wawancara. Jadi, kapan pun Anda merasa seperti berada di kantor saya, kita bisa berbicara puisi, kita bisa rap, kita bisa bercinta ... "ini sedikit mengangkat alis dan titters.

"Jadi," lanjutnya, "Gregory Corso akan mengajar kelas pada 22 Februari. Dia provokatif, dia mungkin akan mencoba menekan kancing Anda." Dia menyeringai. Seseorang bercanda bahwa Corso, salah satu teman lama Ginsberg, akan berusaha membuat kita melepas pakaian kita. Ginsberg dengan penuh teka-teki tersenyum, lalu berkata, "Tulang di Homer, dan Iliad."

Dia melanjutkan: "Gregory Annuncia Corso ... Annuncia atau 'penyiar jalan' Corso. Puisi adalah pencarian jawabannya .... Mari kita mulai dengan teori oxymorons Corso-yang menggabungkan kebalikannya. Corso mengambil arketipe yang sangat biasa dan bermain dengan ide pop-art, mengambil judul satu kata dan mengeksplorasi semua jenis pemikiran tentang hal itu. Dia menggunakan stereotip dan mengubahnya menjadi bagian dalam. Dia menggabungkan gagasan yang berbeda untuk membuat petasan kecil-dia bukan salah satu penyair teacup tinggi itu. "

Ginsberg kemudian membacakan beberapa karya Corso dari The Happy Birthday Of Death. Dia mengatakan kepada kita bahwa judul puisi ditulis dari catatan yang diambil Corso setelah kehabisan bensin. Berkat sepupu yang adalah seorang dokter gigi, Ginsberg juga telah bereksperimen dengan gas tertawa. Dia kemudian membaca sebuah puisi yang dia sebut sebagai puisi Corso yang paling terkenal, "Marriage."

Allen Ginsberg membaca di NYU, 1995. Foto oleh Frank Beacham
Allen Ginsberg membaca di NYU, 1995. Foto oleh Frank Beacham

"Dalam puisi ini dia mengambil satu judul kata dan mengeksplorasi semua pemikiran anak tentang hal itu, Anda tahu-nasi, zombie lobi, Niagara Falls-semua orang tahu apa yang akan terjadi pada bulan madu. Ini adalah puisi yang sangat antologi, ini adalah puisi yang mudah, itu cornball, seperti trenchmouth, satu antologi meneruskannya ke yang berikutnya. "

Kelas putus; setengah file siswa keluar ke aula. Setengah lainnya, kebanyakan anak laki-laki remaja yang menarik dengan saran tipis tentang rambut wajah, berkeliaran dan mengelilingi mejanya, beberapa dengan cara yang agak eksklusif. Beberapa memegang buku yang akan ditandatangani, yang lain hanya menatapnya saat Ginsberg dengan sopan memperhatikan perhatian mereka.

15 Februari

Kelas malam ini bertemu di ruangan kecil yang kotor. Langit-langitnya dipenuhi lubang dimana anak-anak mencambuk pensil tajam ke panel gabus di langit-langit. Saya telah membawa tape recorder saya; Beberapa siswa lainnya telah melakukan hal yang sama. Malam ini dia mengenakan kemeja biru, dasi merah, dan blazer wol biru tua. Dia tampak seperti organizer serikat yang sangat rapi, atau ahli penyakit kaki. Ada lebih sedikit penjaja.

"Hari ini kita akan melanjutkan dengan Corso dan Creeley dan lebih banyak lagi tentang puisi oxymoronic, gagasan tentang puisi sebagai kemampuan magis seorang penyair untuk menghipnotis orang," katanya. Dia menyela dirinya sendiri saat seorang straggler mencoba menyelinap diam-diam ke barisan belakang, "Apakah kamu di kelas?

"Iya nih."

"Apakah Anda akan sering terlambat?

"Uh, tidak."

"Jika Anda bisa membuatnya, cobalah dan tepat waktu. Jika tidak, ada gangguan konstan orang-orang yang melayang akhir-akhir ini, dan saya harus menemukannya di daftar. "

Dia mendongak untuk melihat lagi orang yang terlambat. "Siapa namamu?" Tanyanya dengan iritasi mengintip dari atas kacamatanya.

"Joe"

"Apakah Anda di kelas?"

"Tidak."

"Silakan coba dan datang tepat waktu karena saya selalu harus mengganggu wacana untuk mengakomodasi keterlambatan Anda. Bukannya kita punya banyak waktu, itu hanya setengah jam. "

Pada ledakan yang menyebalkan ini, semua orang duduk menatap buku catatan mereka. Ginsberg terdengar lebih seperti guru olahraga sekolah menengah daripada Singa Dharma.

Dia membagikan sebuah salinan "Slogan Menulis Pikiran". Subhead adalah kutipan dari William Blake, "Pikiran pertama adalah yang terbaik dalam Seni, Kedua dalam hal-hal lain." Kemudian muncul serangkaian aforisme liar:

I. Ground (Situasi atau Persepsi Primer) "Tulisan saya adalah gambaran pikiran yang bergerak." - Philip Whalen "Pikiran saya terbuka untuk dirinya sendiri." - Gelek Rinpoche "Catch yourself thinking." - AG

II. Jalur (Metode Pengakuan) "Benda alami selalu simbol yang memadai." - Ezra Pound "Tidak menunjukkannya." - Vernacular "Hanya emosi yang diobjekkan bertahan." - Louis Zukofsky

AKU AKU AKU. Fruition (Hasil Apresiasi) "Apa wajah Anda sebelum Anda lahir?" "Tujuan seni adalah untuk menghentikan waktu." - Bob Dylan "Sendirian dengan yang sendirian" -Plotinus

Ginsberg memulai dengan karya terbaru Corso, mengenang pembacaan puisi Universitas Columbia 1959 yang terkenal dimana Corso, Orlovsky dan Ginsberg diturunkan dengan agak merendahkan dalam sebuah esai panjang oleh Diana Trilling dalam the Partisan Review. Mereka diundang kembali enam belas tahun kemudian, dan Corso menulis sebuah puisi tentangnya, yang disebut "Columbia U Poesy Reading 1975" yang digambarkan Ginsberg sebagai "semacam retrospektif dari Generasi Beat yang menyajikan sejarah pribadinya dan medisnya sendiri."

"Apa enam belas tahun yang lalu sejak terakhir duduk di sini bersama Trillings ... enam belas tahun yang lalu, kami dihukum karena menjadi hantu obat bius kutu obat bius yang sangat kejam ... Baiklah, saya kira saya akan melompat ke depan-ada tawa-Bill Bill yang pernah ada sekalipun dia berhenti menyusui ... Dopey-poo, itu menjadi perogatif penyair ... "

"Banyak puisi Corso adalah potongan permen pikiran, jawbreaker; Anda benar-benar tidak dapat membayangkannya lebih dari sekadar teori relativitas Einstein-apakah itu di dalam atau di luar? Apakah dunia fenomenal eksternal ada di dalam atau di luar? Ini adalah proposisi klasik. Ini kembali ribuan tahun dan merupakan topik wacana Buddhis. "

Seorang siswa mengacungkan tangannya, lalu sepertinya menganggap isyarat itu terlalu formal, perlahan-lahan menurunkannya, telinganya memerah karena malu. "Jadi, apa itu metode Corso? Bagaimana dia bekerja? "

"Metode Corso adalah menulis di mesin tik dengan dua jari, satu frase sekaligus, menahan nafas, nafas mental atau fisik. Komposisi spontan, sedikit revisi. Itu membuat ayat inkremental menjadi sajak, jadi ada kejutan bagi pembaca dan juga dia. Anda bisa melihat pikirannya bekerja baris demi baris. Corso menyusun gagasan atau konsepsi yang masuk ke dalam. "

Allen Ginsberg dan Gregory Corso di NYU, 1995. Foto oleh Frank Beacham
Allen Ginsberg dan Gregory Corso di NYU, 1995. Foto oleh Frank Beacham

Dia melanjutkan, "Dia banyak tinggal di rumah, dan berpikir. Dia cenderung mengkritik sebuah konvensi dan memperbaiki gagasan itu berulang-ulang sampai dia menemukan rumusan yang tepat darinya. Dia memiliki gagasan bahwa dia bekerja selama sekitar sepuluh tahun, 'Saya tidak akan pernah mati, karena ketika saya meninggal saya tidak akan mengetahuinya. Hanya orang lain yang mati tapi saya tidak akan pernah mati. 'Itu dibangun di atas paradoks objek subjek lagi, eksternal atau internal, fenomenal atau apapun. Dia kemudian mengerjakannya, sekali lagi mengambil abstraksi klasik dan mengubahnya di kepala mereka seperti yang Heracleitus lakukan - 'Semuanya mengalir. Anda tidak bisa melangkah di sungai yang sama dua kali. Corso mengubahnya menjadi, 'Anda tidak bisa masuk ke sungai yang sama sekali.' "Dia berhenti sejenak untuk membiarkan ini meresap.

"Apa yang coba dilakukan Corso adalah membawa abstraksi ke sebuah idiom yang bisa dipahami orang di jalan ... bahasa hidup dan bukan bahasa sastra. Sebagian besar puisi kontemporer berada di bawah mantra yang lebih elegan - dan dalam beberapa hal pidato hidup yang tidak autentik dari Wallace Stevens daripada bahasa arabelawan William Carlos Williams. Jadi di Corso ada unsur kebijaksanaan jalanan yang dicampur dengan rujukan dan filosofi klasik dan akal sehat. "

Pintu terbuka dan wajah saling menatap sebentar. Kelas yang salah

"Ada tradisi Amerika kuno dari Thoreau yang mengatakan, Kebanyakan pria menjalani kehidupan dengan keputusasaan yang tenang. Nah, ada jutaan puisi tentang keputusasaan yang sunyi dan semuanya dipublikasikan di The New Yorker. "Ginsberg terkekeh mengejek. "Jadi, ke Creeley."

Lalu tiba-tiba dia berkata, "Ayo kita ambil lima napas."

Ada apa ini Bukankah kita semua sebenarnya hanya bernapas? Satu orang bahkan tidur dan benar-benar bernafas agak dalam. Ginsberg menutup matanya dan menginstruksikan kami, "Ikuti napas dari ujung hidung sampai larut dalam lima napas."

Pikiran itu melintas dalam pikiran saya bahwa latihan pernapasan yang dalam ini seperti sorbet metafisik, pembersih langit-langit otak. Aku memejamkan mata, lalu membukanya saat mendengar Ginsberg menarik napas dalam pertama melalui hidungnya. Sebagian besar kelas memelototi mata mereka, selebihnya, seperti saya, dengan sembunyi-sembunyi mengintip dari balik bulu mata mereka, mengalihkan pandangan malu saat mata kami bertemu.

Ginsberg akhirnya memecahkan kesunyian yang tidak nyaman itu. "Robert Creeley lahir pada tahun 1926. Dia adalah seorang penyair timur laut; gayanya agak minim, dalam garis ayat pendek, terbata-bata. Dia sangat terpengaruh oleh reaksi Miles Davis terhadap sangkakala, Davis awal tahun empat puluhan. Dia dari New England jadi ada semacam keengganan seperti di Emily Dickinson, tidak ingin melebih-lebihkan kasusnya ... minimalisme bukan omong kosongku. "

"Pengaruh lain pada Creeley adalah Thomas Campion; Dia adalah Dylan Bob dari puisi, Renaisans. Melakukan puisi liris di atas liontin kura-kura, dia menciptakan kebangkitan di seluruh Eropa. Puisi lirik harus dilakukan dengan alat musik, kalau tidak mereka kehilangan otot mereka. Mereka menjadi lemah tanpa aksen melayang yang indah dan indah itu. "

Ada perasaan meresap bahwa dia adalah semacam pendeta puisi, permen intelektual.
Ginsberg membacakan beberapa Campion dari hati. "Semua Whitman adalah 'Saya merayakan diri saya sendiri, dan menyanyikan diri saya sendiri.' Ini adalah pemberdayaan diri sendiri. Dia tidak takut dengan tubuhnya sendiri di tengah alam. Campion melakukan hal yang sama. "

"Ada kekurangan abrasifasi, semacam turn-the-apple-cart-over dalam karya Creeley. Umumnya dia mengetikkan frase itu satu per satu, sampai kalimat berikutnya datang kepadanya, jadi ada semacam break in the line atau nafas berhenti saat dia menelponnya. Seperti Corso, setiap baris yang dia tulis mengubah atau mengubah baris sebelumnya, jadi dia tidak tahu apa yang akan dia katakan sampai dia mengatakannya. Metodenya, seperti Kerouac's, adalah komposisi spontan, dan penataan ulang atau revisi yang relatif sedikit. "

Membungkus kelas, Ginsberg mengingatkan kita bahwa minggu depan ia membaca di Pusat DIA di pusat kota dan bahwa ia mendapat tiket gratis untuk kelas. Dia juga mengingatkan kita, "Jika Anda tidak memiliki, atau tidak dapat menemukan salah satu penulis dalam silabus, atau buku-buku ini, beritahu saya dan saya akan meminjamkan buku-buku saya sendiri." Ada yang melingkupinya. Sadar bahwa dia adalah semacam pendeta puisi, permen intelektual.

DIA Center Reading

Allen membaca sebuah puisi yang berisi sebuah garis tentang bangun tidur setelah berhubungan seks dengan seorang pemuda yang telah membalikkan badannya untuk menghadap ke dinding. Ada dua orang menarik yang duduk di depanku, yang tidak pernah kulihat di kelas. Seseorang beralih ke yang lain: "Apakah itu Billy yang dia bicarakan?"

"Tidak," jawab pria itu dengan bangga, "itu aku."

23 Februari

Malam ini kita terbebas dari kelas mungil kita, upgrade ke amfiteater kecil di Gedung Utama. Sekali lagi sekelompok orang aneh muncul di kelas; Mungkin mereka pernah mendengar suara omong kosong yang membuat Corso berada di kemudi malam ini. Corso membungkuk ke kelas dengan langkah cepat cemas dari pria yang diburu, seorang pria yang tidak senang telah meninggalkan apartemennya. Rambutnya yang panjang dan acak-acakan ditarik kembali dengan ekor kuda yang rendah. Dia duduk, dan membungkuk di atas meja, dengan gugup menancapkan dan mengusap jenggot kecilnya. Dia memakai kaos denim biru, celana khaki dan jaket hitam usang. Dia terlihat seperti penyair Beat. Salah satu anak laki-laki yang terus berdengung mengelilingi Ginsberg melewati sebuah lembar kehadiran.

Dengan cara pengenalan Corso dimulai dengan sebuah pertanyaan, "Apakah ada yang tahu dari mana kuda Trojan itu berasal? Mitos Cassandra? "

Tidak ada yang mengucapkan sepatah kata pun.

"Orang besar besar Pak Homer. Homer adalah ayah dari semua mitologi. Anda seharusnya sudah membaca Homer, tidak ada alasan untuk itu, jika belum. Tidak ada alasan untuk tidak merangkul Homer. Jika Anda belum melewati Homer ... "dia mengangkat tangannya dengan cemas.

"Homer menulis Odyssey di dasar Mt. Olympus. Dia menulis Iliad tepat di atas. Dia menulis tentang pertengkaran orang, seperti pertengkaran para dewa. Inilah seorang pria yang berurusan dengan para dewa, yang menaruh suaranya sendiri di dalam mulut dewa-cukup fantastis. Pria besar bernama Mr. Homer. Dewa-dewa Hindu tidak bertengkar. "Corso mengusap dagunya dan gelisah di kursinya. Saya memiliki perasaan bahwa dia tidak terbiasa mengajar. "Apa yang ingin Anda bicarakan?" Dia bertanya, dengan gugup menggendong jarinya di atas dekstop.

Ruangan itu sunyi.

Dalam sekejap ia meluncurkan kembali pada Homer. "Itu hanya pengetahuan dasar bagi seorang penulis; Anda semua harus tahu Homer Anda. "

Tidak ada yang mengucapkan sepatah kata pun.

"Saya menemukan seseorang yang bodoh yang tidak mengenal Homer-itulah yang saya rasakan. Periksa dia keluar; Dia membawa dewa-dewa Yunani di tempat kejadian, itu pasti. Tapi sekali lagi saya kebetulan membaca buku itu sore itu saat Ginsberg menelepon. Kita tidak harus terjebak dengan Iliad. Ada wawasan dalam buku itu yang luar biasa. "Dia membungkuk di kursinya dan memeriksa pergelangan tangannya untuk menonton yang tidak ada," Sudah berapa lama saya di sini? "

"Dua puluh menit."

"Itu sudah lama!" Dia mendesah putus asa, "Ayo kita ke tempat lain."

Ada kesunyian yang tidak nyaman di ruangan itu. Tertawa cekik. Tidak ada yang tahu apa yang harus dilakukan, apalagi Corso. "Lihatlah orang-orang Yunani dan neraka mereka," katanya putus asa. "Neraka mereka seperti cuaca mereka. Cuaca mereka tidak terlalu dingin, tidak terlalu hangat, warnanya sedang. Lihatlah neraka Gilgamesh-itu adalah neraka yang lucu. Neraka itu adalah padang pasir. Berbagai jenis neraka untuk musim yang berbeda. "

"Di mana sih?" Seseorang memanggil dari keramaian.

"Di sini, percayalah," dia tertawa tak nyaman. Kelas tertawa bersamanya.

"Saya selalu menduga seorang pria yang adalah seorang filsuf tidak akan pernah pergi dan mengatakan kepada orang bahwa dia adalah seorang filsuf," katanya sambil menyoroti topik baru. "Orang lain harus mengatakan kepadanya bahwa dia adalah seorang filsuf. Tapi seorang penyair harus memberi tahu orang bahwa dia seorang penyair. Jika tidak, mereka tidak tahu. Ini seperti Anne Waldman, yang saya cintai, yang membuat kesalahan itu pernah menunjukkan sebuah puisi kepada saya. Dia bertanya, 'Apakah ini sebuah puisi?' Dan saya berkata, 'Tidak ada neraka' Dia tidak mengampuni saya selama 10 tahun. Saya tidak ingin murka saya terhadap saya. Saya tidak pernah menduga penyair itu sensitif, "katanya sambil memutar matanya. "Kupikir kau bisa mengatasinya bersama mereka. Tuhanku. Aku membuatnya lebih buruk dengan mencoba meminta maaf. Aku mencoba, dan oh, aku sangat malu. Aku tidak sungguh-sungguh, sungguh. Suatu hari dia akan melihat. Itu menunjukkan betapa Anda harus berhati-hati terhadap apa yang Anda katakan.

"Saya pikir sebagai seorang penyair, Anda harus memiliki hal-hal tertentu di bawah ikat pinggang Anda - mitos Cassandra, kuda Trojan. Anda harus memiliki hal-hal penting di kepala Anda; Bahkan jika mereka tidak penting, mereka setidaknya cantik. Saya lebih suka memiliki sedikit pengetahuan daripada keseluruhan iman. Saya lebih suka memiliki pengetahuan, kepala ensiklopedi. Tentu untuk menjadi penyair, Anda tidak perlu tahu nada. "

Hal ini nampaknya menghibur kelas.

"Anda pernah mengatakan puisi adalah anugrah untuk Anda, bagaimana?" Tanya seorang siswa.

"Karena itu mendidik saya. Puisi adalah studi tentang kepala. Anda menggunakan kepala Anda untuk merenungkan dan mengkhawatirkan, mengerjakan semuanya. Aku sendirian. Saya tidak memiliki beberapa orang lain, seperti orang tua-jadi saya mengerjakannya sendiri. Lalu puisi datang. "

Corso nampak lebih nyaman menjawab pertanyaan daripada memberi ceramah.

"Kapan Anda sadar bahwa Anda adalah seorang penyair?" Seseorang bertanya.

"Saya menyadari bahwa saya adalah seorang penyair berusia sekitar empat belas, lima belas tahun. Saya tidak pernah mendapat kesempatan untuk ditolak. Kukatakan aku penyair-jadi memang begitu. Puisi pertama yang saya tulis adalah tentang ibu saya. Dulu saya bertanya kepada orang apa yang terjadi padanya. Terkadang mereka mengatakan bahwa dia telah meninggal, lain kali mereka mengatakan bahwa dia adalah seorang pelacur, atau bahwa dia baru saja menghilang. Sampai hari ini saya tidak tahu. Jadi saya mengambil lenyapnya, dan mengira dia kembali ke Italia, seorang gembala di Calabria, merawat domba di sekitar pohon jeruk. Itu ibuku. Puisi itu disebut 'Sea Chanty.' "Dia membacanya," Ibuku membenci laut, terutama lautku. Saya tidak memperingatkan, hanya itu yang bisa saya lakukan ... Di pantai saya menemukan makanan yang aneh namun indah, saya bertanya kepada laut apakah saya bisa memakannya, dan laut berkata bahwa saya bisa ... '

Gregory Corso (paling kiri), William Burroughs, dan Paul Bowles, 1961. Foto oleh Allen Ginsberg, milik Perpustakaan Buku Langka Thomas Fisher
Gregory Corso (paling kiri), William Burroughs, dan Paul Bowles, 1961. Foto oleh Allen Ginsberg, milik Perpustakaan Buku Langka Thomas Fisher

"Anda tahu akan lebih mudah menjadi pelukis," keluhnya. "Anda harus menunjukkan keledai Anda secara tertulis. Ini memalukan saat Anda harus menghadapi orang dan membaca puisi; mereka melihat bagaimana penampilan Anda, mereka melihat Anda-ya tuhan saya, "dia mengangkat tangannya ke pipinya dengan cemoohan pura-pura. "Padahal pelukis hanya menaruh barangnya di galeri dan berjalan pergi."

"Bagaimana Anda bekerja?"

"Saya mendapatkan perasaan puisi tertentu di perut saya. Saya menyaksikan Tennessee Williams sekali di Yunani saat saya tinggal di rumahnya. Dia akan bangun setiap pagi pukul tujuh dan menurunkan nuansa dan memainkan musik malang di kaset yang dia punya dari Amerika dan mulai mengetik. Waktu saya biasanya bekerja adalah ketika orang sedang tidur; Selalu di tengah malam, jam serigala, sementara dunia sedang tidur. Bukannya saya melakukannya setiap malam, tapi saya suka kegelapan, saya tidak suka dengan sinar matahari yang cerah. Aku lebih suka berada di tempat teduh. "

"Bagaimana perasaan Anda tentang menulis ulang?"

"Pada saat menulis saya tidak menulis ulang. Pikiran pertama dipikirkan. Kami selalu terlibat. Anda tahu, kata-kata pertama yang sedang down, kata-kata terbaik yang sedang down. Pikiran pertama adalah pemikiran yang paling murni. Hal yang paling murni adalah spontan. Tapi terkadang saya menulis ulang. Mengapa tidak membuatnya lebih baik? Kenapa tidak?"

"Apakah Anda berbagi pekerjaan dengan penulis lain?"

"Saya sudah membaca puisi di telepon untuk Ginsberg. Dia membacakan saya 'Howl.' Berbagi karya itu bagus. Mengapa menimbun kata-kata Anda? Puisi itu sulit, "katanya sambil meringis.

"Apakah Anda suka membaca bekerja keras?" Seseorang di belakang memanggil keluar.

"Anda mendapatkan lebih banyak dari membaca puisi daripada mendengarnya dibaca untuk Anda. Anda mendapatkan lebih banyak dari saya di cetak daripada di membaca, ya. Karena biasanya saya tidak membaca barang-barang kelas berat yang saya tulis. Aku tidak tahan lagi. Itu akan mengambil terlalu banyak dari saya. Jadi saya membaca hal-hal ringan, hal-hal lucu. Untuk membuat mereka tertawa. Oh anak laki-laki, mereka mencintaimu saat kau membuat mereka tertawa. Saya harus minum beberapa gelas sebelum melakukannya. Untuk menghadapi gerombolan ini, ini seperti kematian, ini adalah malam-malam paling gelap dari jiwa kita, ini mengerikan, dan kemudian ada Ginsberg di sana seperti sebuah kejadian yang hebat. Oh, dia bisa seperti badut di atas sana. "Dia berhenti sejenak," Ini mengurangi puisi, kurasa. Ini mengurangi puisi dengan membacanya dan bermain badut, atau penghibur. Tapi saya sudah melakukannya untuk menghasilkan uang. Saya lebih suka ketenangan puisi. Bagi saya puisi berasal dari sini, "katanya pada sternumnya. "Jika tidak, itu tidak berarti apa-apa-itu tidak berarti nada. Anda tidak bisa menyelinap keajaibannya. Tidak mungkin Anda menulis puisi yang lebih baik hanya karena Anda ingin diingat untuk itu.

"Sebagai anak yang saya tahu ketika saya bertambah tua, saya selalu memiliki puisi. Usia tua tidak mengganggu saya karena saya selalu memiliki puisi untuk dituju - ini adalah siaga. Kapan pun Anda menderita sakit, atau masalah, atau hal-hal yang mengganggu Anda, cobalah menulis puisi, ini akan menjadi teman terhebat Anda. Dalam banyak hal puisi menguntungkan Anda, dan bisa bermanfaat bagi orang lain. Ini hal yang baik. Itu tidak menyakiti siapa pun secara massal. "

Setelah membuat proklamasi ini Corso bangkit berdiri seolah hendak pergi. Seorang penjaga jam memanggil, "Eh, kau punya waktu empat puluh lima menit lagi."

Erangan Corso dan tenggelam kembali di kursinya. "Aku tidak bisa keluar dari sini!"

Kelas retak. Tidak ada yang mau dia berhenti bicara.

Seorang wanita pirang kusut muncul di belakang, "Apakah Anda pernah membaca puisi Anda dengan suara keras?"

"Tidak. Aku tidak pernah punya, tapi aku yakin mereka punya. Kenapa kamu mau membacanya? "

"Ya."

"Yang mana?"

"Saya ingin melakukan sesuatu tentang noda itu. Noda Saya sangat suka dengan noda, Anda tahu itu? "

Corso merajut keningnya dan mengusap keningnya dengan kontemplasi.

"Anda tahu yang saya pakai?"

Corso mengangkat bahu. "Anda tidak tahu puisi yang sedang Anda bicarakan?" Dia tertawa.

"Saya ingat konsepnya," katanya. "Saya tidak ingat kata-katanya. Anda tidak ingat itu? "

"Saya tidak ingat puisi saya dengan baik, selain nyanyian laut itu. Siapa yang membaca puisi Amerika dengan ingatan? Tidak ada yang melakukan itu lagi, "katanya.

"Apakah Anda membaca kritik atas pekerjaan Anda?" Seorang pria dengan kepala cukur bertanya, saat wanita berambut pirang itu meluncur, seolah-olah dalam gerak lambat, kembali ke kursinya.

"Saya tidak melihat banyak dari itu. Pesannya akan sangat berat, atau jauh-jauh untuk itu. Mereka tidak tahu bagaimana menanganinya. Tapi saya tidak ragu, maksud saya jika saya meninggal sekarang, saya tidak akan merasa bahwa saya tidak berhasil.

Gregory Corso (kiri) bersama Peter Orlovsky di Tangier, 1961. Foto oleh Allen Ginsberg, milik Perpustakaan Langka Narkoba Fisher
Gregory Corso (kiri) bersama Peter Orlovsky di Tangier, 1961. Foto oleh Allen Ginsberg, milik Perpustakaan Langka Narkoba Fisher

"Saya bisa menulis sejumlah puisi dalam seminggu - jika itu memukul saya. Tapi saya tidak ingin membuang puisi seperti itu, satu demi satu. Orang bilang, 'Orang akan melupakanmu.' Aku tidak peduli, aku bukan bintang film. Saya seorang penyair. Penyair hari ini pasti terkenal. Semuanya berubah, permainan bola telah berubah. Hanya hal baru yang terjadi dengan puisi bahwa penyair dikenal saat mereka masih hidup. Allen Ginsberg memakainya, memakukannya dengan sangat baik. Dia tahu bagaimana menanganinya dan menggunakannya dengan baik. Coba lihat. Pria itu telah bermanfaat bagi orang. Jika saya melihat sejarah, saya tidak dapat melihat di mana penyair telah menyebabkan luka parah - saya tidak dapat melihat dari mana setetes darah tumpah, kecuali di antara mereka sendiri. Verlaine dengan Rimbaud menembaknya di pergelangan tangan, oke, Villon memotong leher pendeta karena pastor itu ingin merayunya, baik-baik saja-pertengkaran keluarga.

"Saya menghadapi usia tua," katanya dengan lembut mengangguk, "Umur saya enam puluh tiga. Saya berharap puisi akan berdiri di dekat saya. Lihatlah Blake. Sebelum meninggal, dia bernyanyi di tempat tidurnya untuk istrinya Kate, sekarat dan hanya bernyanyi. Tahun-tahun mereka pergi seperti itu. Saya melihat anak saya yang berusia sembilan tahun beberapa hari yang lalu dan saya tidak mengenalinya.

"Puisi adalah saat Anda sendirian di sebuah ruangan kecil dan Anda harus menulis kepalan bawahnya." Dia berhenti untuk memberi penekanan. "Semuanya ada di sana. Ingat, ini adalah permainan menjadi penulis; Anda sedang berjudi di sana. Saya benar-benar mengagumi orang yang melakukannya, bahkan hack penulis, saya mengagumi mereka, karena mereka bisa menciptakan sikap, rentang waktu. "Dia mengangguk. Kemudian, bangkit berdiri untuk terakhir kalinya, dia menandatangani, "Saya harap saya memberi Anda sesuatu."

Corso meninggalkan kelas dua puluh menit lebih awal. Tak ada yang melihat.

1 Maret

Kelas malam ini sangat berkurang. Inti reguler ditambah satu atau dua penguntit. Ginsberg membongkar setumpuk buku dari tas jinjing. Dia sepertinya ingin mendengar tentang kelas minggu lalu. "Ada yang mengambil catatan?" Tanyanya sambil mengusap tangannya dengan gembira. "Saya ingin tahu apa yang terjadi. Apa yang harus dia katakan? "

"Dia berbicara tentang tumbuh tua dan kuda Trojan," seorang siswa berusia tujuh puluhan mengatakan.

"Kami berbicara tentang keahliannya," bisik wanita bermata kohl dengan anting-anting anting-anting panjang.

"Bagus sekali!" Kata seorang pencatat catatan yang bersemangat di barisan depan. Ginsberg mengangguk puas.

"Hari ini saya ingin berbicara tentang Creeley, puisi-puisinya yang berusia lebih tua, setengah baya, dan realisasinya tentang penuaan. Jadi, kita akan mulai dengan "Potret Diri Sendiri," realisasinya tentang dirinya sendiri:

Dia ingin menjadi orang tua yang brutal, pria tua yang agresif, sama membosankannya, sama brutalnya dengan kekosongan di sekitarnya.

Dia tidak ingin berkompromi dan tidak pernah merasa senang kepada siapapun. Maksudnya, dan final dalam penolakannya yang brutal, total, untuk semua itu.

Ini adalah potret diri yang langka dan brutal, dan ini sangat banyak baginya. Ini mencerminkan ingatannya tentang kehidupan awalnya, saat dia minum sedikit, dan sangat berarti bagi orang-orang saat dia mabuk. Beberapa orang mabuk sangat manis, beberapa di antaranya dopey, ada yang maudlin-ada yang benar-benar sangat berarti. Untungnya, dia tidak pernah menyerahkannya pada saya, tapi saya pernah melihatnya dalam situasi itu. Dia sebenarnya bebas alkohol sekarang, saya kira. "

"Secara bertahap, hampir bersuku dua bahasa, makna puisi Creeley terakumulasi, mengubah segala sesuatu yang terjadi sebelumnya. Metode penulisannya adalah meletakkan kertas di mesin tik dan memulai dengan frase atau wawasan apa pun yang dimulainya, contoh perasaan suram, dan kemudian mengumpulkan detail dan meraih landasan bersama. "

Robert Creeley. Foto oleh Mark Christal
Robert Creeley. Foto oleh Mark Christal

Ginsberg membaca dengan keras puisi Creeley berjudul "Kenangan":

Halo, bebek berwarna kuning

Kain dijejalkan dari dalam ke luar,

Bantal kecil

"Hanya itu yang ada," dia tertawa, lalu membacanya lagi. "Puisi itu sangat intim. Beberapa orang mengatakannya tidak bisa dimengerti, tapi kurasa tidak. Jika Anda melihat cukup lama itu akan masuk akal. Pekerjaannya tidak bisa lebih nyata atau konkret. Seperti bebek-itu bebek kain bayi sejati. It is a play of pure language, but there is always some substantive matter there.”

“What do you think when people call him abstract?” someone asks.

“Well, it is abstract. I wouldn’t want to write that way myself, so abstractly, except I really dig it when I read it. I’m almost crying it is so cool.

“‘Go’ is another minimal one,” Ginsberg says, then reads aloud:

Push that little thing up and the other right down. It’ll work.

“It sounds like instructions for a baby toy, doesn’t it? It is also slightly erotic; it might read as some suggestion about the whole process of creation, Push that little thing up.” He laughs uproariously. “It’s so beautiful! It is actually the memory of a child’s toy but it is also parallel to God, or a divine messenger telling man, Push that little thing up, it will work. He trembles with laughter. “It is your generic instructions for existence, or am I reading too much into it? It is there,” he insists. “If anybody here doesn’t get it, it’s all right. It took me forever to get them myself.”

Next we read “Age,” which is from Creeley’s collection Windows. It’s the most explicit poem we’ve read. Ginsberg begins to crack up over the line, “probe into your anus.” He has to stop at “roto-rooter-like device” to catch his breath, and by the time he reaches “like a worn out inner tube” his voice is a high-pitched squeak, and he’s laughing hysterically at the line “to snore not unattractively.” After he wipes the tears from his cheeks he continues, “I guess what I like about his poems is that they are a trip. It’s really the mind laid bare. He may do some tinkering, but I think his method is if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and he throws it away. This poem is like a mind trap in a way. Creeley’s poems are like jokes that crack themselves.”

After he has composed himself Ginsberg adds, “Creeley takes from Campion the rhythmical subtlety, the musicality characteristic of English song and lyric poetry. The delicate cadence in Creeley comes from Campion. His care for the syllable is like the poets of the Black Mountain School, who composed their work conscious of every syllable and how it fits into the cadence.”

The subject of cadence and rhythm leads us to Sappho, whom Ginsberg refers to as “the first Rimbaud.” We listen to him read some of Sappho’s most famous poems like “Invocation to Aphrodite” and some other fragments.

“Sappho invented a number of stanza forms, like the sapphic stanza,” he says, then begins to chant, “Trochee trochee dactyl trochee trochee.” He waits for a second as if expecting us to jump in, but the class is speechless. The woman next to me whispers, “Is he having some kind of flashback?”

“Okay,” he says in his best patient Cub Scout leader voice, “Let’s do it together!” and leads the whole class in a chorus of sapphic stanza form. At first we are timorous and shy, then after a few rounds our voices become loud, even celebratory. This singing makes class seem more like day camp than a literature class.

“These are dance steps,” Ginsberg tells us. “Ed Sanders and The Fugs use these. These have a cadence so powerful and inevitable that they outlasted Troy—the monuments of marble, brass and iron and the Parthenon—and they’re good for love poetry—good for poems of yearning. They’re not far from the blues in terms of structure. Actually, they’re very similar to twelve-bar blues.”

“For next week,” he calls out as everyone gathers up their books, “I want you to write a sapphic poem!” As we file out of class I can hear people humming trochee trochee dactyl trochee trochee…

March 8

I’m early for class. Ginsberg hasn’t arrived yet. The woman next to me is visibly peeved. She’s riffling through some papers, and sighing in exasperation. I can see that they’re sheaves of poetry which have been corrected in cramped handwriting—I think it’s Ginsberg’s hand. She looks over at me and rolls her eyes.

“Have you had your meeting with him yet?” I ask.

“Oh, yeah…” she says, sucking in her breath and raising her eyebrows. “I got completely clobbered. He hated it. He was so critical—I don’t think he likes women. At least he sure doesn’t like my work, it’s too girly for him.”

I confess to her that I’m nervous about my meeting. She smirks, “You should be. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I know these are good, I’ve workshopped one of them even,” she says, sliding the poems out of my sight and into a purple folder.

One on One with Ginsberg

I sit in the hall outside of Ginsberg’s office, along with several other students. A platinum-haired boy with a black goatee scribbles in his journal. A woman with long black Medusa locks twirls a snake of dark hair around her finger, looking pained as she reads a slender volume of Sappho. I can see, through the crack in the door, a boisterous fellow in cowboy boots sitting in the chair alongside Ginsberg’s desk. He is leaning across the desk jabbing his finger into what I suspect is his poem. In his lap is a large pile of papers, more poems I assume. I can’t hear the conversation, but as I watch I can see the man slowly deflating, his gestures becoming larger as he struggles to explain the intention behind his art. Aku merasa sakit. I read over my own poems, stumbling over obvious metaphors and silly turns of phrase. I want to flee. I can hear Ginsberg’s voice, “okay,” he says in a wrapping-it-up voice, “there are other people waiting.” My heart is pounding. The man bounds out of the office.

Ginsberg looks down at his sign-up sheet. “Schappell?” he asks, peering over the rims of his clear plastic glasses. I nod and shut the door tightly behind me, I don’t want anyone to witness my artistic evisceration. He waves me into the chair next to his desk. My heart is pounding as I hand over my work.

He reads silently, tipping back in his chair. Then he leans forward across the desk and smiles. To my surprise he is incredibly generous and complimentary. Perhaps my contemporaries have just worn him down so his critical faculties are muted. Perhaps he’s just in a good mood. He makes insightful comments, and does a quick edit that vastly improves my poem. He suggests a few writers for me to read and asks me questions about my poem, which is about my experiences with olfactory hallucinations. He’s curious about them and nods as I tell him about the strange and unsettling phenomena of smelling smoked meat and alcohol when none are in evidence. He writes down the name of a neurologist who might be interested in my case and suggests I stop by again. I leave his office feeling greatly relieved, and a bit elated.

March 29

When I show up for class, the amphitheater is full of strange faces. Another class has hijacked our room. Ginsberg looks annoyed. Tonight he’s wearing a hand-knitted dark blue, white and red cardigan with chunky hand-wrought silver buttons. It looks like a Tibetan Perry Como sweater.

“Just sit down and let’s get going,” he says in irritation, and gestures at the floor for us to sit down. “We have a lot to do.” At his bidding people sit cross-legged on the floor just outside the open door of the amphitheater as though in peaceful protest. The other class peers out the door at us. Just as Ginsberg starts to take roll, a uniformed security guard appears and sternly informs us that there are too many of us to sit in the hall. We’re a fire hazard. Ginsberg insists he has the paperwork needed for the room, and pats his pockets as though he carries the documents with him. The guard disappears, then reappears a few minutes later saying he has found another room for us. We move en masse to an auditorium on another floor. The new room is a lecture hall for the sciences, its main source of decoration being an enormous periodic table of elements.

Without waiting for the stragglers to find seats, Ginsberg plants himself on the edge of the stage and starts in on John Wieners. “Wieners is the great gay poet of America. He’s in hardly any anthologies, but he’s so emotional and truthful.” Ginsberg reads us “A Poem For Trapped Things” in a voice that is full of intense appreciation.

“Wieners is like Cavafy, a Greek modern poet of the twentieth century who died in the twenties or thirties. His work gives us glimpses into his love life, his homosexual bent…it’s a similar aesthetic to Whitman’s poetry.”

He had been over the abyss before,” Ginsberg says and pauses. “There’s a thread of Marlene Dietrich glamor in Wieners’s poetry.
He quotes from Wieners’s tragic American poem “The Acts of Youth”: “I have always seen my life as drama, patterned after those who met with disaster or doom,” then reads the poem in its entirety. Ginsberg compares Wieners with Hart Crane, who he describes as “a doomed powerful poet whose low self-esteem led him to commit suicide.”

Ginsberg reads more Wieners, interjecting comments on his sexual infatuation with Robert Creeley and how this pissed off Creeley’s wife. He tells us of Wieners’s time spent in and out of various asylums, his shock treatments and awful nightmares, and how he experimented with peyote and “loco weed,” which makes you lose your memory and then your mind. “He had been over the abyss before,” Ginsberg says and pauses. “There’s a thread of Marlene Dietrich glamor in Wieners’s poetry.”

He describes Wieners’s trips to New York to do poetry readings. “Sometimes he would just read one,” Ginsberg recalls. “He’d read one, sit down and wait until they applauded and he was called back onto the stage. Then he’d get up and read another, then go sit back down. Sometimes he would read the gossip columns as poetry. He wrote some of his poetry under the nom de plume Jackie O.”

Class ends too soon. “For next week think about Kerouac and vowel delicacy, meditation and poetics,” he cries out.

April 5

Tonight we’re in yet another classroom—a cramped but bright little space with many more charts than students, so people are fanned out all over the room, mostly lingering in the back. This seems to annoy Ginsberg, who insists, “Come closer, come closer, I don’t want to yell.” We pull our chairs up in a circle and surround him like disciples.

First time I ever heard anything about Buddhism was Kerouac crooning the Buddha refuge vows; he was singing these, crooning them like Frank Sinatra.
“What was the face you had before you were born?” Ginsberg asks. “That question, the theme of a Zen poem, is the heart of Beat poetry. It could be called the ‘golden ash’ school, as Kerouac said, ‘A dream already ended, the golden ash of dream.’”

“Has anyone ever heard of the Paramita Sutra!” he asks. Everyone shakes their head no.

Someone jokes, “Isn’t that like the Kama Sutra?” The class giggles.

“This is the basis of much Eastern thought, particularly in the Buddhist world through Indo-China, Burma, Ceylon, Tibet and China itself. This is a translation by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, a Zen master from San Francisco who was a big deal in the fifties and sixties. It was tinkered with by myself and a Tibetan lama to make it maybe a little clearer. Generally it’s chanted in a monotone, so I’ll chant it.”

Ginsberg chants the Paramita Sutra in a strangely pretty monotone.

“First time I ever heard anything about Buddhism was Kerouac crooning the Buddha refuge vows; he was singing these, crooning them like Frank Sinatra.” Ginsberg, with his eyes downcast sings the refuge vows, repeating them three times.

He describes the four vows of the bodhisattva then chants them for us. This is all to prepare us for Kerouac. Of the books On The Road, Visions of Cody and Dr. Sax, all published in a three-year period, Ginsberg believes that Visions Of Cody contains some of his best writing. “By then he had discovered his method of spontaneous writing. He’d written the huge novel On The Road and had rethought it. He decided he would do it even better and bigger, by going back over the same characters, same plot, not making it a chronological narrative, but according to epiphanous moments. He’d write a series of discrete epiphanous moments, then string them together. Different experiences and moments popping up in whatever order would be the structure of the book. It wouldn’t have the linear quality of a regular novel, with a beginning, middle, end. It would be as the mind sees a cubist painting. Cody Pomeray is Dean Moriarty is Neal Cassady, all based on a real person, all real happenings but fictionalized.

Jack Kerouac in Tangier, 1957.  Photo by  Allen Ginsberg, courtesy ofThomas Fisher Rare Book Library
Jack Kerouac in Tangier, 1957. Photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

“His next book, Dr. Sax, was written on marijuana, so it has an elaborate marijuana openness. Dr. Sax was the Shadow, a bogeyman, the shrouded stranger, the figure you see through your window at night who follows you down the street and makes you want to run home fast after it gets dark. He even made a drawing of him, a comic strip. Like science fiction, he emerges out of the dots of the Brooklyn waterfront; he comes up out of the water with his hair long and glistening in a shroudy cape, and goes to the Pyramid club and dances on the bar. So here’s the situation, little Jacky Kerouacky from Lowell, Mass. at the age of twelve or thirteen is befriended by Dr. Sax, the bogeyman. In the daytime he’s a football coach, but at night he puts on his shrouded cape and goes around the city performing miracles, and the big plot of this is that the millennium is approaching, the apocalypse, or Armageddon, and at Snake Hill in Lowell, Mass. the great snake of the world is going to emerge and devour the planet. This is a recording of Jack reading Dr. Sax made in 1961 on an old tape recorder at his house.”

It has a subtlety of both language and ear that comes from a virginal, or rather somewhat youthful marijuana fantasy.
Ginsberg pushes down the play button and Kerouac’s voice booms out of the battered tape recorder as if possessed. Despite the scratchy static his voice is clear and mesmerizing, his nasal New England accent rattling the room, his cackle electric. The whole class is rapt. Ginsberg’s face softens and gets a little dreamy-looking.

“That’s beautiful isn’t it?” He repeats and savors Kerouac’s sentences, biting the consonants and mouthing the vowels, emphasizing the oral qualities and rhythms. “It has a subtlety of both language and ear that comes from a virginal, or rather somewhat youthful marijuana fantasy.”

“The writing of Visions of Cody was influenced by Thomas Wolfe, Thomas Mann, Proust’s madeleine and tea, and Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. It has the extended sentences, panoramic awareness and interesting narrative like On the Road.” Ginsberg then reads us bits of Visions of Cody. He thankfully doesn’t try to sound like Kerouac, or read like him.

“These are sort of Whitmanic descriptions aren’t they?” he points out. “This is an experimental, exuberant book. It’s broken down into sections like jazz sessions. It might mean one sentence, or it might mean pages. Each section is written in a session of writing like a jazz musician. It’s like blowing until the energy is gone. Gertrude Stein also did this. She’d write it all out in a focus of attention. Kerouac didn’t always write it all down. It was mostly babbling in bars or under the Brooklyn Bridge. We used to walk under the Brooklyn Bridge and improvise a lot, trading lines, riffing poetry. There are a couple specimens between me and Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky. They’re not all that interesting,” Ginsberg confesses, but he shares them anyway.“‘Oh my baby tip my cup all my thoughts are open, no? all my doors are open.’ Burroughs and Kerouac did a collaborative novel back in the forties, set in the St. Louis zoo. It was called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.”

William S. Burroughs. Photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
William S. Burroughs. Photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

This recollection gets Ginsberg on to the subject of Burroughs. “Burroughs thinks in pictures—he spends long sessions just sitting at the typewriter, seeing images moving against the dark. He sits with his hands hovering over the typewriter thinking about hands pulling in nets in the dark like in Interzone. He does cut-ups and revises a lot. He follows his dreams, follows them visually like a movie camera and writes the images down. His material often comes from dreams or visual daydreams, and are filed according to subject matter in manila folders. All writing is spontaneous, you don’t know what the next word is going to be until you write it, unless you’re like the Russians who work it all out in their heads.”

Ginsberg ends class by reading Kerouac’s mea culpa in Visions of Cody. In the middle of it he nearly begins to weep, “I never thought it would be published.”

April 12

Ginsberg is eager to start class today. “We’ll begin with a recording of blues and haiku done by Kerouac in 1959 with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, two vanguard hard bop white saxophonists. Kerouac would pronounce the haiku and they would make up a little saxophone haiku. With the push of a button Kerouac is alive reciting haikus accompanied by slithery sax music that compliments the verse:

In my medicine cabinet

the winter fly

has died of old age.



“Nice huh?” Ginsberg nods appreciatively. “Did you notice his enunciation? It’s like real mature mouthing. I mentioned last week that the master of intonation and enunciation, Frank Sinatra, was actually an influence on Kerouac. Sinatra, I think, learned his technique from Billie Holiday. So the lineage is Billie Holiday through Sinatra to Kerouac.”

Drunk as a hoot owl

menulis surat

by thunderstorm.

“I’ve a series of poems of my own, which instead of calling haiku I’ve called ‘American sentences.’” The trouble with most of the traditional haiku is the way they’re synthesized into English; they’re not a complete sentence. They sort of hang in the air. The advantage of ‘In my medicine cabinet the winter fly has died of old age’ is it’s a straightforward active sentence with a subject, verb and object. It just goes tight into your head without that arty sound of translationese.

“The next recording is 1959, a time when Steve Allen, then a popular television personality, somewhat literate, really dug Kerouac and understood that he was a little better than the beatnik image given in the press. He actually made friends with him. He asked him to come into the recording studio. It was lucky that Steve Allen had that intuition because there are not so many recordings of Kerouac. He made some on his own home machine like the Dr. Sax that I played you last week, but that’s quite rare and not issued. There’s another I have of him reading Mexico City Blues, but he’s really completely drunk and the timing is not good, though it’s still him.



Jack Kerouac reading on The Steve Allen Show from DERTV on Vimeo.
“At the time of Mexico City Blues Jack was reading a book called the Buddhist Bible. Did we ever do sitting practice and meditation here?” he suddenly ask us.

“That might be interesting to do that. So you know what Kerouac’s talking about when he talks about Buddhism and meditation and all that crap. So if you will sit forward in your seats with your hands on your knees, sit up straight. The reason I say sit forward is to keep your spine straight so that you’re not slumping over, you’re erect. Okay, top of the head supporting heaven (so to speak), so it’s not quite marine military; the chin is down, somewhat more relaxed, eyeballs relaxed, so you’re not staring at any specific point, but letting the optical field hang outside of your skull, looking through your skull at the outside. We are led to believe a lie when we see with not through the eye, says William Blake, so you’re looking through the eye, with perhaps awareness of the periphery of the optical field.”

“We’re not leaving the world, we’re here; we’re just resting within the phenomenal world and appreciating it. Shoulders relaxed, nose in line with belly button, ears in line with your shoulder blades. Sitting forward actually on the edge of the chair is best, balanced on your feet, hands resting on thighs. Mouth closed, putting the tongue toward the teeth and roof of your mouth, eliminating the air pocket so you won’t be disturbed by an accumulation of saliva forcing you to swallow. Gaze tending toward the horizon, resting in space, or, if it’s too bright, at a forty-five degree angle down in front of you toward the floor. So the basic classical practice is paying attention to the breath leaving the nostril and following the breath until it dissolves, not controlling the breath, just any regular old natural breath that comes along will do. What you are adding is your awareness of the breath rather than any control. On the in breath you can let go of your observation, maybe check your posture, if you’re slumped you will tend to be daydreaming, if you are upright you will tend to be alert. So, let’s try that. Ignore other parts of the mind. When you notice you are thinking, label it thinking and take a friendly attitude toward your thoughts. That is the nature of the mind to think thoughts, but when you become aware of it observe it, acknowledge it, notice it, then return your attention back to the breath, and it will restore your focus.”

We sit on the edge of our seats, hands on our knees. If someone were to peek through the window in the door, they would see what I am sure looks like an army of zombies awaiting instructions. The room hums with silence. A smoker begins to hack, everyone else sits still, drawing deep breaths.

“Okay” Ginsberg says, disturbing our pleasant revery. “Mexico City Blues. In Chorus 63 Kerouac’s commenting on his own poetics, ‘Rather gemmy, Said the King of Literature Sitting on a davenport at afternoon butler’s tea.’” Ginsberg guffaws, the class laughs too. Ginsberg’s reading it in a very funny high-tone sniffy British voice. “Rather gemmy hmmm…always thought these sonnets of mine were rather gemmy as you say, true perfect gems of lucid poetry, poetry being what it is today, rather gemmy…’

Jack died, I believe, sitting in a chair verbally sketching the action on a TV quiz program. Making a little prose poem sketch of what was going on.
“It’s sort of like a midtown intellectual ninny or somebody reading The New Yorker,” he says. “Kerouac was really a master of camp. Very few people realize that a lot of Kerouac is campy voices, or getting into other people’s heads, very common archetypal people like a New Yorker reader, or Burroughs, or W. C. Fields, very often he goes into W. C. Fields mode.”

“Kerouac is often accused of being naive macho but this is very sophisticated camp he’s laying down.” Ginsberg then reads Chorus 74, which he recites in a lockjawed English accent he confesses is Gore Vidal’s.

“I think Jack had slept with Gore Vidal by this time, or so Gore Vidal said. Why, I don’t know. Kerouac wasn’t really gay, but on the other hand I think he dug Vidal as a sort of ultra-sophisticated person and wanted some of it to rub off, or maybe it was just drunken lust, but I think it was more a sort of envious inquisitiveness and curiosity and amusement.”

Jack Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky horsing around on the beach in Tangier, 1957. Photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
Jack Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky horsing around on the beach in Tangier, 1957. Photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

Ginsbeg starts the 64th Chorus, “‘I’d rather die than be famous,” he reads, then mutters, under his breath, “fat chance.”

He moves on to another point about Visions of Cody. “The first forty-two pages are a series of little sketches. A friend, Ed White, who studied architecture at Columbia when Kerouac was hanging around there in 1948-1949, told him what he ought to do is go out with a pencil, a sketch pad and make verbal sketches just like painters make sketches, little quick sketches, little salient lines, to capture the motif or subject, to capture the ephemera of the moment…sketch. It’s actually quite a good exercise. Sit in front of a window and sketch what you see within the frame of the window. It ain’t so easy, but it ain’t so hard either. So that’s your homework. Jack died, I believe, sitting in a chair verbally sketching the action on a TV quiz program. Making a little prose poem sketch of what was going on.”

April 19

Despite the overcast gray sky it feels like spring. The consensus is to have class out of doors. This evening there’s a journalist from The New Yorker in our class. She’s doing a piece for their upcoming fiction issue. Like some ragtag tribe following a prophet, we are led outside to the Leonard Stern business building. Ginsberg sits down in the lotus position on the walkway beneath an overhang and takes off his shoes. His socks are dark blue with no holes in the toes or heels. We sit around him on the pavement and grass. A few students try to imitate his pretzel-pose. He is the only one who looks remotely comfortable, especially when it begins to drizzle, forcing us all to huddle under the cement lip of the building where there’s a decidedly dank odor of urine and wet dog.

“This week or next I’d like to lay down the materials for Kerouac’s rules for writing—because that is essential to the writing aspect of the Beat Generation. It is so essential to understand in relation to earlier work like Gertrude Stein’s and see how it reflects back into Shakespeare.”

Ginsberg reads a few of Kerouac’s verses from Mexico City Blues, 104, “I’d rather be thin than famous,” and 110 and 111, which deal with Buddhism. “Is this making sense at all? Or is it gobbledygook? Is there anyone who feels this is totally unclear! I confess I don’t always know what the hell Kerouac is talking about in his poetry.”

“It seems like a totally different attitude than On the Road,” comments a guy in a baseball cap.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/orionpozo/6578408909
Jack Kerouac (left) and Allen Ginsberg read a book together, 1959. Photo by Orionpozo, Flickr

“Well this is five years later. In On the Road you’ll also find moments of perception of the whole phenomenal world as delusion also. In On the Road there’s one point were he’s coming out of Mexico or into Texas and he sees an old lonely shrouded stranger walking the road looking like death or God or a prophet and his prophetic word is, Wow. I am so glad we’re having this class out of the building so I have this vast space to point to—endless space, going beyond the sky, beyond what we can see, beyond the clouds, galaxies….Everybody has already accomplished their existing in vastness, or some form of eternity whether they know it or not; everybody is already a Buddha in infinity, already placed in the infinite, so it’s a question of whether they know they’re in the infinite, or they’re just stuck with their nose in a bank book, or somebody’s cunt or whatever….There’s no attainment because there’s no non-attainment. It’s already happened, it’s already here. The ordinary mind in the place of transcendental mind if you catch on, which is the purpose of sitting and the practice of meditation, to catch on to that. To catch on to the vastness of your own mind, to see that inside space is the same as outside space, so therefore everything is ignorant of it’s emptiness.”

As it continues to rain, Ginsberg discusses meditation at some length. Most of us are a bit befuddled.

“So when you meditate you’re trying not to think?” someone asks shyly.

"Tidak. You’re observing the thought, you observe the breath. Let’s do that for just a moment now. I was going to do it inside, but now that we’ve got the open space….I don’t know how comfortable you can get. It doesn’t require a straight back. Just relax your mind, and maybe focus attention on the out breath, out through the nose if you can, unless you’ve got problems…Follow your breath if you can, then as you find yourself thinking, or conceptualizing, notice it, touch on it, like anger when you notice it; it dissolves, then you’re back here in the space where you are, and then latch onto your out breath again, which should keep your mind here in this space until it drifts again. So it’s a question of observing your thought, rather than stopping it. Trying to stop your thought is only another thought. You can go into an infinite regress of thought. The only way is to actually switch your attention to the breath, become conscious of breath and soon your mind is out there in space. The formula is mixing breath with space, mixing mind with breath, mixing mind with space. Let’s go for four minutes.”

We sit up straight. I remember to think of balancing heaven on the top of my head. We close our eyes, and breathe deeply through our noses, trying to filter out the yipping dogs and the chatter of sorority girls.

We sit and meditate, some of us more deeply than others. The journalist from The New Yorker falls deeply asleep, her mouth hanging gently agape. She doesn’t rouse herself until a good fifteen minutes have passed. Ginsberg looks amused and a little annoyed.

To wrap up Kerouac we look at a handout, composed by Kerouac in his own unique shorthand, perhaps intended as a letter.

Belief Technique For Modern Prose a List of Essentials

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house

4. Be in love with yr life

5. Something that you feel will find its own form

6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

7. Blow as deep as you want to blow

8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind

9. The unspeakable visions of the individual

10. No time for poetry but exactly what is

11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog

16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye

17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea

19. Accept loss forever

20. Believe in the holy contour of life

21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better

23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning

24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form

27. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness

28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

29. You’re a Genius all the time

30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

As ever, Jack

April 26

“How many of you write some form of open verse? Most of you. Well, for you kids who want to write it there are some rules and regulations. Now, Robert Frost, he made one notorious comment that writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net. And I think T. S. Eliot was quoted as saying no verse is totally free. Ezra Pound has endless suggestions for experimenting with verse forms. William Carlos Williams’s effort was to find an ‘American measure’ as he called it, or a variable measure. Nobody seems to know what that is. So at one point or another I began toting up all the different considerations that might be weighted in the balance in laying out your verse lines on the page, and I’d like to go through some of them. Does anybody know Marianne Moore’s method of composition of the stanza? Well, you know her stanzas are kind of cute, like butterfly wings, or very irregular, but they all have some kind of shape when you look at them, like the famous poem ‘Poetry’ which begins, ‘I, too, dislike it….’ Let’s look at that poem.”

Ginsberg sighs in exasperation, ‘Oh man, how can I teach if you’re all spaced out.’
It becomes apparent no one in class has a Marianne Moore book with them. A few people are lugging their Norton anthologies of modem poetry, but most of the class is either empty-handed or have brought their Kerouac books. According to our “Survey of Historical Poetics” we are to be looking at Post-literate Oral Tradition: Preacher, Spirituals, Hymns, Blues, Calypso, improvisation; Signifying Monkey, Rap, African-American and Caribbean poetics, Bop. What book should one presume to bring to class for “Signifying Monkey?” The class has been proceeding organically, for want of a better word, growing and evolving along the ecstatic tributaries of Ginsberg’s passions and obsessions. There is no schedule. From week to week we have no idea what he is going to do, this free-associative format can be confusing, but it’s also exciting.

Ginsberg sighs in exasperation, “Oh man, how can I teach if you’re all spaced out.”

“You said this week we were doing Kerouac,” someone offers in our defense.

“We’re not doing Kerouac.”

“We just never know,” says a nervous-looking poet who gnaws his pencils.

“Okay…I just wish you would always bring your fucking books,” he says ruefully, “because I’m trying to improvise to some extent and have it real rather than just a rote thing.”

Allen Ginsberg in Washington D.C., 1970. Photo by Thomas Evans
Allen Ginsberg in Washington D.C., 1970. Photo by Thomas Evans

Ginsberg begins to discuss the ways Marianne Moore constructed her verse and laid it out on the page. “The basic principle is that each verse, stanza to stanza, maintains the same number of syllables, or can be divided arbitrarily into syllables with no particular significance to the count of the syllables line by line except to make an interesting look, like a butterfly’s wing on the page; or there may be some counter rhythm the way the line runs.”

Ginsberg then gives a long explanation of how various poets lay their work out on the page according to syllables, accents, breath stop, units of mouth phrasing and division of mental ideas. In a burst of inspiration Ginsberg springs to his feet and goes to the blackboard.

“You might begin a poem on, uh, hair. Let’s do that. Let’s write a poem on…bald heads.” He turns to the board and begins to compose on the board, improvising aloud. He first writes “Bald Heads.”

My own with a fringe of gray Corso’s mop of salt and pepper Eisenhower’s dome

“Now something just occurred to me relating to Eisenhower, so I’ll put it over here on the board. That will lead on to other skulls,

Alas Poor Yorick Nixon’s skull-to-be

“Do I want Yorick or first thought, best thought, or should I say alas poor Lincoln, or alas poor who?…Alas, poor Warren Harding!” He laughs as he scribbles it on the board. “And his girlfriend’s skull, or mistress. Harding was famous for having a mistress wasn’t he? Remember that? What was her name? I knew it once.”

and his Lilly’s skull Again my own

“You see, one thought comes from another thought, so that this opens up like a telescope along the line. What is the next thought I have? It is that movie star, Johnny Depp, has long hair, so I go back to the margin: Johnny Depp has long hair. You just diagram your thought out. So this is division of mental ideas.”

“No.” He scowls and erases the line about Johnny Depp, “That doesn’t work. Anyway these were the ideas that came to me while I was standing here at the blackboard. So I was laying them out, with a space in between each idea as it arose, maybe making a line. But if I had two thoughts coming together fast like Corso’s mop salt and pepper, I left them on one line. It is like diagramming your mind. But you have to focus your mind on the subject, exhausting all the variations that arise in your mind.” He turns to the board and reads his poem. “Not bad,” he shrugs. “So you can divide the lines the way they are spoken or the way you think them up. Sometimes it’s simultaneous and identical, sometimes it might not be.”

“When you changed Yorick to Warren Harding, do you think that you lost any of the sort of electricity of your natural thought process?” someone asks.

“Maybe, but I think it was an even trade. Yorick, it’s too formulaic…I was on Eisenhower: Nixon and Warren Harding made it more common, universalized it in a way, unexpected. You were fresh from the drama of Eisenhower, Nixon, and Warren Harding is not very dramatic at all; he’s very ordinary, but it brings it back to the ordinary skull; so does his Lilly’s skull, his girlfriend’s skull…it means it’s everybody’s skull and that leads again to my own.”

“So is it a combination of a natural thought process and control?” the student asks.

“Well, it’s a natural thought process and then something quick, shrewd, swift.” Ginsberg laughs. “Spontaneity. I mean how did I get to Warren Harding? He rose up. So it’s sort of a nimble skill during the time of composition in making substitutions and hopping it up a little bit.”

“Is this how it really happens with you?” someone else asks incredulously.

“Yeah. I wouldn’t mind copying that down and having a little poem out of it. Some little magazine asks me for a poem, I could send them that ‘Bald Heads’.” Everyone laughs. “A little meditation on bald heads,” he shrugs and grins. We believe him.

Towards the end of class—after we have discussed the aesthetics of laying work out according to typographical topography, original notation, and pure chance—someone asks about Ginsberg’s punctuation.

“There are some dashes here and there. The first person to get rid of punctuation, the first modern poet was Apollinaire, who went over the proofs of his book which included the poem ‘Zone’ and eliminated all the punctuation to get it a little closer to his stream of thought. I tend not to punctuate too much. One thing I really avoid for some reason or another is being too finicky. I rarely use a semicolon in a poem, sometimes a colon, but a semicolon? I don’t get it. It just sounds like a lot of extra spaghetti. I don’t know exactly what spoken idiom or cadence would require a semicolon in actual speech. That’s my own prejudice. George Bush doesn’t like broccoli, and I don’t like semicolons. Maybe semicolons are good for you. Maybe semicolons help you avoid radiation sickness.

“Another matter we should look into is how to revise poems written in the principle of absolutely spontaneous verse. How do you revise poems? A total contradiction in terms.” Ginsberg chuckles gleefully. He takes out the handout we received the first day. Things are actually coming full circle.

Fourteen Steps for Revising Poetry

1. Conception

2. Composition

3. Review it through several people’s eyes

4. Review it with eye to idiomatic speech

5. Review it with eye to the condensation of syntax (blue pencil and transpose)

6. Check out all articles and prepositions: are they necessary and functional?

7. Review it for abstraction and substitute particular facts for reference (for example: “walking down the avenue” to “walking down 2nd Avenue”)

8. Date the composition

9. Take a phrase from it and make up a title that’s unique or curious or interesting sounding but realistic

10. Put quotations around speeches or referential slang “so to speak” phrases.

11. Review it for weak spots you really don’t like, but just left there for inertial reasons.

12. Check for active versus inactive verbs (for example: “after the subway ride” instead of “after we rode the subway”)

13. Chop it up in lines according to the breath phrasing/ideas or units of thought within one breath, if any

14. Retype

Ginsberg explains, “Well, you have the conception of the poem, then the composition of the poem, which we just had. Then the next thing I generally do is read it through a lot of different people’s eyes. I have a new book out. I spent several times reading it once with Burroughs’s eyes, once with Bob Dylan’s eyes, once through my stepmother’s eyes, various people’s. I see what will hook them into the poems and see what flaws the poems have according to people’s intelligence I am familiar with and which have been imprinted on me. For instance, reading my own poetry through Burroughs’s eyes I get much more cynical and much less tolerant of sentimentality. Reading it through Dylan’s eyes I’m wondering if it’s surprising enough, or if it’s pedestrian. Looking through Corso’s eyes I wonder if it’s condensed enough and tailored interestingly so that I’m not prosaic. Reading it through the eyes of the editorialist at The New York Times, I wonder does it make some political sense….Intuitively I end up reading my work through several hundred people’s skulls. It’s a way of accumulating a lot more intelligence than your own, because what you are doing, to the extent that you are sensitive to other people’s swiftness, and intelligence and sensitivity, is empathizing with them as you’re reading your own poems to improve them and figure out where your poems are weak. Take the highest intelligences you know, the people you most admire and read it through their eyes. The people you really dig, the people you really want to please or communicate to, and then go through it with an eye to could you say this out loud to your mother or your fiend without sounding poetic, or arch, or literary or artificial? and without sounding like you are copping a poetic attitude of some sort. Review the whole thing through idiomatic speech. Can you say it without embarrassment either to an audience, or your best friend or to your mommy? Intense emotionally charged fragments of idiomatic speech people won’t question, but emotionally charged moments that sound highfalutin or literary or hand-me-down literary, people will suspect the genuineness and sincerity of it. So review it with an eye to idiomatic speech and that will correct the whole attitude of the poem. Then the next is condensation of syntax. Let’s look at my poem,” he says hopping up and going back to the blackboard, this time with an eraser. He snuffs out the words “with a” from the first line.

“‘My own gray fringed’—that’s better. I don’t need all those syllables.”

“‘Corso’s mop salt and pepper’ that’s impeccable, ‘Eisenhower’s dome,’ ‘Nixon’s skull to be’ that’s all right, ‘Alas, Poor Warren Harding’ do I need and there? Nah—comma his Lilly’s skull I don’t know that I need again? Maybe dash my own. So I would review it. Do I need all the articles, the conjunctions, connectives, the’s, them’s, of’s….Of particularly, you can often get rid of the of which is more French. You examine every single syllable, especially the small ones, the monosyllables that have no substantive information, and see if you can transpose and reconnect things a little more solidly without the extra articles and particles. Don’t reduce it to Chinese laundry talk where you eliminate all the articles, you don’t want to do that….”

“Next, I generally review for abstraction. Nailing the thing down, grounding the generalizations. Very often generalizations are like a blank in a form that you can fill in.”

“Okay, next week is our last class, we’ll do the other steps. And be prepared to do Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind!’”

Allen Ginsberg in Tangier, 1957. Photo courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library
Allen Ginsberg in Tangier, 1957. Photo courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

May 3

I wondered if class might start off with some acknowledgment that this is our final class, or perhaps some hash brownies and jug wine. Instead class begins in a pedestrian way with Ginsberg passing out copies of open form poems. He takes roll, of course, then launches into the texts.

A guy walks in late. Ginsberg in typical fashion asks the latecomer, “What’s your name? Are you in the class?” The guy has been in the class since the first day.

Ginsberg takes us through the process of how poets such as Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and William Carlos Williams lay their poems on the page. He then eagerly passes out copies of Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.”

“There was one other thing that I wanted to do that we hadn’t done, which was to do a choral recitation of this poem. My suggestion is that we read it together. Pay attention to the punctuation, so that where you have a comma, a colon, a parenthesis, an exclamation point, a period that indicates a pause, you take a pause and breathe so that we will all be doing it at the same time. We’ll do everything at the same time or it will be chaos…with some people stopping and some people going on. The run-on lines, where there’s no punctuation, read as run-on lines. But where there’s punctuation, please observe it as a sign of breath. This poem is about the subject of breath, or wind. He’s asking the west winds to enter him and let the spirit of the west wind be his spirit, meaning the breath of the west wind be his own breath, and that using the breath of that wind and his own breath make the poem immortal, so that other people after he’s dead can chant the same poem using the same periods of breath that he employs in the poem itself. The subject is spirit or breath, (spirit means breathing in Latin), his observation is of his breath, the means of vocalization is breath, and if you do that you can get high, you can get a little buzz out of this poem, quite literally if you follow his breaths. It’s like taking a pill…where you internalize the actual breathing that Shelley has set out for you. All you have to do is follow his notational instructions and you’ll get a hyperventilated buzz.” Ginsberg laughs. “So we’ll just do it all together. One two three…’O wild West wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being….’”

We start off in sync and go in and out of it as the poem progresses. I feel decidedly lightheaded, and a little giddy. It’s not exactly a party trick, but it is a pleasant experience. As soon as we finish people begin clapping.

“Well, I got a buzz!” He laughs. “It’s really a terrific piece. To get to, ‘Drive my dead thoughts over the universe/Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!’ you have to do some abdominal breathing to get that whole line through, because that’s a long, long breath. How many have read Shelley?” A couple of students grudgingly raise their hands. “Well, how was it?” he asks the way one might ask a first time drug-user how the trip was. Judging by the laughter and murmurs the experiment was a success.

“Better late than never, I guess,” he sighs, “Shelley is supposed to be the acme of romantic expostulation in poetry.”

Seeing how turned on everybody is by the reading he launches in on Hart Crane’s The Bridge, focusing particularly on the “Atlantis” section, which he describes as “one of the great rhapsodies in the English language.” He reads it aloud with gusto. After he finishes, his face is flushed, his eyes gleaming.

Hart Crane, photographed by Walker Evans in 1930. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Hart Crane, photographed by Walker Evans in 1930. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“It tends to rise then come to a plateau, then drop a bit in tone, then rise again, then drop a bit in tone, then rise all the way up to a sort of prayer in ecstasy and then kind of come in an orgasmic series of breaths, then a coda, or postcoitus treatise, the end. Basically an iambic pentameter eight verse stanza.”

The class sits in amused shock. Did he say “come?” Perhaps we appear unconvinced or maybe Ginsberg is just enjoying himself, but he rereads what I imagine to be the “come” part with great drama—“white seizures!” he cries out, then says professorially, “So you get some kind of power breath there, like in the ‘Ode to the West Wind.’ It’s one of the best pieces of music of this century, I think, in terms of a machine that begins to levitate and finally take off. I think probably to some extent The Bridge is almost a substitute for Eros in a way…Ultimately, I think, this mouthing is a variety of cocksucking. It’s the same emotional devotional adorational impulse displaced into musical language. Crane was gay and also into sailors (like Genet, sort of), but this is almost the acme of sublimated eros into poetry. When this was published, his good friends, Yvor Winters and Allen Tate, both academic poets, objected that there was no object that could contain his emotions, that it was an idealism that had no location…so much adoration, so much emotion, so much buildup, so much orgasmic mouthing—so to speak—that they denounced the poem as a great failure. It kind of broke Crane’s heart. He found himself not only a pariah, but as a gay in a time when to be gay was to be somewhat of a pariah in those circles of academic poets who were all tending toward Eliotic conservatism and undemonstrative cool poetry. That general rejection of his feelings was one of the elements that I think led him to jump off the rear of an ocean liner and drown himself two years later. I also think the constriction of the form didn’t allow him full play of all of the emotions that he kept in a kind of emotional and mental prison. I think he would have survived better if he had opened up the form and taken in more detail like William Carlos Williams. He certainly was a great ear, a great poet, and I think that The Bridge is one of the great long poems of the century, certainly a big influence on my own work and Kerouac and other writers. One of the most exciting pieces of music in the first fifty to sixty years. Pound’s “Uzura” has some of that excitement, and so do the Cantos, and Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill.” You have to go back to when T. S. Eliot is kidding with ‘OOO, that Shakespeherian Rag—/It’s so elegant/So intelligent’…that has a little bit of the rhythmical excitement in it. You get it in other languages, you might get it in some blues, you might get it in Ma Rainey in that long extended spiritual breath, but it’s rare, and that is what Shelley is noted for particularly. You get it in Kerouac certainly, and I try to imitate it in the “Moloch” section of Howl.”

“It is an aspect of poetry that really people don’t pay too much attention to. Of course the sound poets do. You’ll find it in Dada poetry and in Bob Dylan. Actually “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” has a buildup like that.” Ginsberg recites the song from memory.



“So this is, you know, our last meeting—I had started last time on the fourteen steps for revising and left midway at number seven, and so I’ll just say a few more things about that then leave some time open for conversation.”

“Wherever you find yourself generalizing or in abstraction, you can examine it for generalization. If you can tell the difference between particularity and generalization, if you can tell the difference between minute particulars and vague reference, it might do to check for elements that have no special pictorial value or special sound value, just general moo, moo, moo. Of some suggestion of smell, like Resnikoff’s ‘a pot of fish hissed and bubbled on the stove the smell of the fish filled the basement’ or some sort of tactile, sight, smell, sound, taste, touch anything palpable. You can find a lot of Latinate words that have no sensory suggestion. They’re like blanks in a bureaucratic form to be filled in with particulars. What were you really referring to when you spoke of being lonesome in the city? What city? On the roof? Where in your bedroom? Can you particularize a little?

“I myself date compositions so that I know where the origin was, when I first thought something up; if I work on it a long time, I’ll put a date showing the finish. If it’s your ambition to be a great poet, you’ll want to help your scholars and professors a hundred years from now. They’re all lazy. If you date it yourself, they won’t have to shuffle through all your papers. Dating your work means there’ll be a greater accumulation of term papers on your work, masters theses, graduate theses, which means that you’ll get more attention in the future. So, if you want to be immortal, date your mortality.”

The class laughs, not sure if he really means what he is saying.

“The question of getting a title. Usually I go through a poem and I find two interesting words that combined together might give the gist of the poem. The title actually begins to magnetize or get people into your poem.

“Then one interesting thing, I found really useful is that in reading my work aloud I’ll tend to hasten through parts that are not quite so interesting till I get to the meat of the poem, to the parts I really like. If you can detect that difference, you might examine the weaker parts and perhaps eliminate them altogether. If they bore you, they might bore other people too. It might be a little phrase, a whole sentence, or even a section of the poem that isn’t as good…so why not just eliminate that and get to the point fast? Williams’s phrase for that was ‘one active phrase is more valuable than pages of inert writing.’ Reading aloud is a good bullshit detector. I read poetry aloud a lot. I may read a poem a hundred times before it’s published in a book, and I found after many years that was a really good way of editing. So get rid of the cool parts and leave yourself a hot fragment, like in Sappho. Readers might never get to your great fragment because they got stuck with the first ten lines.

“So now the door is open—does anybody have anything they want to talk about, as we are in our last breaths here?”

“Why would you want to be immortal?” asks one of the boys who periodically shows up in class.

“Remember that line from Zukofsky,” Ginsberg replies. “‘Nothing is better for being eternal nor so white as white that dies in the day.’ Well, if the purpose of your poetry is to assuage your suffering or relieve the sufferings of others, then you want to build a machine which will operate after your death. In a way you could say that Poe did that by liberating consciousness once and for all to experience its own paranoia and feedback, and to experience guilt and conscience, to articulate it so clearly that everybody thereafter would have their minds opened up. What is the purpose of Christ laying down the Golden Rule, or the Sermon on the Mount, of Buddha or Allah? Their function is not so much that they are immortal but that their spirit, their gentility, generosity, openness can be more widespread. Poetry is not an ego trip that preserves your ego in the amber of the poem, but rather that you’ve made your own ego transparent, conquered it. Your battle against selfishness begins with yourself, to enlighten others to the techniques of liberating yourself from your ego.”

“In Yeats’s books it is really interesting to see the progression of his mind from beginning to end, and how he ends up with Crazy Jane and very spare things. His last poem actually turns out to be, ‘How can I…My attention Fix…on Russian or on Spanish politics?…But Oh that I were young again And held her in my arms.’ the final thought that he wanted to leave behind. It’s interesting to know that’s where he concluded and to see how he got there. It’s interesting to know in what part of Keats’s life, what sequence those poems came on, how he developed and at what point he got to that last little poem “This Living Hand.” Do you know that? It’s to Fanny Brawne, his girlfriend, and he knew he was dying. It’s really kind of uncanny. It’s one of Gregory Corso’s favorite poems. Well, when you know it’s the last poem it adds a dramatic flair, as well as a kind of ghoulish presence.”

Someone calls out, “How do you reconcile your mind-writing slogan—first thought best thought—with rewriting?”

"Saya tidak tahu. As I get older, I get more schizophrenic about it,” Ginsberg confesses, then quotes Whitman, “‘Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.’ The answer is embedded in what I said before about dating. If the poem, the original skeleton of the poem, retains it’s integrity, that’s it.”

“Kerouac allows for revision, for certain afterthoughts or mistakes. I don’t feel as sure of myself as Kerouac, and maybe his assurance came from his vow not to return to the poem. So that it pushed him to the limit during the time of writing, but I don’t feel the same absoluteness, or courage, and yet I like it in him. And what is the first thought? The first thought isn’t necessarily the first thought you notice, it’s the first thought you sub-notice. People edit their awareness of what is underneath their minds.”

“I remember when I was a boy in grammar school my brother and I had a chemistry set. One of the mysterious miracles of grammar school chemistry was sodium. If it’s pure, a little fragment of sodium in water fizzes, burns, gives off hydrogen which will pop, or explode if you put a match next to it. We had a whole pound of sodium which we kept in a bucket of kerosene. While cleaning the chemistry set, I got some water in the kerosene. My father had to carry the whole thing steaming and bubbling out of the house just before it exploded. Why that arose in my mind right now, I don’t know. I was looking for a first thought…an early significant thing that I remember at least once a month, maybe three times a month, because it was a moment that I got away with something. I was lucky. I could have blown the house apart.”

“If I wanted to write it as a poem I might want to recall how the water got into the bucket. I think it was some stupid attempt to clean up the whole pantry shelf where we kept all our chemicals. It would pertain to the first thought. Second thought would be, Young kids do foolish things around the house. Third or fourth would be the generalization: Parents are always there to rescue their kids who do foolish things around the house. Or something wittier like, Wise father puts out the son’s fire. First thought does not necessarily mean don’t correct at all, it just means that your model should be the interior form that you glimpse, rather than the superficial level of mind. If the mind is shapely the art will be shapely.”

With that final pronouncement the semester formally ends. There’s an awkwardness. No one knows what to do—everyone seems to be waiting for something else to happen. Finally someone calls out, “What about our paper, our poetry?”

“Oh yeah, yes,” Ginsberg answers loudly as though he had almost forgotten to collect them. “I’ll take them all now if you have them,” he says clearing a space on the edge of the cluttered desk for the proliferation of colored folders and slim sheaves of cream-colored paper. Students linger around the desk, hands extending books to be signed, notebooks to be autographed.

“Your name again?” Ginsberg asks with a hint of embarrassment, as he signs his name, then doodles inside the flyleaf, a sun and a crying hot dog. A few students dawdle, backs pressed up against the wall like they’re waiting to be asked to dance. Slowly the class filters out, and Ginsberg bundles up his books and papers. As he starts to shuffle out of class, one last student reaches out to touch his elbow.Baca juga: contoh plakat
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