Monday, April 21, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 52 (Mayakovsky and Mandelstam)

File:Lenin CL.jpg

[Vladimir Ilych Lenin (1870-1924)]

transcription from Allen Ginsberg's "Expansive Poetics" Naropa Class continues

Ann Charters:  So okay. And with this poem of “Lenin”,  Mayakovsky (this is first read on October 18th, 1924) pledges his loyalty to the Bolsheviks with this poem eulogizing a great man – and Lenin was a great man. I mean, the camps hadn’t yet begun, and so forth. And he decided, or he said to the world in this poem,”Lenin”, that he was turning away from personal lyricism – you remember that line in “ At the Top of My Voice”..

AG: Yeah

Ann Charters: ..”Putting your foot on your own throat” - ["But I/ subdued/ myself/ setting my heel/ on the throat/ of my own song"]  -  (his) turning away, and his role as a poet was to infuse – I’m quoting now “ I  want to infuse/New glitter/ Into the most glorious word,/ “Party”” – whoops!  There’s a problem there. And he dedicated the poem..

AG: That’s two years after (Anna) Akhmatova’s husband (or ex-husband) (Nikoly) Gumilev, 1923, had been shot already.

Ann Charters: Sure, yeah, Mayakovsky

AG: Nineteen twenty-three!

Ann Charters: …Mayakovsky was, as I said,  very slow to learn in that sense, yeah.   Anyway, he dedicates the poem to the Russian Communist Party and he uses a lot of Lenin’s speeches when he makes up the poem, which is another reason why it became so popular – because, just as poets echoing other poets are a tradition in poetry, so in political poetry you try to echo the words of the politicians that you are eulogizing. And so seventy-five printed pages of this poem – it’s a long, long, long…

Student: Wow!

Ann Charters:  ..poem. You brought a lunch, kind of, if you wanted to hear it. Seventy-five printed pages later, it ends: “Long live the Revolution, joyful and fast./This is the only great war of all that history has known.” Yeah. Okay.
So, you say, how can he reconcile his feelings as a poet  or his feelings as a private person with his public role? His argument would run, I think, that at the time these finer points about freedom, the word having power over, you know, humankind or whatever are futile. What we have to do is all get together in one concerted group and we will, you know, have.. get ahead. He says, for example…

AG: These are from the poems, then?

Ann Charters: Yeah, this is from “Lenin”

AG: How long is the whole thing?

Ann Charters: Seventy-five printed pages. I don’t know how many lines. Thousands, you know.

AG: And he read it aloud as a performance piece?

Ann Charters: As a performance. Yeah. “Could in such a time, the word “democrat” ever enter a stupid head” (in his troubled times). “If one should hit then hit so that the sidewalk gets wet”. “The clue to victory is in iron dictatorship” – It’s words like this that made people like (Aleksandr) Solzhenitsyn (who) quote(s) him in The Gulag Archipelago, despise Mayakovsky. Remember, this is 1924, and the Gulag hadn’t… but it was beginning. He just wasn’t too swift. Yeah.

Okay, Mayakovsky justified everything that he’d done in the seven years since 1917 – all of the wars, all of the suffering, the beginnings of persecution – by his vision of the new society that was being created. Despite his own difficulties, he should have known about (Nikolay) Gumilev, because he himself had been under attack by Party officials for not towing the line. He himself had been individual, buthe asserts in the “Lenin” poem that the individual is of no importance to the future. And he says, “An individual, Who needs him?!/ The voice of an individual is thinner than a chirp./ Who’ll hear it? - the wife perhaps!/ And only if she’s around, and not out shopping.” Various..various contemptual (sic) dismissals of the private person in the poem are very difficult to understand, because Mayakovsky himself is an individualist, as we shall soon see.

A year after this poem, he starts one of his private poems again. There is this spirit in him, you know. He says something in one poem and he’s.. well, like what’s that lady’s name Sandy O’Connor, who’s now the woman.. first woman Chief Justice. And when she’s doing her legal work in Arizona she’s for abortion, and when she has a little talk with (President Ronald) Reagan, “Would you like to be on the Supreme Court?”, and she says, “Absolutely. Abortion is abhorrent to me”.

AG: There’s a good..

Ann Charters:  You know, like which way is the wind blowing? People who are in public life and who are ambitious and so forth. And this is the same kind of situation, if you want to look at it that way...

AG: What’s his line about the individual there again?

Ann Charters: , “An individual!, Who needs him?!/ The voice of an individual is thinner than a chirp./ Who’ll hear it? - the  wife perhaps!/  And only if she’s around, and not out shopping.”

AG: Okay, so in contrast with that is (Osip) Mandelstam, who was constantly shut up and persecuted, (and) directly persecuted by Stalin, keeping track of him, having police follow him around, and, whenever he moved, having a policeman go live next door, and even, policemen would come into his house and say, "Well, what are you writing these days?". You "can't tell the difference between a turkey and a provocateur" in that situation. 

Ann Charters: There's a..

AG:  In 1936, 1937, a quatrain by Mandelstam - "Hillocks of human heads into the horizon,/and I am diminished - they won't notice me,/(but I'll come back) resurrected in tender books and/children's games, saying, "See? The sun is shining" - or, alternative translation - "Into the distance go the mounds of people's heads./ I am growing smaller here - no one notices me any more" - (just as Mayakovsky said) -  "I am growing smaller here - no one notices me any more/but in caressing books and children's games/I will rise from the dead to say the sun is shining." - but that "Hillocks of human heads into the horizon"!

Ann Charters: Right. The hillocks and the image of the sun there, and then the image of the sun, which is poetry, (out)lasting wars, (out)lasting revolutions. In other words, he still felt that the word was the Central Committee - that's Mandelstam.

Osip Mandelstam Monument to Appear in Voronezh
[Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)]

AG: A little bit more of Mandelstam on..

Ann Charters: Whatever you say.

AG: ..on this, right on this, to contrast it.

Student: Can I say something?

AG: Yeah.

Student: Yeah, I think the main problem (is the problem) we all have anyway, everywhere, is this sort of thing (which is) individual identity and the...

AG: Except that, in the case of both the Buddhists...the Christians, and the Communists (or the Bolsheviks), there is this tendency toward internalization of the attack on the individual ego… and so, in a misunderstanding… (at least amongst the Buddhists), very often a misunderstanding (or among the American Freudians or Marxists, as well as the upper-middle-class American problem of self-depreciation), a misunderstanding of the role of the individual, or the individual ego, and an attempt, after (Arthur) Rimbaud particularly, to take the ego and wring its neck, by violence, or force, or suicide, or submergence into the sea of mass culture, or submission to the Central Committee of the Communist Party diktat on what the actual accurate Party line on reality is, to submit to the central authority's conception of what reality itself is.

Student: Well, I see what the problem is.

AG: Everybody's got that..

Student: I don't see how we're going to work it out. That's..

Ann Charters: Well..

AG: But in this case, however, with Mayakovsky's statement, it's an outright statement that the individual has absolutely no..role, except a single chirp of a cricket to be heard by his wife, and is actually of no social importance. Whereas in Mandelstam, there's a realization that the whisper of the individual's voice is louder and more powerful than the hallucinatory publicist('s) voice of Mayakovsky and the entire television network of Russia or America roaring all at once in its Tower of Babel,  that the perception of the individual that the whole thing is a hallucinatory Tower of Babel, which will fall, is more accurate as an estimation of reality than all the trumpets of the brass bands of the Pentagon.

Student: Well, it depends on who's doing the roaring, you know.

AG: Yeah, that's the point. The roaring.... that's what it's saying. The roaring is being done by the Pentagon. The whisper is being done by the individual. And the individual's voice, in the long run, lasts longer (Sappho's voice)

Student: No, it's..

AG:  ...and cadences last longer than the structure of the Pyramids and the entire city of Rome.

Student: Oh, I don't think it's the Pentagon versus the individual voice or anything.

AG: No, in this case, it was the Central Committee of the Commnist Party versus the individual voice.

Student: Well, it was...

AG: No, no, this is what he's saying..

Student: Yeah

AG: .. that the Central Committee of the Communist Party is more important than the individual's voice. And what Mandelstam is saying is that the individual voice is going to outlast and is more important. It's just as simple as that. They're talking about the Central Committee of The Communist Party, nothing else, nothing else, right at this point. Mandelstam's further argument on that is, "I'm not dead, I'm not alone/ While I'm still happy with my beggar-girl delighting/ in these great plains/ in twilight-shadow, in hunger.." - (delighting in hunger!) - "and snowstorms./ I live alone in beautiful poverty, in sumptuous/misery - peaceful, consoled,/ blessed day, blessed nights/and sinless sweet-singing labor"/ Whoever's frightened by barking and by his shadows, who's mowed/ by the wind - he's really unlucky, /Whoever's half-alive and begging/alms from shadows - he's really poor" - This is from Voronezh, January 1937, where he had been banished into exile by Stalin, from which he was then arrested. This is where the turnkey came in to sit down at his table and say, "What are you writing?". He got visited every day, and that's when he got taken away. And then he disappeared into the camps and wasn't heard from. Presumably died by 1940.

File:NKVD Mandelstam.jpg
[Osip Mandelstam - Photograph made by the NKVD in 1938, after his arrest]

Ann Charters: Now you can ask how a poet as great as Mayakovsky was (I mean, he was a great poet, there's no question about it) could serve the Party so faithfully? I mean, what would motivate him?
We talked before in the other class about Mayakovsky's belief that the 1917 Revolution was not the final revolution - that he wanted another one to come, which he called the "revolution of the spirit" [from the 1922 fragment, "The Fourth Internationale" - "another revolution/Rising in the ages/That would shake heads in an explosion of ideas,/That would let loose the artillery of hearts/The third revolution of the spirit"]. And he really felt, as a poet, that he could move the people by his verses closer and closer to this third Revolution. And he felt his role was to write political poems at the time and he took upon himself the writing of these poems as a duty - Yeah? - That's what he said.

And here's the poem..the section of "Lenin" that explains that. He says, "I'm anxious lest processions in mausoleums, the established statue of worship, should drown in oily unction Lenin's simplicity" - "oily unction" should destroy Lenin's simplicity - And he goes on -  (this is) Mayakovsky - "I shudder for him as for the apple of my eye lest he be falsified by tinselled beauty./My heart votes. I am compelled to write by the mandate of duty". "Duty" - (that's what makes him write these poems, the duty to, as I've said, move the people along).

Lilya Brik

[Lili Brik ( 1891-1978)]

But, as you know, as all of you know, even (from) the basic study of Freud, when you are forced to do something (a sense of duty, not coming out of free will always), there are bound to be psychological repercussions. And always with Mayakovsky, when he wrote one of these great public poems, a month or so later he started writing (and, sometimes, simultaneously, he was writing almost as if with two different hands), a private poem, a poem about his loves. And this is true with the case with "Lenin" also. The parallel poem, (to compare the Mayakovsky poems, very often, to show this operating in his work), was a poem to Lili Brik, called "About This" - and what "this" was was his love for this lady, because, somewhere deep inside him, never really imagined.. Mayakovsky was aware that the way to the third Revolution was probably through individual relationships, and if they weren't good, the third Revolution would never be good. In other words, if people couldn't love each other on a one-to-one basis even, how could we all love each other?
And the test, of course, is his love-affairs, and his love for women in his life. And Lili Brik was this main love of his life, and he wrote a poem about the difficulties of this love,  the difficulties, as he would put it, of starting a family. He said, "To make a revolution is easy", He said.. (Mayakovsky wrote this to a friend) - He said, "To make a revolution is easy. What is difficult afterwards is to make a family". And he never quite saw that happen either.  

(Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately twenty-four-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

William Burroughs - Star Me Kitten & The Priest They Called Him

[Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), Michael Stipe (REM) and William Burroughs]

[William Burroughs and Kurt Cobain] 

More Burroughs for the weekend - collaborations with Michael Stipe and Kurt Cobain (REM and Nirvana) - "Star Me Kitten" and "The Priest They Called Him".

Beginning with "Star Me.." (yes, "Star Me" - the allusion is to the Rolling Stones' "Starfucker" ("Star Star"). The source, is the 1996 collection,  "Songs in the Key of X - Music From And Inspired By "The X-Files") 

Burroughs: "All right. Just something I picked up. A knack of going along with someone else's song, putting myself into it. It evolved from "Lili Marlene", Marlene Dietrich, not one of my favorite people but, that's where it came from"

"He's got three for the price of one./Nothing's free but guarenteed for a lifetime's use./ I've changed the locks/and you can't have one/You, you know the other two./The breaks have worn so thin that you could hear -/ I hear them screeching through the door from your driveway./ Hey love, look into your glove-box heart./What is there for me inside? This love is tired./ I've changed the locks. Have I misplaced you?/ Have we lost our minds?/ Will this never end?/It could depend on your take./You. Me. We used to be on fire/ If keys are all that stand between,/Can I throw in the ring?/No gasoline./Just fuck me kitten./You are wild and I'm in your possession/Nothing's free so, fuck me kitten/I'm in your possession/So fuck me kitten."

The Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs connection is given, in some detail, here (and also here) - "The Priest They Called Him". Cobain, apparently, contacted his hero, Burroughs, in 1992, and sounded him out about the possibility of them, perhaps, doing something together. Burroughs sent him a tape of a reading he'd done of a short story, originally published in the early (19)70's in the collection, Exterminator. Cobain added some guitar backing, (based, loosely, on "Silent Night" and "To Anacreon in Heaven") and the piece was released (as a limited-edition 1o-inch EP picture disc - it was subsequently re-released on CD and 10-inch vinyl).

At the time of the collaboration, the two had not met. They met in October 1993, in Lawrence, Kansas, during the first week of Nirvana's "In Utero" tour. Burroughs describes the meeting: "I waited and Kurt got out with another man. Cobain was very shy, very polite and obviously enjoyed the fact that I wasn't awestruck at meeting him. There was something about him fragile and engagingly lost. He smoked cigarettes but didn't drink. There were no drugs. I never showed him my gun collection". 
In Charles Cross's biography of Cobain, Heavier than Heaven, there's a further revealing note concerning this brief encounter - "They chatted for several hours…As Kurt drove away, Burroughs remarked to his assistant (James Grauerholz), "There's something wrong with that boy; he frowns for no good reason". 

and here, as an extra, as a bonus, William S Burroughs and Gus Van Sant   

Saturday, April 19, 2014

William Burroughs - Last Words of Hassan Sabbah

[Hassan-i-Sabbah, "The Old Man of the Mountain"]

Burroughs-month, Burroughs-year, Burroughs-century. Here's yet another posting on William.

Initially in a letter to Allen, written June 21 1960, and appearing in The Yage Letters, and redacted to appear as part of the first chapter of Nova Express, the spoken version (from which the following transcription is taken) appeared on the 1981 Industrial Records release (spearheaded by Genesis P. Orridge, now Genesis Breyer P.Orridge), "Nothing Here Now But The Recordings" - The Last Words of Hassan Sabbah (you all know who Hassan-i-Sabbah was, right?)

The Last Words of Hassan Sabbah 

 Oiga amigos! Oiga amigos! Paco! Enrique! 
 Last words of Hassan Sabbah, 
 The Old Man of the Mountain! 
 Listen to my last words, anywhere! 
 Listen all you boards, governments, syndicates, nations of the world,
 And you, powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory,
 To take what is not yours, 
 To sell out your sons forever! To sell the ground from unborn feet 

 I bear no sick words junk words love words forgive words from Jesus.
 I have not come to explain or tidy up.
 What am I doing over here with the workers, the gooks, the apes, the
 dogs, the errand boys, the human animals? 
 Why don't I come over with the board, and drink coca-cola and make it?
 Explain how the blood, and bones, and brains of a hundred million
 more or less gooks went down the drain in green piss! 
 so you on the boards could use bodies, and minds, and souls that
 were not yours, are not yours, and never will be yours. 
 You have the wrong name and the wrong number! 
 Mr Luce Getty Lee Rockefeller
"Don't let them see us, don't tell them what we are doing! "
Not the cancer deal with the Venusians, not the green deal -
don't let that out,
disaster, automatic disaster.
Crab men! Tape-worms! Intestinal parasites! 
Like Burroughs, that proud American name? 
Proud of what exactly? Would you all like to see exactly what
Burroughs has to be proud of? 
The Mayan Caper, the Centipede Hype,
Short-time racket, the Heavy-metal gimmick? 
All right, Mister Burroughs, who bears my name and my words buried
all the way 
for all to see, 
in Times Square, in Piccadilly, 

Play it all, play it all, play it all back! 
Pay it all, pay it all, pay it all back!

Listen to my last word, any word
Listen, if you value the bodies which you would sell
all souls forever, short time,
minutes to go, blue heavy-metal people -
don't let that out, 
don't show them the blues. 

Are these the words of the all powerful boards, syndicates,
cartels of the earth?
The great banking families, French, English, American,
squeezing the air.
You want Hassan Sabbah to explain that,
to tidy that up.
You have the wrong name and the wrong number.
for this you have sold your sons forever? 
the ground from unborn feet forever
And you want the name of Hassan Sabbah on your filth deals 
To sell out the unborn? 
I rub out all the formulaes and directives of the Elders of Minraud forever
I rub out the word forever.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 173

File:Bob Kaufman.jpg
[Bob Kaufman (1925-1986) & Kathy Acker (1947-1997)]

April 18 - Bob Kaufman's and Kathy Acker's birthday today. For our postings on Kaufman - see here and here. For our posting on Kathy Acker see here

Women of the Beat Generation, a perennially significant topic, gets another airing next week in Randolph, New Jersey. Joyce Johnson and Hettie Jones will be speaking on the subject.
Hopefully, there's been some significant progress since this:

Sociologically and cinematographically of interest, the full movie - "Beat Girl" (sic - "Wild For Kicks" in its 1960 US manifestation), well, all but approximately ten minutes of it - is available here

Next week - a big week in New York - celebrating William Burroughs. WSB100 is the New York chapter of the centennial celebrations, guided by James Ilgenfritz. On Monday at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, Elliott Sharp & Steve Buscemi. On Tuesday at Incubator Arts Project, Lydia Lunch & Quintan Ana Wikswo. On Wednesday a big marathon William Burroughs reading at the Poetry Project at St Mark's, featuring Anne Waldman, Bob Holman, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Penny Arcade, J.G.Thirlwell,  amongst a host of others. Friday, at the CUNY (City University of New York) Grad Center, an all-day Burroughs symposium (featuring Barry Miles, Oliver Harris, Ann Douglas, Regina Weinreich, Jed Birmingham, to, again, just give a partial list). 

Saturday, Oliver Harris and curators on Restoring the Cut-Up Trilogy, at the New York Public Library.  Saturday evening. John Zorn and Bill Laswell duet at The Stone and Bill Laswell presents his "The Road to the Western Lands". The following day, Bill Frisell on guitar, Eyvind Kang on viola and Lenny Pickett on sax combine with Hal Willner presenting Burroughs audio-tapes. 

And there's more. 

A full schedule may be found here. 

Kathy Acker's 1988 interview with Burroughs (previously featured here on the Allen Ginsberg Project) - we remind you - may be accessed here

Allen Ginsberg (Quelle: Stipe of REM photographed by Kris Krug.jpgKurt Cobain of Nirvana[Michael Stipe (of REM), and Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) (of Nirvana) - & Allen Ginsberg]

"..(T)he echo-chamber of that collective "Howl".."  - (and) "..Allen Ginsberg would've been very proud here.." -  Michael Stipe references Allen Ginsberg in his keynote speech inducting Kurt Cobain and Nirvana into the Rock n Roll Hall of Famejust last week
(fittingly, perhaps, on the twentieth-anniversary of Cobain's untimely passing)

His (Cobain's) 1993 collaboration with Burroughs (including a written request for collaboration and a subsequent thank you note [sic!] - "I really enjoyed the opportunity to do the record" [""The Priest" They Called Him"])  appeared this past Monday on Dangerous Minds (one of our favorite blogs) - and is well worth checking out
(for a little of the "back story").

We'll be featuring more on this - the Stipe-Cobain-Burroughs connection this coming weekend.

and - big news!  a new book of Peter Orlovsky's writings, Peter Orlovsky - A Life In Words - Intimate Chronicles of A Beat Writer (edited by Bill Morgan)  is scheduled for publication by Paradigm Publishers (out of Herndon, Vermont) in a couple of months time. More word on that too in the weeks ahead - "This is the "Orlovsky Reader"", the publishers declare, "(which Ginsberg always wanted to publish), offering poetry, prose and journal entries, created by the man who was the muse of the Beat Generation".  

[Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg, Paris 1957 - Photograph by Harold Chapman

The forty-year anniversary of the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa is this year. There'll be a celebration this Sunday at City Lights, led by Naropa Assistan Professor of English, Andrea Rexilius. A further celebratory reading will take place, at the St Mark's Poetry Project, in November.