Posts Tagged ‘Beats

12
Sep
15

Quick Notes on Allen Ginsberg

These are mostly notes and observations I am writing for myself as I prepare for the Contemporary Poetry section of my comps. I will try to do this with each poet I read. Maybe the notes will be useful to others, too. Again, they are notes and observations. They are not thesis-driven arguments.

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Allen GinsbergAllen Ginsberg (1926 – 1997) is an American poet, who is usually associated with the Beats. His major book is Howl & Other Poems (1956), and when he read the poem “Howl” at The Six Gallery Reading in San Francisco on October 7, 1955, some say the Beat Generation began.

On one of the walls at The University of Southern Mississippi’s English Department is the following quote from Ezra Pound, which I am currently looking at: “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” With Ginsberg, in Howl & Other Poems (1955), we don’t get that. We don’t get formal poems of self-contained meanings, meters, rhetorical poetic devices, all of which is designed for close reading. We get a series of images that leap around paratactically. We get images provoking ideas and emotions. We get open form poems, often with long lines. We get long lines filled with a big breath, which seems to recall Olson’s “Projective Verse.” These long lines allow for Ginsberg to more accurately trace his mind in action. Philip Whalen says something like, “Poetry is a graph of the mind moving,” and that is how most of Ginsberg’s poems appear to operate in Howl & Other Poems. In addition, according to David Perkins:

Ginsberg absorbed [W. C.] Williams’ belief that poetry must reflect contemporary social reality, present images rather than ideas, and base its idiom on immediate speech rather than a poetic tradition. (547)

The open form also allows Ginsberg a larger space in which to confess. (I think Ginsberg is a type of Confessional poet, but whereas Lowell, Plath, and Snodgrass confess within the worlds of suburban families, Ginsberg confesses among the drug addicts, hobos, artists, outcasts, patients in mental asylums (like Carl Solomon and his mother).) With the long poetic line, he is able to confess “out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head” (“Howl” 131). He confesses his homosexuality, he confesses to being a Communist, he confesses to being a poet, and he confesses to the value of work.

Some concerns in these poems are work and value and nostalgia. For instance, “America” opens: “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing. / America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956” (146). Ginsberg is saying he’s given it his all, but despite that, despite capitalism’s promise that working hard will make one rich, Ginsberg feels nearly valueless ($2.27). This poem shows the effects of capitalism on the American worker, who is a hero in many of Ginsberg’s poems. By the end of the poem, he announces, “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel” (148). In essence, he’s announcing he’s getting back to the old ways of working. The capitalist’s “machinery is too much for” him (146). The capitalist working conditions create homogenized products and make people too serious – “Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me” (147). So like an independent smith (pre-capitalism), he’s going to put his shoulder to the wheel stone and make his own products his own way. His value will come from his self-worth, his own industry. And he will sell his poems, his “strophes $2500 apiece.” He will be able to buy supermarket food with his own “good looks” (146). He is his own worth. His genius and good looks should be more than enough to survive.

We can even see some of this in the closing poem “In back of the real” (113), where the “hay flower” acts allegorically as the working person. This flower – with a “brittle black stem,” “dirty spikes” (though appearing crown-like and one of three crowns in Howl & Other Poems (one is the skyscrapers in “Howl” and one is in the flower in “Sunflower Sutra”)), and as worn down as an old hair brush “that’s been lying under / the garage for a year” – is the “flower of industry.” It is an “ugly flower” in appearance having grown in the environment of industry by a tank factory and railway station and tracks, but within it is the “great yellow / Rose in your brain! / This is the flower of the World.” This might be the underlying theme of the whole book – no matter who you are, how beaten down you’ve been, how much electroshock therapy you’ve had, there’s beauty in you and your madness.

Ginsberg poems are very accessible and in a simple language, but prompting complicated issues of economics, religion, sexuality, politics, drugs, and war. Some have claimed that Howl was the second most influential poem of the 20th century, with The Waste Land being the most influential.

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Works Cited

Ginsberg, Allen. Collected Poems: 1947-1980. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984. Print.

Perkins, David. “Allen Ginsberg.” A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987. Print.

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Here’s where you can find the poems in Howl & Other Poems as they appear in the Collected Poems: 1947-1980.

Howl, 126-133

Footnote to Howl, 134

A Supermarket in California, 136-37

Transcription of Organ Music, 140-41

Sunflower Sutra, 138-39

America, 146-48

In the Baggage Room at Greyhound, 153-54

An Asphodel, 88

Song, 111-12

Wild Orphan, 78-79

In the back of the real, 113

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10
Sep
15

Quick Notes on Gary Snyder

These are mostly notes and observations I am writing for myself as I prepare for the Contemporary Poetry section of my comps. I will try to do this with each poet I read. Maybe the notes will be useful to others, too. Again, they are notes and observations. They are not thesis-driven arguments.

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Gary SnyderGary Snyder (May 8, 1930) is an American poet often associated with the Beats because he was friends with them, but I don’t think his poetry picks up the Beatific feel, as his poetry is far more sincere and nature orientated. And as Tom C. Hunley pointed out, Snyder, in a sense, distances himself from the Beat poets when he writes in the opening poem, “Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout,” in his first collection of poems Riprap, “A few friends, but they are in cities.” Those friends are the Beat poets, and they are far away in an urban scene. Perhaps it’s easier to consider Snyder an ecological poet or primal poet, or as he says in A Controversy of Poets, “As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times” (“Biography”).

Gary Snyder’s first collection of poems, Riprap¸ was first released in 1959, the same year as Robert Lowell’s Life Studies. With both poets, the “I” in their poems is the poet, but the I’s relationship with its surroundings is much different. Lowell’s I, while realizing it is not completely independent and is formed in part by family history, is an ego-centric I, self-reflexive, and mainly concerned with the self. Snyder’s I, however, tries to integrate with the natural setting that surrounds him, such as at the end of “Water,” when after diving into a cold mountain pond or lake, he surfaces with “Eyes open aching from the cold and faced a trout” (12). In this moment, we can grasp much of Snyder’s ecological philosophies – he shares a space with other creatures with which he is equal to – he sees the trout eye to eye in a shared environment. This doesn’t mean they are same. Each creature has its own journey, like the deer and he do in “Above Pate Valley,” when he reports, “They came to camp. On their / Own trails. I followed my own / Trail here” (11). For Snyder, the vast types of life forms in nature are unique and equal in their shared environment.

As I just said, Snyder “reports” this observation, and often when moving through Riprap, it feels like Snyder is reporting on the environment objectively and imagistically. At times the poems almost feel like they are Imagism poems as a scene is presented without comment, such as the opening of “Nooksack Valley”:

     At the far end of a trip north
     In a berry-picker’s cabin
     At the edge of a wide muddy field
     Stretching to the woods and cloudy mountains,
     Feeding above the stove all afternoon with cedar,
     Watching the dark sky darken, a heron flap by,
     A huge setter pup nap on the dusty cot.                  (17)

Further, like an Imagism poem, there is even a charged juxtaposition, which occurs with the elaborate description of the cabin and its environment (which is so vast and grand) and the dog taking a nap. The two worlds objectively collide and create an intuitive meaning, and we encounter the subjective experience of the speaker. We inhabit that comparative space with the speaker, and hopefully feel and understand what he does. This juxtaposition is further enhanced with the prepositional “At,” which signals that the subject and verb will come later. As a result, we have expectations, which are further elevated with “the far end of a trip north.” It creates the sense of some sort of awe-inspiring epiphany will eventually arrive, because it’s the long end of the journey. However, what we encounter is just a snoozing dog. But this is the space I think the speaker wants to inhabit, or at least he wants to avoid the anxieties of city life in “San Francisco / and Japan” in the third quarter of the poem with “damned memories / Whole wasted theories, failures and worse success, / Schools, girls, deals . . .”. When he escapes those memories and responsibilities lingering in his head, he sees the dog winding down to sleep in the poem’s final two lines.

Perhaps Snyder’s self or ego just wants to be absorbed by nature, or maybe he realizes there is no self, or that he seeks and egoless-interference with his surroundings. For instance, the first three lines of the last stanza in “Piute Creek”: “A clear attentive mind / Has no meaning but that / Which sees is truly seen” (8). Right before these lines, Snyder again provides a journalistic account of the environment only to realize that in this environment “All the junk that goes with being human / Drops away [. . .] / Even the heavy present seems to fail / This bubble of a heart.” He is divesting himself of his ego so that he can situate himself to see truly, and if he does, he will be “truly seen” by nature (like the trout he encountered), and/or in a Zen way, he will be truly seen by himself.

The rhythm of the poems in Riprap is not staccato, but sometimes it moves abruptly with spondees and three stressed syllables in a row, often because an article or pronoun is left out of the sentence. The rhythm, however, is not jarring. Quite the contrary, Snyder’s rhythm adds to the very sincere tone poems, which are also filled with reverence. This is not to say he doesn’t know his craft. One just has to listening the opening poem, “Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout,” to recognize his very talented ear. This poem is dominated by long syllables and long vowels, and in the opening lines – “Down valley a smoke haze / Three days heat, after five days rain / Pitch glows on the fir-cones” – each long A, long E, long O, and long I are stressed syllables. One could also listen to “Hay for the Horses,” where he interjects two iambic trimeter lines to mimic the mechanical nature of the activities: “With winch and ropes and hooks / We stacked the bales up clean.”

In these lyrical poems, there is little subjective interference, but there is much that enables us to inhabit Snyder’s spirit being at one with nature. He’s a deep ecologist before deep ecology was created, as he seeks to create a relationship with humans and other life forms and seeks the inherent values in living things, and does not impose a value/worth on a living thing.

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Works Cited

“Biography: Gary Snyder.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. 2015. Web. 10 Sep. 2015.

Snyder, Gary. Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems. San Francisco, North Point Press, 1990. Print.

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The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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