HOW DO YOU SERVE THE IMAGINATION?
Poets T Begley and Olga Broumas taught a writing workshop I attended during the 1993 summer session of Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School writing program. I compiled these notes from one of T Begley’s lectures, remarkable companion slogans to those Allen Ginsberg composed, in this case from a female poet whose training included literature, song and therapeutic massage – a most humanistic and holistic body, speech and mind of art.
Risk and safety go together.
Appeal to the best in yourself. What in yourself are you in awe of?
Awe is the constructive evolution of fear.
Anxiety is the de-structure evolution of fear.
As a child anything I touched responded to me.
Born to construct with the mouth.
All the time you're writing you're feeding yourself messages.
A subject and a verb should have an irrevocable intimacy.
An approach: take out all the negatives.
Avoid "can" - it implies failure of (I can't).
Flesh is not infinite. Give flesh to the piece.
Memorize your work. Speak it that way.
Read it backwards.
Our editing factor is overdeveloped.
Generative is always sexual, though not necessarily genital.
Editing: when the desire and the need of the flower are one.
Read it again but skip every other line.
Assume that which you are longing for is already true (is actualized).
Moods: indicative - imperative - conditional.
Vision has a curative effect on memory. It cannot change memory, but it can cure it.
Put everything in cutlets - they let you know right away what doesn't work.
Using "ing" creates a "progressive moment" so avoid unless you want that open-ended sense.
You have an elegant tongue, thrum it and it will leap (Olga Broumas).
It's unjust to request that the poet hurry.
Cultivate the tonic (not toxic). Make a list of 50 tonifying words.
To be protected and open is a good way to be a human being.
Rapture and rapid.
Ask: who is "god" in my piece, who am I giving the power to?
Nouns are substantive. Adjectives are application; paint applied to the noun. Adjective are not called limiting for nothing.
These things that you made (writing) love you.
What we write is our own future.
CANDOR ENDS PARANOIA: A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg
by Bill Scheffel
The Jack Kerouac School tribute to Allen Ginsberg in the summer of 1994 featured dozens of writers honoring a poet who gave them friendship, support and inspiration. I wore a plastic student I.D. tag around my neck, the phrase Beats and other Rebel Angels and sketch of Allen Ginsberg - palsied left eye and fearless gaze - laminated within. After a week of panel discussions and nightly three-hour poetry readings I was numbed and a bit cynical towards all the lionizing and beat era nostalgia. Ginsberg's newest poems seemed hackneyed. But my own knowledge of poetry was piecemeal and hugely undeveloped. I had previously known Allen as a fellow student of the Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. We were members of a community that equally revered our teacher and were suspicious of each other's "trips." No one, in Trungpa's words had "special credentials." In that context - and my ignorance - Allen was, yes maybe a great poet, but otherwise the tribute seemed excessive. What significance did Allen Ginsberg have for me?
Three years later, Allen Ginsberg was dead and I sat in another Naropa Institute lecture hall while his sukavati - a Buddhist funeral ceremony - was performed. In the intervening time, I'd listened to a dozen of Allen's lectures and had read more and more of his poetry. I'd seen firsthand his gentle courage. At that moment, I knew Allen was a Rebel Angel, and what I gained from his teaching and writing would stay with me the rest of my life. I put his picture - a photograph I took myself- on my dresser. During the weeks after his death it said to me, "Keep writing, be honest, speak." For me, Allen had indeed became, as he wrote from Times Square in 1957, "invisible but legendary."
. . .
Allen knew his central place in the confluence of 20th century artistic, intellectual and spiritual thought, and felt keenly the responsibility to pass on what had so astounded and transformed him in his own life, everything from hearing "The Sunflower" in Blake's own voice in a Harlem tenement - "an extraordinary break in my own thought" - to meeting and studying with Chögyam Trungpa, who gave him the kind of advice Jack Kerouac once did: "You're bored with reading the same poems again and again. Why don't you make up poems on the stage, why do you need a piece of paper? Don't you trust your own mind?" (His first attempt, spoken days later: "Here we are in the middle of June/I just ate with you and I had a spoon/and we were talking about the moon.)
Allen's life was as much an exploration of consciousness as writing. He initially used LSD and mescaline to repeat the mystical experience of his Harlem vision. He read the Buddhist Sutras and holy books of the world with Kerouac. His commitment to meditation in 1970 lasted until his death. He wanted his students to know the core of writing is simply to be awake daily life, to "notice what you notice." He went further than any American poet in letting others into how he composed and lived. "We Rise on Sunbeams and Fall in the Night" puts me right there with him:
Dawn's orb orange-raw shining over palisades
bare crowded branches bush up from marshes -
New Jersey with my father riding automobile
highway to Newark Airport - Empire State's
spire, horned buildingtops, Manhattan
rising as in W.C. Williams' eyes between wire trestles -
trucks sixwheeled steady rolling overpass
beside New York - I am here
tiny under sun rising in vast white sky,
staring thru skeleton new buildings,
with pen in hand awake...
. . .
The 1994 Kerouac School Summer Writing Program, like many previous years, was held in a rented circus tent set up at on the grounds of the Boulder, Colorado campus. Allen sat behind a microphone, beginning to look small and frail. He lectured patiently on everything from the meter of Shelly to living with Burroughs in Tangiers. The audience endured cheap plastic chairs, attention drifting between Allen and the silver maple trees drenched by thunderstorms and luminous in the sun. He gave us a handout entitled Mind Writing Slogans, a list of statements that codified his understanding of art and consciousness.
One of Allen's techniques as a teacher was to use succinct phrases, sometimes his own, often quotes from others - as "slogans" to impart the essence of the writing process (a methodology not unlike the Zen koan or compassion-training slogans of the Tibetan mahayana, such as "Be grateful to everyone."). Allen's Mind Writing Slogans listed eighty-four such phrases, divided into three sections that paralleled the three stages of writing (and based on a "three-fold logic" of mind taught by Trungpa, Rinpoche). These catchy phrases stuck in my mind and reminded me how to proceed. They have remained for me, as in Ezra Pound's definition of literature: "News that stays news."
The "ground" of writing is "first thought best thought" (Trungpa). This list included three of Allen's own slogans: "Catch yourself thinking, Observe what's vivid" and "Notice what you notice." The slogans imply a trust that whatever we notice can finds its way to the page and become interesting. Mind is interesting, and as Philip Whalen wrote - also a slogan - "My writing is a picture of mind moving."
"Path" is the second stage, what Allen called "method or Recognition." As one writes, it's simply staying with the first thought, perception, not complicating, true to nature, William's "No idea but in things," or, as in these examples from the list:
Sight is where the eye hits - Zukowsky
Don't stop to think of words but to see the picture better - Kerouac
Maximum information, minimum number of syllables - Ginsberg
Presentation, not reference - Pound
"Fruition" is the result of the writing. If the poem fails, there's a slogan for that, "Accept loss forever," (Kerouac) or "Every third thought shall be my grave," (Shakespeare). If it succeeds - the state of grace where the writing is not about an experience but is an experience - maybe heaven and earth imperceptibly quiver, maybe somewhere Allen Ginsberg is pleased.
The purpose of art is to stop time - Dylan
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin - Shakespeare
Unspeakable visions of the individual - Kerouac
Make it new - Pound
I listened to Allen give examples from his own experience of putting these three stages together. He talked about riding a bus - I think somewhere in Eastern Europe - and just looking out the window, seeing faces and trees and buildings through the slightly fogged glass, feeling lonely yet intrigued and later writing about it in his hotel. It seemed simple enough, but so does loving another person, being mindful of the present moment, or even breathing fully. Then, my writing was abstract, fitful, merely sketches to discard. Learning to move from abstraction to specifics, to maximize life in syntax has been as difficult and unsure as learning to manage money or raise a son. Allen's slogans taught me about the pick and shovel work of writing. Years later, some poems along the way hold up and Allen becomes more and more like a father, an ancestor to make offerings of hard work and truthful writing to.
One day last year I heard a re-broadcast of a Terry Gross interview with Allen that took place about a year before he died. At seventy, Allen answered the questions he'd been asked for decades - questions about his mother Naomi's mental illness, protests against plutonium manufacture, his honesty about sexuality - with unabated enthusiasm and precision. Terry Gross asked him to describe what his writing was like for him now, and his answer gave me yet another slogan - and further appreciation for Allen's generosity, his concern that writing be of help to others:
"I write with the idea that candor reduces paranoia. If I can make my own mind transparent so that people know what I'm really thinking, then they don't have anything to be afraid of, and can use my writing as a mirror for their own mind."
During the Sukavati, I watched a photograph of Allen being burned, a traditional form that asks everyone - those alive and the consciousness of the one who as died - to let go and accept reality without fear. I felt the candor of Allen's poetry - including its excess - fill the room with courage, even blessings. Suddenly, not a word he wrote was wasted.