An early version of this poem was published online in Sam Hamill’s Poets Against the War. Some of the first poems from that effort were collected in an anthology. All the poems are now archived at a university but at this point I’m at a loss to remember which one. The poem was later published in Salamander Cove. I pulled Imagine out and dusted it off today in response to current events and the associated reckless rhetoric.
Thugs from hell have taken freedom’s store
The rich get richer, the poor die quicker
& the only god that sanctions that
Is no god at all but rhetorical crap
excerpt from The Ballad of Girly Man in Girly Man by Charles Bernstein
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This no doubt feels like an event for many people. It certainly seems so to me. I already have my pre-orders in. According to the Amazon blurb:
The Cambridge Companion to the Beats offers an in-depth overview of one of the most innovative and popular literary periods in America, the Beat era. The Beats were a literary and cultural phenomenon originating in New York City in the 1940s that reached worldwide significance. Although its most well-known figures are Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, the Beat movement radiates out to encompass a rich diversity of figures and texts that merit further study. Consummate innovators, the Beats had a profound effect not only on the direction of American literature, but also on models of socio-political critique that would become more widespread in the 1960s and beyond. Bringing together the most influential Beat scholars writing today, this Companion provides a comprehensive exploration of the Beat movement, asking critical questions about its associated figures and arguing for their importance to postwar American letters.
“The way to point to the existence of the universe is to see one thing directly and clearly and describe it. . . . If you see something as a symbol of something else, then you don’t experience the object itself, but you’re always referring it to something else in your mind. It’s like making out with one person and thinking about another.” —Ginsberg speaking to his writing class at Naropa Institute, 1985
With “Howl” Allen Ginsberg became the voice of the Beat Generation. It was a voice heard in some of the best-known poetry of our time—but also in Ginsberg’s eloquent and extensive commentary on literature, consciousness, and politics, as well as his own work. Much of what he had to say, he said in interviews, and many of the best of these are collected for the first time in this book. Here we encounter Ginsberg elaborating on how speech, as much as writing and reading, and even poetry, is an act of art.
Testifying before a Senate subcommittee on LSD in 1966; gently pressing an emotionally broken Ezra Pound in a Venice pensione in 1967; taking questions in a U.C. Davis dormitory lobby after a visit to Vacaville State Prison in 1974; speaking at length on poetics, and in detail about his “Blake Visions,” with his father Louis (also a poet); engaging William Burroughs and Norman Mailer during a writing class: Ginsberg speaks with remarkable candor, insight, and erudition about reading and writing, music and fame, literary friendships and influences, and, of course, the culture (or counterculture) and politics of his generation. Revealing, enlightening, and often just plain entertaining, Allen Ginsberg in conversation is the quintessential twentieth-century American poet as we have never before encountered him: fully present, in pitch-perfect detail.
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This essay was originally published in the December 2016 issue of The BeZine. It is by Reena Prasad (Butterflies of Time – A Canvas of Poetry) and with her permission I share it here today. It is simply not to be missed. I can’t think of anything better with which to start 2017. Over the years, I have not seen another poet work with quite the same passion, consistancy or intelligence at her craft. She is diligent not only in the creative process but in getting her work out to publishers. I am pleased to be able to feature her essay here and her poetry in The BeZine. Enjoy! Reena’s bio is below the essay. J.D.
Poetry finds you when you are broken, insists on taking you into its fold, puts your pieces together and then you never leave.
It struck me when I was standing at the doorway of my home one July that the sunshine over the mussaenda was a rare shade of rose-gold and that the leaves under it were a luminous green. The street noises seemed to recede as if the stage had been taken over by some other troupe and sure enough, there was a sudden onset of activity. An excited squirrel ran up and down the guava tree, a few babblers screamed and the jackfruit tree came to life with bird cries. All because there was a long rat snake slithering leisurely across the sunlit ground. There had been stray tears on my cheek and I was a dam on the verge of a collapse but then the other world swung in and took over from me.
I was privy to nature’s poetry slam. I wanted nothing to capture it, not a camera, or a laptop nor pen and paper. A poem followed by several others swung its legs over the cacophony of humdrum routines and marched into me settling deep into waiting trenches filling me up with purpose and with immense joy. While steadily ploughing up the driest top soil and turning it over to the elements to ravage, it was changing me.
I remembered Stanley Kunitz’s translation of Akhmatova’s lines . . .
“No foreign sky protected me, no stranger’s wing shielded my face. I stand as witness to the common lot, survivor of that time, that place.”
Writing a poem is akin to exercising. To begin is difficult at times because it is easier to wallow in conceptual dramas and imaginary hammocks than to sit in one place and write or type. Think about the singular joy of munching on peanuts and reading fitness magazines on the couch compared to going running on a cold day.
Some poems are difficult to birth even while being exhilarating with senses functioning at heightened awareness and making one sore with the intensity of thought . Once begun, every thought zooms into the present; nature, politics and emotions collide, collaborate and confound the notions of what constitutes poetry. The end comes when the experience has gone through like a sword and untwisted all the overlapping images to give one’s vision a clarity that is brighter than the sunbathed green leaves of the mussaenda.
Winner of the T.S Elliot award 2012 Poet John Burnside said,“Poetry reminds us that lakes and mountains are more than items on a spreadsheet; when a dictatorship imprisons and tortures its citizens, people write poems because the rhythms of poetry and the way it uses language to celebrate and to honour, rather than to denigrate and abuse, is akin to the rhythms and attentiveness of justice.” Central to this attentiveness is the key ingredient of poetry, the metaphor, which Hannah Arendt defined as “the means by which the oneness of the world is poetically brought about”. It’s that power to bring things together, to unify experience as “the music of what happens”, that the best poetry achieves.”
It also unifies the people reading it and the poets who write it because we search for affirmation, for reassurance that our feelings and experiences are shared by someone else somewhere and that we aren’t all alone though our pursuit of the game is almost always solitary.
While the visualized poem changes a lot after being handed over to language, the thing that is most changed at the end of the writing is me. I feel kindly and tolerant to all forms of obstacles and injustices that were hindering the poem till then, feeling mostly gratitude for the crash course on changing perception. If there is more indecision, more poems might be written.
As David Biespiel says”You become a poet when you navigate your poem’s labyrinths of mutability, not to a point of stasis, but to a point where your discoveries blossom into ecstasy, intoxication, even beatitude — or, to downplay that bit of grandiosity, into clarity, insight, judgment, understanding, private vision.”
And believe me language plays a mighty role here – give it all the vocabulary and range you can and the poem rushes through like a thing on fire. Don’t let anyone tell you that language doesn’t matter. It does. It does. It does. You wouldn’t want to be subjected to an operation if your doctor uses an rusty, blunt knife he found while swimming in the ocean. It is the same thing with poetry. Hone your weapons before you go to war. Because after that poem is written, you are healed of whatever ailed you. The better your poem, the better you feel. I have no complaints about life as long as I can write because there somewhere between the thought and the written word, lies my wetland, my wildlife reserve, my sanctuary.
Leaving you with Amiri Baraka’s lines from Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note . . .
“Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way The ground opens up and envelopes me Each time I go out to walk the dog. Or the broad edged silly music the wind Makes when I run for a bus…
REENA PRASAD is a poet from India, currently living in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). She is the co-editor with Dr. A.V. Koshy of The Significant Anthology (2015). She writes poems looking in awe at the world from the seventeenth floor of a high rise in the Arabian desert. Her poems have been published in several anthologies and journals including The Copperfield Review, First Literary Review-East, Angle Journal, Poetry Quarterly, York Literary Review, Lakeview International Journal, Duane’s PoeTree, and Mad Swirl. She is the Destiny Poets UK’s, Poet of the Year for 2014. More recently her poem was adjudged second in the World Union Of Poet’s poetry competition, 2016.
There is a dangerous half-truth that has always haunted the practice and the appreciation of the arts: too much technique will inhibit creativity. Despite constant evidence that too little technique will inhibit it worse, the idea never quite dies, because it is politically too attractive. Young women are usually less susceptible, but young men are often pleased to think their creative activities would flourish best if they could spend more time getting up late in the morning and taking a longer nap during the afternoon. Hence the continuing popularity of Blake’s emphasis on just letting art happen, without too much sweat.” Clive James, Poetry Notebook, Reflections on the Language of Intensity
My current read: a thoughtful book delivered with the characteristic taste, wit and insight of Clive James, Australian cultural critic, poet, lyricist, memoirist and essayist. The book is a collection of essays and “interludes” on poetry, poets, practice and technique.
Included in Clive James’ impressive opus are books of poetry: Poem of the Year (verse diary) and a collection of four mock-heroic poems, The Fate of Feisty Fark in the Land of Media: a moral poem and other collections.