Allen Ginsberg Interview, Parts 9 & 10

Allen’s inscription of Cosmopolitan Greetings

In advance of the 12th Ginsberg Poetry Marathon, I’m presenting excerpts from my 1994 interview with Allen.

9. Trungpa on Kerouac

PN: Tell us about the . . . Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute, and the Institute itself.

AG: Well, we’re having our 20th Anniversary. It’s a contemplative college in Boulder, Colorado, and was founded in 1974 by a very intelligent poet, Tibetan lama, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Trungpa is the author of a number of books that are published by Shambhala Press, and he has a number of study groups around the country. He died in 1986 but had built a very firm foundation among his students for ongoing work, and this college is sort of like the interface between the secular world and the Buddhist world. But also an independent entity where sort of giving hospitality to Christians, Jews, Bohemians, Kerouacian beatniks and whatnot, as well as Sufis. And the idea is to have a wisdom education rather than a commercial education. So it’s particularly good for poetics, dance, but also psychology. A very strong psychology group that gets good jobs upon graduating ‘cuz they’re so adept both knowing themselves from meditation and empathizing with people who are lost to themselves.

So we’ve gone on for 20 years, but the reason it was called the Kerouac School was that Trungpa was a very good poet and Tibetan. And one day, back, I think ’72 or ’73, I read him all through Kerouac’s “Mexico City Blues,” the same book that had inspired Bob Dylan, and Trungpa laughed all the way. And when we got to New York after a four-hour ride down from his retreat land in Vermont, he got out of the car and said, “It’s a perfect manifestation of mind,” i.e. Trungpa was right in your mind, in the way I’ve been describing. So when he asked me and Anne Waldman to take responsibility to form a poetics faculty in order to teach the meditators Golden Mouth, otherwise they’d be no good at turning the wheel of Dharma and explaining their attitude of tolerance toward life. And teach, to poets, some meditation to avoid the . . . Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain syndrome of depression and self damage. You know, some kind of basic balance and sanity, which is always useful in poetry ‘cuz many poets . . . You know, was it . . . Wordsworth has a line, “And we poets in our youth begin in gladness and thereof come an end . . .” and what is it? Depression and madness or . . . suicide and madness, which is characteristic of our rock ‘n’ roll grunge generation, too, as it was every generation of poets or Sensitives, and from the very first when I said in “Howl,” “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked.”

So it was a great way of introducing East and West together and combining them. And the intelligence of meditation, in catching yourself thinking, and the intelligence of poetry, very similar, in which poetry you’ve got to catch yourself thinking and write down what you thought. So they’re actually both facets of the same kind of awareness practice. And he sought {saw?}, Trungpa, the teacher saw that, saw poetry, American poetry, as an awareness practice like tea ceremony, archery, martial arts and so we’ve had this going on for 20 years. And this summer, we’ll have our big anniversary with Amiri Baraka coming, the great black poet; Robert Creeley, great academic, Black Mountain poet; Philip Glass, the musician, with whom I’ve worked a lot; Michael McClure who travels these days with Ray Manzarek of the Doors fame. Ken Kesey’s coming down to put on his trickster play. Marianne Faithfull who’s taught lyrics poetry there a number of years; Francesco Clemente, the painter, who’s made a portrait of me that we can sell for keeping the school going. Galway Kinnell who’s more of an NYU academic poet but has been opening up his imagination lately, and Ferlinghetti of the old Beat Generation, and Gary Snyder of the Northwest will be there. And a lot of people and sort of endless–Gregory Corso, Gelek Rinpoche, the teacher I’ve been working with now since Trungpa died. And . . . let’s see, who else have we got . . . Some younger poets that people wouldn’t know, and Anne Waldman, most of all, and Ed Sanders. Ed Sanders is the Founder {? No he isn’t—unless AG said “of the Fugs”} and Anne Waldman who is the Director.

PN: And for more information we have a phone number for you, in Colorado: 303-546-3592. We are just about out of time. There are well, several poems I’d like you to do but since we are running out of time, “Autumn Leaves” is one.

AG: That’s a good one. You got the right one to sign off with.

PN: I thought so.

AG: You must have read this book.

PN: Well, I did. I did read it. I spent . . .

AG: Good for you!

PN: . . . I spent a lot of time with it, especially last night, and I was thinking. Well, perhaps we should read the poem first and then talk about it.

10. Autumn Leaves (poem)

ALLEN GINSBERG: OK, “Autumn Leaves”:

At 66 just learning how to take care of my body
Wake cheerful 8 A.M. & write in a notebook
rising from bed side naked leaving a naked boy asleep by the wall
mix miso mushroom leeks & winter squash breakfast (macrobiotic),
Check bloodsugar, clean teeth exactly, brush, toothpick, floss, mouth
              wash
oil my feet (or anoint my feet with oil), put on white shirt white pants white sox
sit solitary by the sink
a moment before brushing my hair, happy not yet
to be a corpse.

September 13, 1992, 9:50 A.M

You can hear highlighted excerpts from the interview here: https://www.paulenelson.com/allen-ginsberg-june-12-1994/ and know that you can always find this page by looking at the American Prophets main page.

About Splabman

Paul Nelson is founder of SPLAB in Seattle and the Cascadia Poetry Festival. He wrote a collection of essays, Organic Poetry & a serial poem re-enacting the history of Auburn, WA, A Time Before Slaughter (shortlisted for a 2010 Genius Award by The Stranger.) He’s interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Wanda Coleman, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Eileen Myles, George Bowering, Diane di Prima, Brenda Hillman, George Stanley, Joanne Kyger & many Cascadia poets, has presented his poetry and poetics in London, Brussels, Qinghai and Beijing, China, Lake Forest, Illinois and other places & writes an American Sentence every day. www.PaulENelson.com

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One Response to Allen Ginsberg Interview, Parts 9 & 10

  1. kjm says:

    thanks for this, paul.

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