"THE BEE-LOUD GLADE" INTERVIEW BY RANDY ROARK
I don’t believe Kirpal and I have ever met. But we may have as we know a lot of the
same people, and have even lived in the same places, although not at the same time. I
think he may be a few years older than I am (I’m 60). He lives in Flushing, New York,
where he makes ends meet as a fiction writer, teacher, ghostwriter, editor, and spoken
Steven Hirsch—a mutual friend—published him under the Heaven Bone Press imprint
years ago, so I knew his name. And everyone I knew seemed to consider him a close
friend. When I mentioned that we had begun a correspondence to Jim Cohn (founder of
the Museum of American Poetics), he told me that Kirpal was the only contemporary
fiction writer that he continued to read.
But if I had met Kirpal, I think I would remember because he seems hard to forget. He is
perhaps the most alive person I have ever known. And genuinely alive, over sustained
periods of time, and even under pressure. Kirpal has more energy and it’s a higher
octane energy than I have. He is fire, and to be completely honest I find fire a little
frightening. I can’t remember what started our correspondence, but I do remember that it
very quickly became thick with overlapping conversations and multiple layers of ideas
Shortly after we began our correspondence, as I was about to take off for an extended
trip down the Amazon, I chose to use three of my fifty-pound allotment for three of
Kirpal’s books and a CD. About three weeks later, I was in Cuzco, and had thirty minutes
before I was to meet someone for dinner, so I pulled out his collection of short stories and
paged through it. Thirty minutes should be plenty to read the first story, maybe two.
From the very beginning of New York at Twilight, almost every narrator is determinedly
not the author. And, in a rather overly dramatic instance of kismet, I picked the book up
immediately after turning off a BBC World News interview with a young male Asian
actor. And if you saw the interview, you’d know I haven’t learned anything if I’m
continuing to use “Asian” as an adjective on par with “young” and “male.” And, for
that matter, maybe I shouldn’t be using adjectives like “young” and “male” either.
This actor was born and raised in London and was more British than Asian, and had
much more in common with the thoughts and dreams and emotions of any male character
onstage in London than anyone genuinely “Asian”—whatever that means. And yet, even
with such a large number of second- and even third-generation Asians in London,
there were never any parts for him onstage other than those specifically calling for
someone often without even a name, a sort of human cypher for “male Asian youth.” He
even had to hire voice coaches if the director thought he was having trouble saying the
lines written for him by a non-Asian “in character.”
The play he was promoting in the interview takes place during a casting call for “Lady
Saigon.” “Lady Saigon” is somewhat notorious for having non-Asians play all the Asian
characters, necessitating voice lessons, a choreographer to get the walk and body
language cliché enough, and many additional hours of make-up every day for an
inauthentic result, but it was what was necessary to please the modern Broadway
audience. But that was the irony of an “Asian” actor’s career: when there finally were
desirable roles for a large number of Vietnamese on a Broadway stage, no Asian actor
would even be considered for the part.
There will probably never be a reader more skeptical of a writer writing en voce than I
was at the moment I opened New York at Twilight, which turned out not surprisingly to
be a collection of short stories centered in New York City. But I was surprised when the
first story was a highly charged sexual adventure narrated from a young woman’s point
of view. What does he mean, I thought (a student of feminist and post-feminist criticism)
by writing in a woman’s voice? Then the collection continues to portray the city’s varied
ethnic mix, in both male and female voices. In most cases they narrate their peculiar
story very quickly in the present tense in a believable and enjoyable (if sometimes
unlikely) self-awareness. Others exhibit a just as believable and enjoyable (if equally
unlikely) complete lack of self-awareness. Both talk as if they are in rush to get
everything out before they run out of time at the end of the last paragraph before all of
that scary white space.
As I continued to read deeper into the book, following its complexities, marking his
connections and making my own, I found that I was also reading with two different
antennae—one wondering if he was going to be able to maintain the manic level of
energy until the last word (he did), and the other wondering if he would ever slip into
pantomime or cliché (never). Instead, the author seems not only to unquestionably accept
each of his characters, but he also seems to be genuinely charmed by his own creations
and wants very much for you to like them too. One suspects that several of these
characters might be driven by unlived desires in the author’s own chest. But if that’s the
case, what he wanted was to live in the skin of these characters—even the ones who will
be just as surprised as you are by the last sentence in their very short life stories—but
only for the length of a short story.
There are pros and cons of being a writer reading another’s work. The con part is that
reading quickly devolves from a suspension of disbelief into a kind of technical
exercise—as if you’re workshopping the piece, editing it in your head, evaluating the
rightness of its choices. But the pro part is you can really enjoy the skill and appreciate
the genuine talents when they’re present.
Kirpal’s skill begins with what he leaves out. No establishing shot, each story starts not
only in media res but as if you’ve been accosted by someone who’s chosen to relate their
manic variation on their life-changing event to you. Kirpal also knows a lot and I admire
the ways he’s found to insert a lot of esoterica into stories that still remain believably
verite. He also writes directly to the audience, the way people really talk, although to call
these characters “talkers” is disrespectful of their extensive verbal skills. And he doesn’t
explain himself—it’s up to you whether you get it or not, it’s not his concern. It’s like
Frank O’Hara said in the introduction to his selected poems (I’ll have to paraphrase).
That if you are accosted on the street, you do not craft a sentence that contextualizes the
situation and explains the significance of what you are saying. You yell “Help.” All of
Kirpal’s narrators are in one way or another yelling “Help!”
I also wanted to ask him about his book Eros in Sanskrit, and Speak-Spake-Spoke, a CD
which contains recordings of the contents of the book. I wanted to know if I should
consider the book the printed lyrics of performances on the CD, or is the CD a
performance of the book? Or something else?
I also wanted to ask him about what I considered to be his use of a double narrative, not
only in the stories collected in New York at Twilight, but also in his novel Round Earth,
Open Sky (whose first-person voices include those of Native Americans—both male and
female). Each of these books also finds ways to include a multitude of references to
largely esoteric spiritual teachings. And his latest novel—Go Ride the Music—is told
mostly in the voice of a young woman born in East India who is impersonating Billie
Holiday, traveling and performing throughout the modern-day south by station wagon to
locales important to jazz and modern literary history (largely African-American). In it
Kirpal exhibits a deep knowledge of various musical cultures throughout history from
around the world, and a great deal of knowledge—and deeper feelings—about American
avant garde jazz and musicians in general.
If I was right about the double narrative thing, then we were more similar than we looked
to be on paper. From the outside, we are complete opposites. He shines in works of
imaginative fiction, and I write only creative non-fiction. I strive to write simple,
declarative sentences, and Kirpal has developed an idiosyncratic modern epistolary
style; a somewhat cryptic but decipherable manipulation of language into a kind of
signifying litterature concrete. And I’ve already mentioned the energy thing, and could
add that I’m a skittish introvert, and he’s like a Roman candle in a speedboat. You’ll see.
—Randy Roark, Boulder, July 15, 2014
Randy Roark: I’m interested in your collaborations with musicians. How did that get
Kirpal Gordon: I had troubles on the home front and spent part of sixth grade in the
principal’s office. My punishment, to write one or two thousand words on whatever
infraction I had committed, was a reward in disguise. After the brief shame of sitting
there with Nun Number One, I got lost in the assignment. The solitude and discovery that
went into writing had a powerful effect.
Upon making trouble in the eighth grade, my new job became the writing of the school
Christmas play with a part for each of my fifty classmates. Although I was only thirteen
years old, writing and directing the play, along with the British musical invasion, helped
change my teen zeitgeist from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the solitary
rebel who refuses to play in the system, to the concept of the collective. Even folkie
Dylan had a rock band on the AM radio with “Like a Rolling Stone.” The older kids on
my block who formed a quintet let me hang with them as they played block parties, VFW
Halls, sweet sixteens. Covering the Beatles and “La Bamba,” they got our parents’ gen to
frug, twist and “join with da yute.” Some of the kids in class also formed a rock band that
fall and needed a drummer just as new jack Nathan Chantella arrived, having moved to
Whitestone. So I built the play, a musical, around the band's search for Nathan as I sensed
that this babe magnet was a secret weapon. "The Little Drummer Boy," a corny von
Trapp Christmas carol, had been re-issued and played the holiday airwaves, and as a
drummer and singer, Nathan owned the ballad and brought the house down in every
performance. By playing that pa-rum-pum-pum-pum pop-schlock for the adults, we were
able to sneak in Beatles’ covers, a victory for me to hear rock and blues-based tunes
(devil music) in the conservative church basement that had the audience tapping their feet
and delivering a standing ovation—a most auspicious beginning.
RR: That experience led to more collaborations?
KG: My interest in the word jumping off the page and onto the stage kept growing. Props
to not just the Beats or the Beatles but the gate Whitman opened which swung wider with
Langston and Zora; Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer; Woody, Lead Belly, Pete;
Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure, Jon Hendricks; Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Stevie
Wonder—all liberating American lyric literature from the lock-jawed and elbow-patched.
Amiri Baraka’s spoken word solos to jazz really opened up what was possible, especially
what he made of Trane’s oeuvre. Gil-Scott Heron took the lineage further into popular
music. Ditto Bob Marley. ‘Twas a time of roots, fusion and hybrid vigor.
That isn’t to say I knew what I was doing. While out in Arizona after college graduation I
was invited to join the Frequency Media Company, thanks to this intrepid electronic
music composer who used tape loops and nature sounds to great effect with contact
improvisation and modern dance. A photographer projected his work on a big screen and
we built music, spoken word and dance pieces as an ensemble. Although I wasn’t
thinking about poetry as a career move, only using the facilities at Arizona State
University to put up work, Norman Dubie, a poet in the English Department, read some
of my verse and invited me into the graduate creative writing program. I was admitted,
but no one there was very familiar with the New American Poetics of Don Allen’s antho
which was Source One to me at the time. I lucked out and spent that summer of ’78 as an
apprentice to Allen Ginsberg where I studied the NAP trad up close.
RR: What made you think of Allen Ginsberg? What was your connection to him?
KG: I was fired as a TA at ASU at the end of the spring semester ’78 for using The New
Consciousness, a reader with Allen Ginsberg’s face on the front cover, instead of the
freshman writing director’$ book. Talk about naiveté, I’d just come out of working in a
steel mill for two and a half years; I didn’t even realize I was kicking against the pricks or
that there were such things as po’ wars.
I’d read AG in catholic high school. The Q-76 bus I took to get there drove past the scene
of his first arrest twenty years earlier (1949), one block south of Northern Boulevard on
Francis Lewis Boulevard. Reading him then I was struck not by his poetry but by the
horror of its content: homosexual acts, mother in the madhouse, dope addiction, Moloch
eating children. If Far Out was the Beat calling card, AG was way further out than
anything in Ferlinghetti or Corso or even Kerouac, who’d lived in Ozone Park, not far
from where I would teach yoga three years later, and whose work conveyed a Beatific
reach a prole jock like me could grok. By contrast, AG’s otherness overwhelmed me. He
seemed in Howl and Kaddish suicided by society. It was the activist AG—who appeared
before Congress to share his drug experiences, who bashed in veins for peace—who first
spoke to me. I was a high-strung stringbean who felt misunderstood by my adoptive
parents whose Irish and German families knew no culturati. My bloodlines are Polish and
Swedish, peoples I knew nothing about, so I began to search for my own tribe of
wordsmiths and sadhus.
My father was opposed to sending me to a “hippie college,” but winning a Regents
scholarship gave me the chance to choose my own university program in the state of New
York and not get picked off by the draft (I was a conscientious objector prepared to serve
in non-combat rather than to go to jail). Before my first week at Fordham U at Lincoln
Center was over, students and faculty staged a strike to eliminate required courses, create
new departments (African-American, Puerto Rican and Women’s Studies) and personal
degree programs with full autonomy from Rose Hill in the Bronx (our progressive faculty
were the castaways). I expected arrest and fisticuffs which was troubling as I had a rap
sheet, but we were given everything we demanded and no one went to the Tombs.
Instead, I went to my professors’ apartments to contribute ideas to the Philosophy and
Religious Studies Departments. The latter’s multiple levels—historical, sociological,
psychological, spiritual—were particularly geared for our experimental approach. When
the department offered a course on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we insisted they hire a hatha
yoga instructor; when foreign language proficiency became required, my mentor Frank
Kenney taught me Sanskrit.
At times the whole city became our classroom as we visited every form of practice and
congregation and off-shoot that would have us. NYC was full of Asian culture and we
attended music and dance recitals, viewed thangka, yantra and landscape painting
exhibits, absorbed D.T. Suzuki’s work on Buddhism in the arts (Thomas Merton, too),
caught Trungpa’s first North American lecture at the Asia Society, brought Dan Berrigan
to campus to read, wrote haiku, sang and danced with the Hare Krishnas as well as the
Sufis, watched and discussed the films of Ingmar Bergman, prayed with black Baptists,
sat awed in tea ceremony, meditated in the New Year with Sri Chinmoy, de-constructed
the Hindu Renaissance, broke on through via Rajneesh’s chaotic meditation, practiced at
the Zen Institute and studied the budding counterculture in all its Gotham manifestations.
Meanwhile I was living in a commune in Flushing called Premundir with older Boomers
who had dealt herb in the Haight years before, saved the money, came home and started
local yoga/meditation courses (I would soon inherit), the food co-op on Fresh Meadow
Lane (off Utopia Parkway) and the Sunflower Community Restaurant (later called
Quantum Leap) which I co-managed. Every day was a blend of service, study and
sadhana—and there was so much music. I learned to sing on key and play blues harp
and there were books, books, books. Everyday people read poetry.
In the entire four years at FU I only had one problem. I took a Phil of Asia course with an
Indonesian prof, a Catholic convert of the more rectilinear persuasion. My class
presentation was to be on the omkar, and when I suggested we all chant om, the prof said
we couldn’t go there. I wrote AG and he wrote back right away with a discussion of
methods of chanting which I shared with the class which led the prof to relent so, using
AG's instructions, we met outside of class and chanted om for about twenty minutes. A
couple of months later I attended my first reading of AG (from Fall of America), had a
memorable experience of his poetry aloud and felt my first connection to my vocation.
RR: Are you saying that it was at this reading that you decided to become a poet? How
old were you?
KG: I was nineteen, but I don’t know that one can decide to become a poet. I’d written
stories, essays and free verse in high school, won a national journalism award, edited the
school paper and lit mag, but the boundaries ‘tween po’ and prose loosened in the early
Seventies with the Whitman renewal, New Journalism and the emerging outloud
experiments downtown. Because of a very hip Robert Nettleton, faculty advisor for our
lit mag and Joyce scholar, this was part of the Fordham scene, too.
So although I wrote, my sense of vocation was as a student of gyana (wisdom) yoga
(union through intellectual, scriptural, cultural study). The connection to AG was the
meditative state his recitation elicited. I walked out of the reading as if confirmed and
Eucharist-enriched. I had been fooling around with a musical long line, and Allen’s skill
inspired me to keep developing my own incantatory style, which was influenced by my
studies with Yogi Bhajan, a Punjab-born laya (sound current, a/k/a naam) yoga adept,
kundalini yoga teacher, mahan tantric and siri singh sahib (head minister in the Western
world) of Sikh dharma. Though I never became a Sikh, I taught in his lineage for six
years, humbled to the root to discover that through the grace of his teacher, Guru Ram
Das, healing and shakti poured forth. The poets of the Sikh Bible—Nanak, Kabir,
Mirabai, Arjun Dev—ran the voo doo down uniting sound and verse three hundred years
before Blake. Quite a mind-blower! As Whitman sang, “Passage to more than India.”
That’s also why the summer of ’78 at Naropa was such a life changer. I met many people
engaged with the oral-aural, the collaborative, the spontaneous and meditative. I love the
folks I studied with in grad school, but to be applauded for advancing elements of a
literary tradition by the people who created the trad was a wake-up call to pursue my own
style, no matter its lack of credential or element of “postbeat backlash” in the more
academic, job-securifying MFA po’ world.
RR: How did you come to be Allen’s apprentice?
KG: I wrote him, re-visited our earlier correspondence, asked if there were vacancies, got
a letter back saying yes, finished the spring semester, worked construction for a month,
took a bus, knocked on his door, shook his hand and it was like coming home. Even
though I was a white-clad, turban-wearing yoga/meditation teacher from a non-Buddhist
lineage, Allen took me everywhere and introduced me to everyone. It wasn’t just
tolerance—and that was a hard thing to find out West—it was mutual spiritual interest
and inspiration just like my college years in NYC studying meditation and the arts.
AG was a most courageous human who took seriously the need to speak truth to power,
said smart things when critiquing my work, had the best BS antennae I’d ever
encountered and challenged me with: “Will that have relevance fifty years from now?”
He digested feedback of all kinds and sought my critique of his Plutonian Ode which he
was shopping to the New York Times. To my ear, it’s in the same mansion as his more
famous long poems, just a smaller room with no new groundbreaking poetics,
overwhelming personal losses or bouts of ekstasis but then there needn’t be. He’s got
invocation magic and prophecy power momentum with the Whitman echo, a musical ode
that ends with a Tibetan jolt. In any case, afterwards as he patiently endured my smug
criticisms that the Times, like the Democratic Party in ’68, was too “culturally entranced”
to get the Whole Truth, I saw how caught up in duality I was and how much bigger was
his picture of things: he wanted the poem to have maximum exposure and Mr. Beat was
hip enough to be square whenever skillful means called for it. I remember how he
lamented the scene in Chicago, that squabbles between liberals and radicals had let
Tricky Dick get over on the USA. AG also insisted I not just study with him and I learned
a ton from Robert Duncan; Ted Berrigan and Tom Veitch, too. However, “old men with
pee stains on their underwear” were helping turn him into Mama Ginsey, enabling their
addictions, disenchantments and hustles. The Merwin incident with its implications of
racism and fascism was still this sharp-stick-in-the-eye that kept moods ‘tween poets and
meditators in “mere anarchy,” things Allen couldn’t square because “the center could not
Certainly “sight is where the eye strikes,” and perhaps I saw AG’s dilemma in bold
because of my own spiritual community’s issues. In the early Seventies it was all about
intensive yoga, bandha, kriya, tantra. The original call-and-answer songs were a blend of
American blues and folk forms, jazz chords and Gurmukhi mantras. Our Sunday service
featured a Meeting of the Ways where people of different paths came to share their unity
in-multiplicity. By ‘78, after troubles in India, the style shifted to learning Punjabi,
playing ragas on harmonium and singing gurbhani kirtan in a starched call-and-answer
style. Sunday became gurdwara, the trad Sikh service; it seemed the spiritual (seek;
inner) was being eclipsed by the religious (obey; outer), a contradiction we couldn’t cohere.
A number of us living in or near the creative arts ashram in Phoenix began to hold our
own sessions of song, art, poetry. We were all reading The Transformative Vision by Jose
Arguelles that spring. He happened to live outside Boulder, so I visited him to tell him
how valuable his book on art was to us, but per the paranoia of the hour, he was reluctant
to open his door as he thought I was a member of the Vajra Squad, there to bust him for
stepping off on Trungpa! It took a minute but he calmed down and we had a great visit.
Those were the days of “cults” and de-programmers. My spiritual teacher happened to
visit Boulder that summer to teach a tantric course and I tried to set up a meeting between
him and Allen (they’d met favorably a few times) but was told with an unexpected
sharpness that the SSS didn’t want any further contact with AG. To add to the crossroads
crisscross, Norman Dubie, the guy with the Guggenheim who got my ass out of the steel
mill and into ASU, was on the cover of American Poetry Review that month. I shared the
mag with Allen, who to my surprise had no interest, though Dubie’s work is an extension
of the New York School just like AG. Hey, I’m not knocking Allen; I’m saying this great
Whitmaniac and liberationist was held captive by the 10,000 demands of running the JK
School and the Committee for Poetry. Seeing him double-binded by the people he was
working for taught me that a writer needs to be free of apology, explanations,
philosophies and other people’s demands. I realized I could not represent my yoga
family’s official point of view, and instead of criticizing Yogi Bhajan for not behaving
according to my expectations, I had to take more responsibility for my own spiritual life.
RR: Why did you return to New York?
KG: Because five years away had made me homesick. In the summer of ’79 I moved into
the Lower East Side with people who would soon create the Foundation for Feedback
Learning. I was hustling as a copy editor, proof reader, census taker and natural foods
cook. A couple of years later, I taught high school English which led to teaching creative
writing for CUNY’s College of Staten Island where we got hold of a black box theater
and did music-spoken word performances. While living in Richmond County where
culture is not so abundant, artist friends and I started SILVPAC, Staten Island's Literary,
Visual and Performing Arts Council, and played every venue there, including people's
homes. I worked inside a New York State prison for eight years teaching writing and
producing a state-wide lit arts journal (Empire!) and a local prison newspaper (Arthur
Kill Alliance). Toward the end of that tenure, Castillo Cultural Center published a series
of three booklets and sponsored ten performances with ex-prison poets Hank Johnson,
Ramon Ringo Fernandez, me and Nkuajay, percussionist and flutist. That led to the book
party of my first fiction collection, Dear Empire State Building, with Castillo producing
“Caribbean Moon,” a choreo-poem about prison that I wrote, directed by Ringo with
music by Nkuajay, dancers and actors from Castillo and the priz program.
When I re-located to the Texas Hill Country in ’94, I worked with congueros, guitarists
and painters which led to a local press publishing A Further Being, a second fiction
collection; the exposure led to work with Austin tenor saxer Tomas Ramirez. I played the
San Miguel de Allende International Jazz Fest with his trio in 1996 which is where I met
New York baritone saxophonist Claire Daly who would soon change my life, and after
living in the French Quarter of New Orleans for a couple of years, I returned to the
Apple. I worked in a free jazz mode on “Big Daddy Midnight” with old allies Peter
Priore, an East Village bassist, and Steve Hirsch, an inventive percussionist.
RR: Ah, so Steven Hirsch is our common ancestor. Did you meet him at Naropa?
KG: He’s certainly a brother from another mother and a Renaissance man on a
motorcycle. We met in ‘82 in the West Village at a gem show he was exhibiting work in.
He dug Empire!, the priz journal, and I dug his Heaven Bone lit mag. Collaborating with
him has been big fun from day one. The range of material got stronger with each issue, as
did his skills as a publisher with a national distribution. So Steve brought to the show his
fiancé Karen, who brought along Nick, a singer who had played a million gigs with
Claire Daly. Nick called Claire the next day and told her to check my work. That was
2002 and we've been collaborating ever since. She’s pulled my coat to a fuller
appreciation of our musical heritage, especially big bands and composers like Oliver
Nelson, Harold Arlen, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Joel Forrester, Dexter Gordon. I was so
moved by her CDs that I started to write lines based upon the number of measures in the
song’s form. With her version of “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” playing, I found the words
(w)rapped around the melody and fit. A week later we tried out the tune at a jazz/hip-hop
fest in Cincinnati with beatboxer Napoleon Maddox and it came together like magic.
Slinging a word solo in tempo is more fun “wed to the ensemble” than being “out front.”
Rather than blowing over the chord changes, monopolizing the sound space or giving the
band directions that reduce their musical genius to illustrating the mood of my words, I
found that in two to four choruses I could celebrate the tune’s history or mystery, swing
hard, drop knowledge, incite mayhem, prompt the solos of the instrumentalists, get out of
the way and let the music play on. In terms of rehearsal and performance, this approach,
especially when using standards or a band mate’s compositions, simplifies the whole
shebang: we share a lead sheet, I indicate where I’m coming in and dropping out in the
form and they do the rest. Bob Holman at Bowery Poetry Club munificently booked
Claire for a series of Sunday brunches in ‘03 and that's how we evolved spoken-word
joins-the-jazz-love-fest. When she made a CD, Heaven Help Us All, in ‘04, I sat in on
two of her tunes and toured the country with her for two months. Jordan Jones, publisher
of Leaping Dog Press, caught two of our shows in the Bay area and came to NYC in ‘06
with his soon-to-be-wife Leslie to help us make Speak-Spake-Spoke, a CD of spoken
word and jazz with Claire as musical director, to accompany Eros in Sanskrit. Since its
release there have been many versions of the band, but everyone who plays with us really
has ears for aligning their sound with spoken word. I do solo readings, but if finances
permit, I love taking the band. They bring the fullness.
RR: What's your current relationship to reading? Who do you read for inspiration, who
do you read for pleasure, who do you read for information, whose literary work do you
admire? Which works made you want to be a writer? What do you consider your literary
lineage? Who do you consider your peers?
KG: In verse: FAREWELLIA a la Aralee (& spoken word CD) by Ralph La Charity; The
Blues of the Birth (spoken word CD) by Mikhail Horowitz; Seven Places in America: A
Poetic Sojourn by Miriam Sagan; It’s All Good: A John Sinclair Reader (& spoken word
CD); Dada Poetry: An Introduction by William Seaton; Sleepwalker’s Songs: New &
Selected Poems by Jim Cervantes; Swimming through Water (& spoken word CD) by
George Wallace; Across the Table (spoken word CD) by Janine Pommy Vega; So There
(spoken word CD) by Robert Creeley and Steve Swallow; Groundless Ground and
Venerable Madtown Hall (spoken word CD/DVD) by Jim Cohn; Ghost Farm by Pamela
Stewart; The Awesome Whatever (spoken word CD) by Bob Holman; Steel Valley by
Michael Adams; A Very Funny Fellow by Donald Lev; A Lion at a Cocktail Party by
Michael Hogan; Heavy Lifting by David Alpaugh; Ohio Blue Tips by Jeanne Clark;
Improvisations (visual poetry) by Vernon Frazer; Ramapo 500 by Steve Hirsch; The
Crystal Prism by David Stone. In plays: “The Last of the Knotts” by Doug Knotts and
“Dig Infinity,” Oliver Trager’s trib to Lord Buckley. In non-fiction: Between River &
Rock by Norman Ball; Rhapsody in Black: a Biography of Roy Orbison by John Kruth;
The Encyclopedia of Rebels by Mel Freilicher; Sunswumthru A Building by Bob Arnold;
Straight Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide to the Business of Jazz (Without Sacrificing
Dignity or Artistic Integrity) by Marty Khan; Digging: The Afro-American Soul of
American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka; The Life of Sri Ramakrishna; The Poetry
Lesson by Andrei Codrescu; Miles Ornette Cecil—Jazz beyond Jazz by Howard Mandel.
In fiction: Shadows on the Hudson by Issac Bashevis Singer; Best Ghost Stories by
Algernon Blackwood; Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby; The Double by Greg Boyd;
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth; Time Passes Like Rain by Harry Burrus; Lucky
by Denis Gray; Raise Your Right Arm by Peter Cherches; The Golem Triptych by Eric
Basso; Changing the Subject by Stephen-Paul Martin. These are titles I’ve reviewed,
blogged on or re-read recently, mostly by peers.
My current and lifelong relationship to reading is one of addiction. I read for pleasure,
moksha, money, inspiration and things worth stealing; for confrontation with the ax
designed for the frozen sea within me; for ideas that can help my clients, for clues to the
next thing I’m writing; for the dialogue, the plot’s intrigue and catharsis; for the greater
integration of all things, for the fortitude and the solitude. Reading is often the jump start
to writing as well as a portable cave (for riding the subways). After all, the writer’s life is
one long sentence in different states of dismemberment: read read read like mad, gab
debate gab, write wrong write, tear up/tear out/tear through, ponder-shape-edit, view
revise, then proof and print so that others can read read read because reading begets
interpretation. The Old and New Testaments were primary texts we studied year in and
year out. Once one got past the literal versions perped by the Church’s need to appear as
the one true and only way into salvation, how could one not be moved by the power of
metaphor in Psalm 23 (The lord is my shepherd) or the symbolism in Eden, the poetry in
the parables of Lamby Jesus or his elegant Beatitudes? The idea that a story can be read
on different levels and contain different meanings to different people going through
different phases—moral, psychological, social; ontogenic/phylogenic—was planted in
our noggins early on.
We were primed for Poe and Hawthorne, Twain and Whitman, Kafka and Joyce, Woolf
and Eliot, Pound and Stein, Jung and Freud, Erich Neumann and Joseph Campbell,
Orwell and Huxley, Heller and Mailer, Ellison’s Invisible Man and Gates’ Signifyin’
Monkey, Paul Bowles and Henry Miller, Borges and Garcia Marquez, Salinger and
Kerouac, Plath and Sexton, Vonnegut and Assimov, Norman O. Brown and Herbert
Marcuse, Doris Lessing and Malcolm X, Kesey and Tom Wolfe, Gary Snyder and Alan
Watts, Pynchon and Heinlein, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, Kundera and Naipaul,
Achebe and Ondaatje, Ntozake Shange and Ishmael Reed, Foucault and Freire, Auster
and DeLillo, Miguels Algarin and Pinero. Many of their genre-bending/breaking works
made me want to be a writer back in the day or have given me strength as a writer as well
as greater clarity, craft, urgency, immediacy, intimacy. I don’t see them as iconclasts so
much as rare talents whose post-conventional contents won’t stay in a conventional
container. Call them outlaws or revolutionaries at your own risk; they’ve helped me
decolonize my own mind, shape a multi-tiered narrative voice and appreciate East and
West as compliments rather than opposites. On lineage(s), I feel kinship with anyone
seeking freedom, whether from the bonds of illusion or oppression.
RR: Let’s talk about your books. Speak on the evolution of the prose poems in Eros in
Sanskrit: Lyrics & Meditations, 2007-1977.
KG: I’m fond of the prose poem because it can’t be pigeon-holed; it’s a deep mine,
thanks to Poe, Edson and Bly. Eros in Sanskrit collects many different styles of writing
from eleven limited editions united by the prose poem format: meditations, travelogues,
lyrical invocations, serial narratives, performance pieces, jailhouse screeds and spoken
word jazz medleys. For example, “Beware: You Are or Be Where You’re Not” started
life as an essay with the title as a repeating first line but morphed into a monologue
performed by Ann Carlson with video installation in a show called the White Series.
“Letter in Lady Day Spring Tones” is a multi-voiced plea in the scared straight tradition
that I co-wrote and often perform with my ex-prison writing team that de-romanticizes
incarceration. Remarkable priz and urban photography by Paula Siwek projected with a
dissolve unit makes the piece truly scary in performance. If you play the famous version
of Billie’s “Fine and Mellow,” you’ll see the lyrics fit into the number of choruses her
all-star band takes.
The prose poem has an additional use: the book’s over 14,000 words long but on only 68
pages, an economic use of space, tree and coin. I also admire how German and French
writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century used the prose poem to liberate poetic
content from strict verse forms, but in certain cases I’m employing the paragraph to hide
rhymes and measures. Literature is a mask and I’m in the incantation racket on the two
and four, not writing about the ouija board Grandma left in the attic. Were I to lay out the
work like verse, a reader would peep my hole card and make the end rhyme predictable,
but reading it aloud in a paragraph allows for shock and awe, the gatekeepers to “the
opening of the field.” That’s been the evolution of my thinking: give shock and awe and
let the spirit do the rest.
Poetry is a service industry, yet while writing and performing these works over the
decades I discovered many folks have no clue as to how to read po’, whether ordered like
Longfellow or all over the page like ee cummings’ iambs or Dr. Williams’ variable foot
in triplicate lines. However, every literate person knows how to read a paragraph in their
own natural voice, so why not start there? Because the words are meant to be read aloud,
my interest has shifted from their visual arrangement on the page to giving readers
greater access to their sound. I dispensed with syllabics, stanzas, codas, quatrains. Line
breaks, however clever or dramatic or breath-centric, became a distraction to the eye at
the cost of what the ear could hear.
The homonym liar/lyre seems/seams the fuller truth/truer fullness.
Lastly, the prose poem format helps readers of Eros in Sanskrit become listeners of
Speak-Spake-Spoke, its companion CD. Each paragraph fits in tempo with the song’s
melody to celebrate the union of note and lyric.
RR: Eros in Sanskrit is subtitled “Lyrics and Meditations 2007-1977.” You’ve already
addressed the lyrical reference for these prose poems, but how about the meditations
part? And the dates: why backwards? And thirty years—that’s quite a gestation. I don’t
imagine you saw the first pieces from 1977 as part of this particular work. Can you
describe the creative process over this 30-year period to come up with this text? Can you
talk a bit about the experience of creating the CD Speak-Spake-Spoke and what you
learned about the relationship between the written word and the spoken word during this
KG: The meditation poem in the West, especially since Emerson substituted nature for
theology, suggests to me that its aim is to deliver the reader into an aesthetic arrest and a
meditative state. Ditto in the Sanskrit traditions; the shabd (verse line)—shaped by
alliteration, repetition, pun, internal rhyme and sung aloud to the appropriate ascending
descending scale (raga)—relies in part on the rhythmic permutation and combination of
certain seed syllables causing the tongue (lingam) to stimulate meridian points along the
roof of the mouth (yoni) that connect to the pituitary and pineal glands. So the meditation
side of the equation is everywhere you find it, though the quality of the meditation may
change. For example, “Appearances” is just a two paragraph evocation to autumn in the
book, but spoken aloud on the CD with the band playing Kirk’s “Serenade to a Cuckoo,”
the evocation heralds spookier meanings.
Writing-performing these works over so many years gave them new meanings, too. Like
water over stone, they lost their asides, complaints, half-steppin’ moments. Dark nights
hollowed out their insufficient cores; deeper insights poured in. I began to see them not as
individual works but parts of a whole celebrating one lifetime canto: love as a nondual
experience in which lover and beloved are one.
Regarding the creative process, it wasn’t so much gestation as labor—the driving force of
the poem wouldn’t leave me alone. The title piece, for example, was written and
published in ’77, but it took me many expanding drafts to develop its connection to
everything else in the book, something I could not rush. George Harrison’s version of the
Iso Upanishad with London Hare Krishna musicians helped. Every syllable matters, even
more so aloud, and there’s nothing like speaking lyrics into song forms to deliver words’
new possibilities. For example, on the CD the band plays Tommy Dorsey’s arrangement
of Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Song of India” to the title piece making it fun and light-hearted,
but on the bandstand when I need a ballad, I sometimes call Eli Yamin’s “Jacquet’s
Meditation” and read it to that slower melody for a contemplative vibe.
In terms of a total delivery when working with a band, the real knock-out is not just the
context or contrast a song gives a lyric, but how the solos of the musicians breathe life
into the spoken word tale. Like on “Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most” and
“Equinox”—piano and bari sax solos are the words expressed in notes. So working with
musicians has shaped these lines for the better. Ditto putting them on stage because an
audio-ence doesn’t just listen; it communicates what it hears. I don’t know why the dates
are backward, but everything seeks to turn inside out and become its opposite in Eros in
Sanskrit, so why not?
RR: I like that you don’t know why the dates are backward! I developed a theory that you
were talking about roots and gestation in the pieces, and so you were pointing out that so
much of the present moment was planted unknowingly in the past—including this brand
new book. And also as a nod to how much of past there is—in this case thirty years of it
involved in creating a single work of art. It made me think of Faulkner: "The past is
never dead. It's not even past."
I want to turn to a detailed examination of your prose work now. Almost half of the
stories in New York at Twilight are written in women’s voices, and another is narrated
by an African-American man, another by a Greek-American male. Your novel Round
Earth, Open Sky is written by what appears to be a Native-American spirit. Your latest
novel (Go Ride the Music) is written from the point of view of a young East Indian
woman. Why do your stories so often feature a narrator who is definitely not you? Let’s
take “Television Jones.” How did you come to write it from the point of view of an
African-American, especially one portrayed as a dispassionate and hollow sex addict?
Why did he have to be an African-American? And why is so much of your fiction written
in women’s voices?
KG: My stories often feature a narrator who is not me because a great deal of the time I
am working as a ghostwriter, praise singer, interviewer, dramatist, reporter, confidant,
scribe to tribes, interpreter, psycho-electro-magnetic antennae, witness, mask through
which the disembodied sing, container of multitudes and contradictions. Nevertheless, the
issue you bring up, permission to speak on what the author is not—like race, gender and
ethnicity—is serious and sensitive with a long, unfortunate history of misunderstanding,
something I hope to help change, and I mean no disrespect.
The misunderstood protagonist in “Television Jones” can’t get any respect either. What
he’s up against is institutional, insidious, invisible. By characterizing him as “a
dispassionate and hollow sex addict” rather than a lonely and divided man working
through his therapy, perhaps you’re not giving the tale’s dynamics their due. The brother
is an underground revolutionary by night and a municipal auditor by day passing for
white whose wife walked out on him when he told her the circumstances of his felony
arrest and bid. His evening pursuit of a meaningful hook-up with performance artist
Mulani, blocked by Enrique from his T group, is juxtaposed in the TV footage behind
them of another brother getting beaten on by the LAPD asking why we can’t all just get
along. The story also doubles as a parable about testosterone making a smart man stupid
by reducing his life to only things he can kill or penetrate. Jean-Claude Baptiste, like his
namesake, is in a twilight moment seeking a different kind of baptism, one that integrates
his day and night, black and white selves into a new gestalt.
In “The Zeitgeist of Love” the know-it-all college sophomore wondering why there’s evil
in the world is of Greek heritage, just like his outer borough Astoria neighborhood, and
that’s no arbitrary set-up either. His xenophobic Greek parents, condescending Orthodox
pastor and incomplete investigations into Socrates all conspire to deliver him into an
inescapable twilight moment with his Teutonic girlfriend and her sister in Little Italy. In
“The Magus of the Blue Hour” X (chromosome?) got it bad for Y, but X is too turned on
to suss out Y’s intent. It’s a satiric allegory with erotic Borsch Belt humor about desire,
role reversal and the unconscious part humans play in the planet’s extinction at this
twilight hour. X also connects to wild daughter Colleen X in “Lustrum at the Flushing
RKO” who connects with the X factor in “Television Jones.” Everything interconnects,
story by story. Walt Whitman, whose work is celebrated in “Petals of Pushpema,” is the
collection’s tutelary light. As the narrator in “St. Philibert’s Feast Day” puts it, “Everyone
turns out to be me in the City of Karmic Completion.” On the other hand, Shiva is the
collection’s tutelary deity and metamorphosis the only game in town.
Six of the tales are written in third person omniscient, but I blur the narration so it reads
in places like a protagonist’s first person cranial. Another six were originally written as
monologues performed for the stage: a milquetoast commuter fleeing the archer of death,
an older Holden Caulfield emailing his dead author, a Central Park jogger entering an
alternative universe, a downtown pedestrian sauntering to a Monk tune at dusk, a Puerto
Rican prisoner envisioning the divine mother and a nutty diva escaping Gotham. The
tales “progress a pilgrimage” from panic about cosmic consciousness (weird) to a kind of
acceptance (eerie), and in my enthusiasm to celebrate the city of my birth, its distinctive
neighborhoods, ethnic flavors and its transformative twilight moments, no question: I
may have busted a few politically incorrect moves.
Go Ride the Music tells of a young Kolkata-born woman who has an auditory
hallucination that changes her life. It’s also a parable about the spirit root of jazz and how
a former baul of Bengal and student of classical Indian music and dance comes to
appreciate its redemptive power, especially in regard to the New Orleans pianist she falls
in love with. As in the other depictions, character and destiny turn out to be the same
thing, so how else to deliver the goods but through Ganga Ghosh, a composite of many
gals I’ve met in the song and dance business; her life is the story.
RR: Something else that is notable in your fiction is a growing interest in having the plot
forwarded by the dialogue. Who have you studied, or studied with, or learned from in
your use of dialogue?
KG: I directed a prison student’s play at ASU, and while I was working in the joint a few
years later, I did a lot of what became known as performance art, developing and
delivering spoken word texts, skits, one acts. Armory Plays commissioned me to create a
multimedia show with music, dancers, actors and ex-cons from my prison workshop, and
I wrote material for many voices, collected in This Ain’t No Ball Game. That led to
collaborations with playwright Darrah Cloud, including Nickel & Dime, a screenplay
about prison life which led to work as a HBO script advisor. It’s all helped me make
dialogue stronger. I’ve never thought about this before, and I’m glad you brought it up.
Certainly Salinger writes dialogue that enriches character and advances a plot
simultaneously. When dialogue delivers the distinctive voices of the characters, it’s hard
to go wrong. Opening a story or a novel with dialogue can thrust the reader into events
that are already taking place. Without a mediating omniscient narrator, the reader is
thrown into the suspense of having to make sense of what’s happening—like real life.
RR: I was fascinated by the number of wisdom traditions and practices and teachings
namechecked in Round Earth, Open Sky. Could you give us a bit of a reader’s guide to
the variety of buttresses you reference that situate what you are exploring in that novel
into a larger psycho-spiritual-multicultural-artistic history?
KG: Round Earth, Open Sky exemplifies your earlier Faulkner quote on time. It’s an
allegory about the embodiment of consciousness in a carbon form, a dream book whose
hero insists past, present and future don’t exist and proves it in the last chapter in which
we witness his initiation via death and rebirth into the tube-suck cure he has been
practicing from the first chapter. As you graciously put it, “written by what appears to be
a Native-American spirit,” it’s a sci-fi suspense thriller driven not by whodunit but by
who-be-it, a being from another dimension existing in a human body only temporarily
who must find the portal back to his sky people. Regarding your earlier ethics of
ethnicity question, some of the Native Americans handle his dilemma better than the
more ratiocinated urban gringos.
In structuring the cyclic story I drew from the SF Ren serial poem. Assemblage, montage,
the layering of collage and bricolage, the repeating sequence of theme and variation
helped create a more impressionistic narrative, especially in mixing landscape and
metaphysics with human conflicts and chatter. Riffing on three fictional characters
Castenada’s Yaqui brujo Don Juan, Heinlein’s Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a
Strange Land, Lessing’s Charles Watkins in Briefing for a Descent Into Hell—and the
buddy/road sagas of Kerouac; the films Being There, Starman, Angel Heart, Rashomon
and Whistle Down the Wind; the Tao-like Jesus of The Gospel of Thomas, his John-the
baptizer rabbinic lineage, his Orphic and Dionysian roots as well as a remark a Native
American made on PBS (“The whites had Jesus and we had the land; now the whites got
the land and we got Jesus”), I found in Sky Man a redemptive son/lover and psychedelic
avatar-immortal capable of becoming whoever people think him to be. The Mexicana
living in a boxcar in the Sonoran desert who takes him for a lover calls him Hey-sus
Christay and tells Moses, a Jewish New York photographer who stops to take a picture,
that Hey-sus was pushed out of the desert’s womb “to heal the tear in the world,” words
Moses recognizes from Kabbalah. He calls Sky Man a luftmensch (literally air man but
meaning space cadet) and agrees uncertainly to drive him to breakfast. They meet Moses’
crush Beverley, a Navajo who calls Sky Man a berdache or two-spirit, a counselor in love
medicine, and she invites Moses into the walk-in cooler to get lucky. So it goes at every
stop: luck of every kind follows Moses. His Hopi friend Paul remembers Sky Man from a
ceremony long ago, but whether as a healer or sorcerer, Paul doesn’t know and tells
Moses it depends on his family. That clue takes them to Sedona where Moses’ friends
deliver the name and Detroit address of the dead human Sky Man inhabits which leads to
an isle in the Great Lakes where a medicine couple helps Sky Man make his return
through a hole in the sky.
So although rooted in Native American shamanic culture and the Ojibwe legends of
Nanabozho, its boughs and branches leaf out into necromancy, bardo states, time travel,
Greek mythology, prehistoric hunting/gathering rituals, Yiddish, the art of photography,
the history of the Isle of Manitou, its ancient rites of midsummer, maenads, unrequited
love, missing fathers, incarceration, extreme desert conditions, psychological breakdown,
amnesia, magic, family secrets, meditations on the open road, identity, mind reading,
siddhis, picture-talk language, incubus-succubus visitations, Hohokum artifacts, morgue
bodies awakening, ayahausca and psilocybin ingestion, love and its regeneration.
RR: You talk at the end of Go Ride the Music about a possible "double narrative." I'm
wondering about your two published novels. Did you start out wanting to talk about
something—say the presence of non-physical realities interacting in Round Earth, Open
Sky, and about the history of music from ancient India to American blues and jazz to
transmit other non-physical realities interacting with this one?
KG: Exactly so. In Go Ride the Music Ganga Ghosh realizes the words in the liner notes
Ghost Wakefield wrote long ago on the inside cover of the musical CD she’s playing are
actually an invocational code (and a double narrative) framed to music to help her
awaken him from his coma now. It’s the same medley of Duke/Strayhorn tunes that
induced her auditory hallucination years before and set her on the path to working with
Ghost. To illustrate jazz as an experience of awakening, I referenced India’s singing
traditions because both jazz and Indian vocals deliver a similar sense of wonder, a totality
intuited but unseen. Play Miles and Bill Evans’ “Flamenco Sketches” or Mahalia Jackson
singing “Come Sunday” next to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Qawwali songs or Ramnad
Krishnan’s improvs to hear the healing feeling.
The novels’ real point of departure is non-Aristotelian, that is, at every turn the story is
both true and not true, depending on the phase of the journey the reader and/or the
characters are on. In Round Earth, Open Sky the cynical and hung-over photographer
Moses neither sees nor believes much of what weird Sky Man says or does, but
miraculous things happen all the same, even if Moses can’t cohere them until love opens
his heart at the end of the tale. The willingness to proceed in media res and in a
negatively capable way is central to both novels’ form and content. I trust readers to be
perceptive detectives, so why not create events that they must figure out along the way?
RR: Allen Ginsberg famously claimed that the purpose of "the work" is to ease human
suffering. Somebody—was it Lew Welch?—said that if you write poems at seventeen it's
because you're seventeen. If you write poems when you're thirty, it's because you're a
poet. You've been part of the writing and music and art scene for over four decades by
now. How has your vision on what you do and why you do it changed over time?
KG: Money changes everything. I agree with Ginsberg’s insight about literature easing
suffering, but how do you separate the remark from the remarker? AG held a position
most unique in Amelican letters: he made a living via indie published po’ and SRO
readings outside the university-tenure-plantation-mainstream-pub-racket, enough coin not
only for himself but for his friends. Perhaps his wisest appropriation of Asian meditation
trads was his use of ju-jitsu in dealing with the media and the public. With candor
(prajna) and marketing savvy (upaya) he turned whatever infamy he was accused of into
another celebration of being himself. Lew Welch, on the other hand, playing Emily
Dickinson to Allen’s Whitman, lived in a self-imposed exile, met a bitter end and never
experienced the recognition AG did.
Hidden inside your question I sense an implicit parable in the lack of a parallel ‘tween
their two lives, yes? Welch’s eye to verse writ at 17 (all) versus verse writ at 30 (few)
suggests which innuendos: the po’ life is an angst addiction, a calling, a refusal to grow
up, a cover for narcissists, a category mistake, a problematic career move? Talk about the
opposite of easing suffering: poetry can cause suffering to the people who go broke
writing, publishing, performing, recording, sponsoring, documenting, reviewing and
selling it. Whitman said great poetry needs great audiences, but it could be argued that
instead of a great audience, old Walt found the citizens of his day were not ready to sing
the body electric or appreciate his love of men and women as a manifestation of
democracy let alone acknowledge the Vedic non-dual self in Song of Myself. Our
Puritanical, outer-directed, conformist, sexually repressed, Maya-enmeshed country
whose history of enslaving African peoples, exterminating Native peoples, exploiting
immigrants and raping women and land is our unspoken inheritance as I understand it as
an American writer with over four decades in the game: rather than live the message, we
kill the messengers with either rejection or a kind of acceptance that reduces the message
to the size of our prejudiced minds. We’re not a white or Christian nation; we’re
amnesiacs to a multiple tragedy, a mestizo people ’plexed up about our own mixed blood.
Here’s the legacy of fame, fecal matter and American letters: if you celebrate yourself,
Walt, better wear a raincoat. Like Kerouac warned, don’t get stoned outside your home.
Regarding my vision on what I do and how it’s changed over time: back then the
conversation was about a writer’s distinctive voice and the quality of her content, things
that got better in my case with time. Lessons learned in free verse improved my songs
and songsmithing chiseled my prose; journalism and group dynamics training paid
dividends in ghostwriting for business clients and ghostwriting’s fees eased the zero-sum
misery of the avant garde; reading boring copy as an editor, professor and manuscript
doctor compelled me to write better copy for my clients, students and readers; likewise,
watching dreadful spoken word and music performances shaped in me a deeper
commitment to the woodshed, the band and the jazz trad.
Why do I do it? Doctor, how much time do you have?
RR: What are you working on now?
KG: Lyrical Miracle, a new CD of music and spoken word with pianist Steve Elmer;
Untelevised Revolutions, a fiction collection troping on Gil-Scott’s theme that
revolutionary acts are often private events; I Hear America Singing, an evening of
Whitman and music; The WhiteStoners, a novel in tribute to the old neighborhood.
RR: How do you spend your non-writing time?
KG: The work-play load varies, but I try to spend part of the day away from computers,
phones and language. Putting my hands in soil, trimming trees, planting shrubs, growing
moss and moving rocks around provides a balance. Building meditation gardens
wherever I’ve lived has had another advantage. People sit in the garden and experience a
meditative moment even though they may have no interest in meditation—the garden
delivers it anyway. That’s my intent in the writing as well: to get the reader past the
mental censor and into the event.
I also listen to music every day, and for the last forty years, when the mood strikes, I
make theme-based music mixes encompassing all the genres. Hearing the
interconnectedness of these songs, I understand how inadequate are the categories and
descriptions of the music by the industry that once controlled it.
It gives me hope as a writer in this post-conglomerate publication era.
RR: I want to ask one last question. Do you think there's a purpose to your life? Do you
think there's a reason for your particular path and manifestation in this lifetime?
KG: Purpose may be overrated in a universe that keeps singing and dancing its energetic
delight. Purpose presumes one’s got it all figured out, but I can’t magnetize a memory,
absorb anyone’s content or write word one when I’m strutting around pretending I know
what I’m doing. Purpose also presumes there’s somewhere to get to—goodness, glory,
enlightenment, heaven—and a method for getting there, but what if we are already there
and our acting all puffed up with our own porpoise were the big joke? What if love is the
ocean we emerge from in this human birth and what if love is what sustains us in our
journey back to formlessness and what if love is what we miss out on in our quest to be
the best so “god” will love us above the rest? This unique manifestation-of-the-Uni-
verse/human-container-called-you-or-me must die and that’s what the hysteria is about,
seeking to permanent-ize a me-ness one can’t even recognize as I. What else sends us
into incarnating our own DNA? If we weren’t afraid of death, why wouldn’t we see
through religions that promise paradise for me and hellfire for you? Why can’t atonement
be spelled at-one-ment? I would beware/be where of purpose when used as a noose by
the “predators of the afterlife” to rope in their prey grasping and strangling and making
deals for an alleged salvation. I’d rather be love, service and surrender to what is right
now taking place in all its unknow-ability.
Regarding the second question, I don’t know if there are reasons for my particular path or
even if I am on a path. In a playful universe reason may be as overrated as purpose. Even
your phrase “in this lifetime” may be presuming too much as I can’t recall any others,
and if I could, I’m not sure your construction would be really anything more than a
metaphor. The West reifies the metaphor of a sacrificing spring god-man whose spilled
blood blooms the wood and opens the gates to beatific vision for the sinner’s soul while
the East revels in the metaphor of karma, reincarnation and transmigration of the soul.
What if these “soul truths” were merely metaphorical “as ifs” to keep people anxious or
caught up in the illusion of “becoming a better person” or submissively obedient to a
status quo that oppresses them? What if the Apocalypse expressed in the Abrahamic
(Judeo-Christian-Islamic) lineage were merely the end of history as the context for a
covenant of revelation with a timeless, invisible Be-ing who may be none other than the
core of our real and deepest self? As for the Hindu-Jain-Buddhist-Confucianist-Far
Eastern notions of honoring one’s ancestors and/or gaining merit for one’s next life, what
if time’s the trickster causing us to believe we’re separate pieces of the one big joinery?
What if, in spite of our I-yi-yi, me-me-me and get-justify-protect-aggress, we’re all one
already? What if there’s nothing to do but laugh at our own foolish schemes and weep at
our own lack of charity?
Nevertheless, to change gears and answer your question more personally, let me shout
halleluiah. I was blessed with a curiosity and passion to explore certain cosmic
premonitions that frightened-threatened my family’s values and the Church’s teachings.
To integrate this learning, I had to step up and stop using my scribal/oratorial skills as a
weapon against the people holding me down. I’d been beaten and silenced at home and in
school, and the retaliating feinschmecker in me certainly wanted to do serious work on
abusers of authority everywhere, but the gift I was given wasn’t going for that. I knew I
must change my life to give the gift in me a chance. Like Yeats, I had to “go to Innisfree,
/ And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made” to shape a home for the gift so
the gift could keep singing “in the bee-loud glade.”