Full of mis-spoken words, forgotten names and other sloppiness comes annotated thoughts (squished through time and space) for shut-ins, drifters and sufferers amidst erstwhile festive melancholy times of disruption and tumult, including poems – read alongside mosquito and rooster sounds – by:
riffs about John Lennon and Ono Yoko and Marshall McLuhan
musical riffs by Chet Baker Quartet with Russ Freeman
Plus name checks for Neal Cassady, Jello Biafra, Dave Madden, Allen Ginsberg’s holy cock, dine and dash, Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Alan Watts, Beat Museum, City Lights, Grateful Dead, Beat Museum, City Lights Bookstore, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jim Robson and more… (note to self: add links).
You can hear the first recorded reading of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl,’ from February, 1956 at Portland’s Reed College. The recording sat dormant in Reed’s archives for over fifty years until scholar John Suiter rediscovered it in 2008.
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Leaving the town, we were caught in a rainstorm and took a bus to Bath. Then, hitchhiking toward London, we were unsuccessful until Ginsberg tried using Buddhist hand signals instead of thumbing; half a minute later a car stopped. Riding through Somerset he talked about notation, the mode he says he learned from Kerouac and has used in composing his enormous journals; he read from an account he’d made of a recent meeting with the poets Yevtushenko and Voznesensky in Moscow, and then, looking up at a knot in a withered oak by the road, said, “The tree has cancer of the breast … that’s what I mean …”
Two weeks later he was in Cambridge for a reading and I asked him to submit to this interview. He was still busy with Blake, roaming and musing around the university and countryside in his spare moments; it took two days to get him to sit still long enough to turn on the tape recorder. He spoke slowly and thoughtfully, tiring after two hours. We stopped for a meal when guests came—when Ginsberg learned one of them was a biochemist he questioned him about viruses and DNA for an hour—then we returned to record the other half of the tape.
That Kerouac himself provides all the narration assures us we’re watching a movie fully committed to the Beat mindset. “Early morning in the universe,” he says to set the opening scene. “The wife is gettin’ up, openin’ up the windows, in this loft that’s in the Bowery of the Lower East Side of New York. She’s a painter, and her husband’s a railroad brakeman, and he’s comin’ home in a couple hours, about five hours, from the local.”
Kerouac’s ambling words seem at first like one improvisational element of many. In fact, they provided the production’s only element of improvisation: Frank and company took pains to light, shoot, script, and rehearse with great deliberateness, albeit the kind of deliberateness meant to create the impression of thrown-together, ramshackle spontaneity. But if the kind of careful craft that made Pull My Daisy seems not to fit within the anarchic subcultural collective persona of the Beats, surely the premises of its story and the consequences thereof do. The aforementioned brakeman brings a bishop home for dinner, but his exuberantly low-living buddies decide they want in on the fun. Or if there’s no fun to be had, then, in keeping with what we might identify as Beat principles, they’ll create some of their own. Or at least they’ll create a disturbance, and where could a Beat possibly draw the line between disturbance and fun?
AG: These specimens in American poetry of open-form verse are not that easy to find. Even after (Ezra) Poundand(William Carlos) Williams – 1905 or so – most American poets continued writing in the more archaic, nineteenth-century, iambic patterns. And when I first discovered free verse, working with William Carlos Williams, it was an adventure going out and trying to find poets in America or England who had written in an open form and had done it well (not just sloppy free verse, but poets who had some kind of electricity in the line).
But a big thick book of open form verse like this is hard to find by a great writer. There aren’t that many. I mean, see if you can think of that many? Maybe after 1950 you can find a large body of work by many poets, like Robert Duncanor Denise Levertov or myself or Gary Snyder or Philip Whalen. But (D.H.) Lawrence is rare because there is less of a rigid artistic idea as you might find in (Ezra) Pound or (Gary) Snyder. His really is open form verse, loose verse. It really is a novelist writing poetry with his ear and with his mind but he ‘s not really trying to arrange the lines by any archaic order, or any new invented order like William Carlos Williams. It’s just open speech, open loose talk. Loose talk. And because of that it has a vivacity and vividness and clarity and personality that my own work or Snyder’s doesn’t, because ours is a little literary – or Duncan, say, or Pound. Here is just a guy – a man, or an intelligent man – spouting off.
My teaching technique could shock you undoubtedly and certainly get me kicked out of anywhere else or not be countenanced, I bring in bums from North Beach andtalk about marijuana and Whitman, precipitate great emotional outbreaks and howls of protest over irrational spontaneous behavior—but it does actually succeed in communicating some of the electricity & fire of poetry and cuts through the miasmic quibbling about form vs. content and does this phrase “work” and is that line “successful” and are all those “p & f” sounds too intense, etc.The woman who runs this program is a Prof. Ruth Witt-Diamant who has dug my work—there appears to be, according to Rexroth, a semi major renaissance around the west coast due to Jack and my presence—and Rexroth’s wife said he’d been waiting all his life hoping for a situation like this to develop. The thing I do in class is get them personally involved in what they’re writing and lambaste anything which sounds at all like they’re writing “literature” and try to get them to actually express secret life in whatever form it comes out. I practically take off my clothes in class to do it.