Monday, July 27, 2015

Meditation Advice

                        [Kobun Chino Roshi, sitting Sesshin at Naropa, July 1989. photo.c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]

August 14 1978, Allen Ginsberg’s class on Meditation and Poetics continues. [Editorial note (via Randy Roark) – “The class begins with taking class roll and discussing credit requirements and other business. About mid-way through, the tape-machine begins malfunctioning and an indeterminate amount of the presentation (has been consequently) lost, as a result]

AG: Just to cover a little bit of meditation technicalities, which I may have said at one time or other. The purpose of having the eyes open is that you’re not checking out another universe, you’re just sitting normally in the middle of this one. So if the purpose of meditation is purposeless, settling into where you are already, in this particular case, (particularly related to poetry), eyes open is preferable.

One trick related to the eyeballs is (to) relax them and not stare, and that means looking, as it were, through the window of the eyes, even perhaps aware of the surface of the eyeball, rather than fixing on an external universe. Not staring at the surface of your eyeball, but at least looking through it. If you’re at all experienced with peripheral vision, sitting of that nature might wind up relaxing sufficiently. So, not focusing on a center, there would be some even spread, including peripheral vision, if you’re wondering what to do with your eyeballs (to get technical about it).

The reason for straight back is that when you’re sitting up straight there is alertness and wakefulness, whereas when you’re leaning against a chair there’s a tendency to daydream. A formula oft-repeated is – twenty-five-percent attention to breath (in other words, you don’t get hung up on that like another thought). And twenty-five-percent attention to posture (As I sit, you may have noticed that, occasionally, I straighten up. That means I’ve been daydreaming. The daydreaming and the absence, the travel out of your body, so to speak, comes, generally, when you begin to lose attention and you begin to droop. When you wake up, there’s that straightness again). Twenty-five-percent attention to thoughts (in the sense of recognition or acknowledgement) and twenty-five-percent nothing (open attitude – blank).

(It’s) not a question of fighting off thought-forms, it’s a question of acknowledging them, recognizing them, taking a friendly attitude, and passing on out through the breath again. The old formula back from Gampopa’s time, was making breath with space, mixing mind with breath, thus mixing mind with space. Basically, just sitting. Shikantaza is the Japanese – just sitting. There’s a little bit more than just sitting because you’re making a little bit of effort to wake up occasionally and go back out on the breath.

So far, we’ve dealt with definition and focus and some extension of awareness into space, and ) (this is) a good reminder of that spaciousness (because this sort of sitting, or this kind of awareness, which is both poetic and meditative, does tend to lead to what has been called “panoramic” perspective. You do become aware of yourself after a while, just as this (moment now), sitting in the center of the room all around you, and above the room, the sky, and all around, Boulder, and all around, (the) Rocky Mountain region, and Colorado, America, North America, Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Solar System,  (the) Galaxy… In other words, you’re just sitting in the middle of an infinite space. And I’ve heard it suggested that, occasionally, you can remind yourself (of) that.. that you can say, “I, Allen Ginsberg, am sitting in the middle of (the) Casey High School cafeteria, up in the hill(s) in Boulder (Colorado)…” .And just go on out until you hit the end of space. Just, simply, to come back to awareness of where you are, actually, (which is an old poetry trick as well). In the "Plutonian Ode", I used that simply as a poetic image – “this Ode completed on the fourteenth day of the sixth month revolving on Planet Earth, revolving around the Solar System year after the Dominion of the last God, nineteen hundred and seventy eight, on Planet Earth, in a galaxy, in a solar system in a galaxy, in the middle of space”.

This leads out to a sort of infinite emptiness, or empty infinity, occasionally, or a sense of spaciousness so vast that there’s no roof to the mind. And that does tend toward some kind of glimpse of such great spaciousness, that there is nobody there, or at least it’s space through which we’re passing. As (Chogyam Trungpa) pointed out, that’s somewhat of a Boy Scout notion (that is, there’s a certain amount of effort involved there to realize the emptiness), and, after a great deal of experience with that, it’s no longer (necessary) to try to practice it consciously, because it becomes somewhat second-nature. Then the human practice becomes actually being in your body, aware of what you are and doing what you’re doing – looking at what you look, hearing what you hear, tasting what you taste here, smelling what you smell, touching what you touch mindfully, and thinking what you think. So it’s just returning to yourself and doing what you are to begin with, which is the Vajrayana sphere, (or, as in the haiku, the personal comment) Your own somewhat-cleaned-up ego. Your self, actually,intervening in the world, living in the world and intervening in it. So the poetry we’ll deal with touches on that mood, of the Vajra indestructible self.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Ginsberg-Ferlinghetti Letters

The phrase is, of course, Emerson's, writing to congratulate Walt Whitman

" I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely of fortifying and encouraging.."

This greeting was echoed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti after hearing Allen's legendary Gallery Six reading of "Howl" in October of 1955 -  "I GREET YOU AT THE BEGINNING OF A GREAT CAREER [stop] WHEN DO I GET MANUSCRIPT OF "HOWL" [stop] LAWRENCE (FERLINGHETTI) CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE.  His telegram (itself, a classic encomium in American Literature), opens this intimate, revealing, "fortifying and encouraging",
collection - the (selected) Ginsberg-Ferlinghetti correspondence, edited by Bill Morgan and just published recently by City Lights   

From the back-cover blurb:
"In 1969, Allen Ginsberg wrote to his friend, fellow poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Alas, telephone destroys letters!". Fortunately, however, by then, the two had already exchanged a treasure trove of personal correspondence, and more than any other documents, their letters - intimate, opinionated, and action-packed  - reveal the true nature of their lifelong friendship and creative relationship. Collected here for the first time, they offer an intimate view into the range of artistic vision and complementary sensibilities that fueled the genius of their literary collaborations. Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were two of the twentieth century's most influential literary rebels, and their correspondence documents a time when both were rising in the peak of their notoriety and international fame, traveling, writing, publishing and performing their poetry during a period of unprecedented social and cultural experimentation and upheaval. The majority of the letters collected here  have never before been published, and they span the period from 1955 until Ginsberg's death in 1997, offering an evocative portrait of an inspiring and enduring relationship."

"Dear Allen - Back from Nica + 10th Anniversaro of Sandanist Rev…. You should have been there. Great stuff going on. Love Lawrence"

Ah Sandinistas! - We would do well to look back on that pivotal time in Latin American political and cultural history (and U.S. political and cultural history!). Allen did indeed go down there (making an important visit (captured here in photos by Ilka Hartman) three years earlier, in 1986, and maintaining a consistent and prescient understanding and following of the situation; forthright and outspokenly critical of U.S. hypocrisy and manipulation (this, long before the revelations occured regarding the so-called "Iran-Contra affair"). 

[Allen Ginsberg with Ernesto Cardenal in Managua, Nicaragua, 1986 - Photograph by Ilka Hartman]

In an early visit (in 1982, at the Managua Poetry Festival), he had penned, alongside Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and the Sandinista's Minister of Culture, Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Cardenala joint-manifesto (the "Declaration of Three")  - "to (the) World's Writers", an appeal "for (the) Liberty of Nicaragua" - "We are three poets of very different countries...We don't want to see Nicaragua become a puppet in anyone's hands. At this moment we are witnesses that here in Nicaragua, which suffered so much under tyranny, misery and ignorance, there is an intent on the part of the people to defend their economic and intellectual independence. Nicaragua is a big experimental workshop for new forms of get-together wherein art plays a primordial role…." 

and in "Little Fish Devours The Big Fish", he expressed his deep and understandable concerns -  "When the troops/get their poop/at Fort Bragg/how to frag/ Sandinistas/ Leftist Nicas/or go bomb/Guatemalan/Indians.."  

Here's another one - from the late 60's - "Dear Allen, Dreamt last night you handed me a copy of the VILLAGE VOICE with complete POEM ON THESE STATES in it, about fifty pages of Voice pages. Not a bad idea for a first complete printing of it, I'm even dreaming genius publishing ideas, and it reminds me to tell you that I am ready to do it in Pocket Poets Series whenever you are…"
"The Fall of America: Poems of  These States 1965-1971" finally appeared in 1973, and garnered for Allen that year the U.S. National Book Award 

Also in that letter - " I am also wondering, what with your new singing career (sic), wouldn't you like to do a little (William) Blake edition with your music for the poems you have done. It would be lovely; but maybe you want to give the idea to some bigger publisher…"

[Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Unfinished Flag o fthe United States, 1988,  oil on canvas  51 1/2"" x 28]

And a postcard from 1990 -  "Dear Allen, I sent the original of the enclosed to you at Naropa  Anne (Waldman) to hold for you there. Curious what happened on stage that day of the sumi-brush event….After I asked you how to spell bodhi, "elephants fucking" flashed upon my brainpan…then you said it! - Love L"

                         [Allen Ginsberg & Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Photograph courtesy The City Lights Archves]

And a couple of postcards from Allen - from 24th August, 1976 :

"Returned home tonite & found your Aug 8 note in Pile of letters - I'll stay here [New York] till (I) go to Berlin with W.S.Burroughs  Sept 20 - Oct 5. Then w/ Peter (Orlovsky) Oct - Dec  4 [sic] retreat N(orth) Wisconsin sitting on breath all day & technical Void studies - Then open spare time Next Summer at Naropa  I will Teach one course "Literary History of the Beat Generation") Apprentices retyped most of Mind Breaths - ready  soon I hope - note to you - Louis died peaceful & Philosophic little Pain - Love -in haste - Allen 
[Yes, I have some nice conclusions]

and from November 18 1985: 

"Dear Larry, Arrived in Moscow with Arthur Miller & Inge (Photographer Wife) and haphazard delegation of scribblers. Frieda Lurie of Writers Union & Yevtushenko at airport hellos - going on to old ghetto city of VILNA for "Discussions" then back to Moscow where I'll stay two weeks & goof with translators. How was your long Paris summer? Write any poems too?) I've been seeing Alex Katz, N.Y.painter, sitting last month for his portrait, also F(rancesco) Clemente. I brought lots of books here from Subterraneans,[distribution company] lots of City Lites [sic] & Grey Fox includimg yr Poetry, Don't know where I'll visit but hope to settle down in Moscow and teach & work till December 15 - Love to Nancy (Peters), Philip Lamantia, Folks at store & God - As ever Allen Ginsberg

[William H Gass, Allen Ginsberg & Arthur Miller in an elevator in St Petersburg in the apartment building where Fyodor Dostoevsky once lived (part of the US delegation to the Soviet Union, 1985] 

The scattered materials featured above are only a random sampling from an extraordinary trove, expertly edited and shaped by Bill Morgan, in fact summoned into being by him

From his introduction:

"Ferlinghetti has always been reluctant to publish his own correspondence, so this volume marks a departure from that previous silence. It was only after repeated coaxing on the part of the editor that he agreed to allow their publication.." 

Beat scholars will be forever grateful.

Jake Marmer's early review of the book in the Chicago Tribune may be read here  
Katherine Duckworth on the City Lights blog - here 
The Poetry Foundation has further excerpts and photos - here

More reviews to follow

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 228

From the interesting collection - Literary Ephemera - 14 Postcards From Popular Authors:

 - "Dear Ed (White) - Sorry we keep missing each other, love to Justin. I have been occupied learning music, recording new original songs, collecting all my old recent poetry, returning from traveling. I just haven't had time to stop & renew nostalgia everywhere - fancied - see you one xmas or another soon I hope - Saw a little magazine with one of your letters of Jack [Kerouac]. I visited his mother and widow in St Petersburg this year, [1970] finally, & sang them Blake's Lamb & ended whatever paranoia was between us - (mostly Jack's Ghosts) - Love Allen"

Here's a pretty rare Ginsberg piece (the cover image is by Alan Aldridge) - "Ginsberg's famous reading in the basement of Better Books [London], recorded on a Ferrograph by Ian Sommerville. Limited edition of 99 copies (100 stated) - "The reading originated after Ed Sanders provided Ginsberg with Miles's name as manager of Better Books, a connection he followed up on his arrival from London from Prague in May 1965. The impromptu reading, though unannounced, was packed (the audience included Donovan, who provided the pre-reading entertainment, and Andy Warhol. Gerard Malanga, and Edie Sedgwick, in town on their way to Rome) and its success provided the catalyst for the Albert Hall reading. Jeff Nuttall later described it as "the first healing wind on a very parched collective mind" 

"Many of the poems Allen Ginsberg read at Better Books were introduced by him with comments on their nature. He introduced the reading bt saying, "What I will be reading from tonight since most everybody here is an editor of a little magazine or a friend, is caviar in a sense, which is to say writing that is not published and I do not know whether to publish because I do not know whether or not they are concerned. Also some poems written in the last five years and some months in Czechoslovakia and Poland". The first four poems on side (one) are described, "Most of these I'll be reading are writings from journals so are therefore not poems, they are writings, with the faults of writings rather than the perfection of poetry - Track (five) Vulture Peak is in India near where Buddha pronounced the Diamond Sutra and the Flower Sermon. Track (six) Perama is a small village outside of Piraeus near Athens, with a great many jukeboxes and Greek boys dancing to the jukeboxes, mostly Bazuki music which is the contemporary music of Greece. Track (seven) - There's a big beat group in Prague called The Olympic(s)… in Czechoslovakia, like in London, there are young beautiful blond kids, with long, long hair down to their shoulders and gangs of screaming twelve-year-old teenagers who come to theaters in the centre of Prague, and whistle and shriek and go into fainting ecstasies listening to them. This is a poem written listening to the Olympics, which also means Olympians or Gods, as you know." The tracks on Side (two) had no introductions except the Mantra which opened the second half of the reading. This Allen called, " example of Tibetan concrete poetry""  

From The Letters of Allen Ginsberg, the last (remarkable) concluding letter
to Bill Clinton, April 1, 1997:

"Dear President Clinton,  
Enclosed some recent political poems.
I have untreatable liver cancer and have 2-3 months to live.
 If you have some sort of award or medal for service in art or poetry, please send one along unless it's politically inadvisable or inexpedient. I don't want to bait the right wing for you. Maybe (Newt) Gingrich might or might not mind. But don't take chances please, you've enough on hand. 
Best wishes and good luck to you and Ms Hilary and daughter (name)
Home office: # lunchtime noon and 6-7pm supper
Allen Ginsberg"  

This, in French translation (as it recently appeared in the French press)        

Here's a selection of Ginsberg poems in Spanish translation

The archivists at the Harvard library continue their interesting discoveries - see here

Another film recommendation (we noted the Izzy Young documentary last week) - Karen Kramer's still-in-production Renegade Dreamers

                                                          [Izzy Young and Karen Kramer]

"Throughout the world, people have been influenced by Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and other renegade spirits from the Beat and folk music scene of Greenwich Village. Yet few audiences to day are aware of how a new generation of young poets, folksingers and renegades are making their voices heard in much the same  way as these early legends"

City Lights at 60 - 60 Years of City Lights. Listen, if you haven't already, to this KQED podcast

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Trungpa Visits Allen's Class - 6 (Q & A - 5) (Conclusion)

                                                [Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987)]

Student:: I was wondering.. if...(most of the poets…) (have a readership)?

AG: Someone take the microphone over please..

David Rome: Yes, in Tibet, most of the poetry is accessible to everybody, or if it’s written by upper class people for upper class people, or if it’s all of the above, is it written for the common man?  Can everybody understand the poetry there?

Chogyam Trungpa: Well, anybody who can read, who can read, yes  - Well, we have problems with the peasant people who have never been taught reading or writing at all, so, sometimes, they have these proverbs that have been handed down, which they use in their speech, like if the peasant person comes to (a) court case,  and you have to learn a special language, which is successive quotations (maybe every other sentence) , you have images put together (which is an art in itself), but the written poetry, well, it’s just written for anybody who could read. There’s no classroom literature particularly. Once you have a literature developed it is just for anybody who can read.

Student: Hello. Do you complete your poetry in your mind before you write it or paint it or do you paint spontaneously?

CT: Well, usually what happens is (there’s also a tradition (of it) as well – that you have a very vivid sound, ringing in your ear almost, ringing in your mind, of the first lines, very vivid – that’s the opener. And once you write down that, then everything becomes unfolding from that, and I usually work that way.

AG: That’s pretty common in American poetry too. One line arrives..

CT… One.. the first line. It’s very vivid. So that carries the whole thing, although the topic may change (about) half way through, but still, some kind of energy is carried out. 

AG: (Behind you)

Student: It occurred to me that the sadhana that you wrote and is recited at Karma Dzong  is a very good example of what we’ve been discussing of the form and I wondered if that was accurate?

CT: I think so, We don’t call it poetry because this is a different class of literature altogether, but it could be regarded as that style. And when I wrote, it took about two days to finish the whole thing. And I wrote extremely fast, and  I didn’t get a chance to think about it very much – and it’s very spontaneous.

Student: Yes.. I noticed that..This.. You wrote it in the Himalayas?
CT:  In Bhutan Yes
Student: It wasn’t in English? 
CT: Tibetan

Student: I’m still kind of unclear as to the distinction you’re making between Vajrayana and Mahayana poetry. Could you elaborate a little further please?

CT: Well, Mahayana poetry is generally more connected with the performance, the performance of the deed, according to the ways, bodhisattva paths, and the vow, and the commitment of that kind, inspired by the notion of compassion and development of loving-kindness to oneself, and that kind of approach. In the Vajrayana, it is much more immediate. A lot of the poetry in Vajrayana poetry is written, dedicated to their Vajra master and a longing for the Vajra master, (a) devotion to the Vajra master, and also beyond that, personal experience of how that  particular person had actually been able to see the glimpse of enlightenment, clearly, vividly, so.. poetry is that style. It’s much more  (the) expressing the sense of magic (that) exists in it, rather than just general conduct level, which is the Mahayana approach

Student: Mahayana (is more (an expression of) passion)?

CT  Yes. It’s almost similar to Christiam hymns in a sense, some sense, you know, that kind of approach.

AG: And the proclamation part is a... what is that? 

CT: Realization

AG: Realization.. Examples of realization

CT: Yes

AG: There’s a hand (up) there so will somebody pick up the microphone, please..pass it on..

Student: In this class Allen has been trying to make a connection with different  styles of American and Western poetry in different stages on the Buddhist path –Hinayana, Vajrayana,Mahayana – in different… We’ve been dealing with different poets, American poets from one of those points of view. Now I’d like to ask you if you think there is a Vajrayana American poetry, and if so, who might be doing it?

CT: Well, it’s very hard to say. Maybe Allen himself. He’s the closest one, I suppose.

AG: Yeah, to the extent that I’ve, occasionally, tried to express some experience of change,  or opening of mind, in a poem, and tried to find a form which is clear enough for other people to understand (that would fit into the description given - not that I was aware of it)

Student: Okay, what about the people.. what about the people that are using your teaching , they’re using your teaching as examples of Vajrayana poetry, how do they fit into that?

AG: Well at the seminary where I taught there were a lot of experienced sitters, as examples of Vajrayana, there was some  (William) Blake, I used some of Rinpoche’s poetry and I also used Gregory Corso’s “Bomb”, from the point of view that in Vajrayana I understood it, there was a sort of alchemical transformation or transformation of poison to nectar, of anxiety and fear to liberation and humor, so I..

Student: Do you know the poem..

AG: Wait a minute, let me finish. So I used the poem “Bomb” – you know that? by Gregory (Corso), the poem “Bomb” which says,  Let me in bomb rise from the pregnant-rat corner of the world/O Bomb I love you/I want to kiss your your boom/You are an acme of scream/a lyric hat of Mr Thunder”.
And I thought those lines were at least Vajrayana style.  Does that make sense?

CT: - style.  

AG: Actually, to the extent that it took the impacted anxiety and moralistic psychology prevalent at the time and switched it around and opened it up. I thought, actually, if that’s what Vajrayana is, it did that job. It  penetrated right through
He..  Gregory and I went to Oxford and he read the poem, and Bertrand Russell’s group [CND], who were very moralistic about the bomb, threw a shoe at him, thinking that he was..

GC: (I blame) the shoe!  

GC: What comes after Vajrayana?

[CT  is perplexed and AG repeats the question]

CT: Nothing.

AG: Shall we pass the mic - [to Chogyam Rinpoche] ... My class was over over half an hour ago. The time?...formal time? –   Last question then.

Student:  Rinpoche - could you explain the connection between poetry and Right Speech? since Right Speech is one of the Paths on the Noble Eightfold Path?

CT: Well I'm sure there are a lot of connections. In fact, as we hear the stories of Buddha, when he gives a sermon to people, he.. (it) was presented in such a way that even though people had psychological blockages (but) they cannot help listening to him. And once they begin to listening to him, it begins to make sense to them, and (then) when it made sense to them…(more), having liberated them.  So, I think this is our goal, in some sense, in poetics, is to develop that kind of larger version of… there has to be some kind of motivation as to how we’re going create order in the universe by means of speech, poetry. That's (our vow and) our objectives, actually, altogether.

AG: The American interpretation of that was precision (of speech) being accuracy and precision, being if you’re accurate treatment of the object and accurate to your own frank mind, natural mind,  then that would lead to some opening and awareness – (and  precision and accuracy are words you use in relation to perception).  

[to Chogyam Trungpa] -  Well, thank you for coming
CT: Well, Thank you very much
AG:  (It was) nice and calm
CT:Well, I hope you can work, write – better write good ones! 
AG: Thank you
CT: Thank you

[Audio for the above may be hear here, beginning at approximately fourteen minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-five-and-a-quarter minutes in, at the end of the tape]