Arousing Enthusiasm: Allen the Talker

by Mark Chmiel

for Laura Lapinski,
who makes me laugh while lunching at Medina Grill,
walking around the CWE, and hanging out in Left Bank Books

There’s 15 to 20 Allen Ginsberg poems I’ve loved, and shared with friends over the years. Examples: Cosmopolitan Greetings, War Profit Litany, Yiddishe Kopf, Yes and It’s Hopeless. Sure, I acknowledge that Ginsberg’s poetic influence has been world-wide, and I do reread Howl from time to time. But I esteem him even more for being a talker! This is principally because of one book, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996. What follows are some excerpts which have informed, encouraged, challenged, and delighted me.

On Cuba: The Marxist-oriented people said ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be complaining – look at the advances the revolution has made.’ This was true and I said, yes there have been certain advances here, and I’m on your side and that’s why I’m complaining – don’t fuck up your revolution. 535

People are beginning to see, like household, as a tea ceremony. People begin to do kitchen yoga when they’re washing dishes. People begin to sacramentalizing all relationships, because the purpose of art is to sacramentalize life, I think. That’s a reasonable statement that I heard Swami Bhaktivedanta say recently. He said he thought the purpose of art was to bless and make sacred everything, so that people could see it that way. That is, to reveal the feeling in things, so they become more of a ball. 75

An artist by very definition means penetrating into the heart of the universe, i.e., your own heart, going beyond depression or exuberance. 446

[Since the 60s ] [t]here is a permanent change in civilized consciousness so that it includes the notion of one world, fresh planet, the awareness of the fragility of the planet as an ecological unity, the absorption of psychedelic styles in dress and music into the body politic, the sexual liberation movement, the black liberation movement, the women’s liberation movement, all of those slight, affirmative, permanent alterations in all lifestyles. 462

On meditation: you’re aware of your thoughts and you just observe them: acknowledging them, taking a friendly attitude toward them, not participating, just letting them go by. That tends to lead to a kind of equanimity or peacefulness and, at the same time, some sense of observation of the situation around you in a kind of nonjudgmental peacefulness. 482

[Kerouac] also said that psychedelics were creating a race of cretins who couldn’t sign checks or add up their own checkbooks, which was a witty remark and made sense, which, now, everybody also agrees with. 542

[Whitman] said that unless there were an infusion of feeling, of tenderness, of fearlessness, of spirituality, of natural sexuality, of natural delight in each other’s bodies into the hardened materialistic, cynical, life denying, clearly competitive, afraid, scared, armored bodies, there would be no chance for spiritual democracy to take root in America and he defined that tenderness between the citizens as, in his words, an Adhesiveness, a natural tenderness flowing between all citizens, not only men and women but also a tenderness between men and men, as part of our democratic heritage, part of the adhesiveness which would make democracy function; that men could work together not as competitive beasts but as tender lovers and fellows. 242

It’s impossible for French Parisian kids or New York kids to conceive of a blueprint for a new society if they don’t even know where water comes from, if they’ve never seen a tomato grow, if they’ve never milked a cow, if they don’t know how to dispose of their shit, how can they possibly program a human future? It would be all abstract in their heads, like a mathematical equation, and would produce monstrosity. 300

The thing is to get under the students’ skin and arouse enough enthusiasm that they get under their own skin. This means allowing yourself to be yourself in class. My own best teachers were WC Williams, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, and Jack Kerouac. I learned by hanging around with them, from watching their reaction to cars going down the street or a story in the newspaper or TV or a movie image or a sunset or moon eclipse; when you see the intelligence of somebody reacting to the phenomenal world, you learn by imitation. You see beauty and you want to share it. … My best learning was just being myself with them and they giving me permission to be myself and then discovering myself with them – how funny I was. So you’ve got to encourage the student to discover himself and how funny he is and the only way you can do that is by letting yourself be yourself in class which means not teaching, but being there with the students and goofing off with them. The best teaching is done inadvertently. 422

So I try to write during those ‘naked moments’ of epiphany the illumination that comes every day a little bit. Some moment every day, in the bathroom, in bed, in the middle of sex, in the middle of walking down the street, in my head, or not at all. So if it doesn’t come at all, that’s the illumination . . . . So I try to pay attention all the time. The writing itself, the sacred act of writing, when you do anything of this nature, is like prayer. The act of writing being done sacramentally, if pursued over a few minutes, becomes like a meditation experience, which brings on a recall of detailed consciousness that is an approximation of high consciousness. High epiphanous mind. So, in other words, writing is a yoga that invokes Lord mind. And if you get into a writing thing that will take you all day, you get deeper and deeper into your own central consciousness. 258

On being interviewed: If you talk to people as if they were future Buddhas, or present Buddhas, then any bad karma coming out of it will be their problem rather than yours, so you can say anything you want, and you talk on about the highest level possible. 376

I mean, I always had Kerouac in mind when I got on a peace march and I always made sure it was like really straight, pure, surrealist, lamblike, nonviolent, magical, mantric, spiritual politics rather than just marching up and down the street screaming hatred at the president. 288

If you take someone’s photo, more or less close-up, always include the hands. 525

When asked for advice: Look in heart; check out your visions with your friends; be bold and careful at the same time; Mind includes both sides of any argument; balance body, feelings, reason and imagination: ALL 4 working together to make the whole wo/man; read William Blake & Dostoyevsky; listen to old Blues (Leadbelly Ma Rainey & Skip James); learn classical Buddhist-style meditation practice; try everything; “If you see something Horrible, don’t cling to it,” sez Tibetan Lama Dudjon Rinpoche. See Charlie Chaplin Marx Brothers & WC Fields. Read PLATO’s Symposium. Tell your friends everything. Give away all your secrets. “Be wise as serpents and gentles as doves.” Feed everybody. Remember life includes suffering complete change and no ultimate personal identity, neither permanent Self or permanent God. Cheerful! Help everyone! 442

Advertisements