Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado, July 31, 1974
AG: (This [photograph, below]), I got from Karma Trinley, who's a lama, friend of (Chogyam) Trungpa in England - OM, you might want to write it down so it won't be mysterious: OM (O-m), SARASWATI (S-a-r-a-s-w-a-t-i), Sar-a-swa-ti – how many have heard of Saraswati? - okay, Om-Saraswati, HRIH (H-r-i-h), SOWAH (S-o-w-a-h – So-hah), so it's easy, Om-Sarawati-Hrih-Sowah.
"Saraswati." Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906)].
"Om," you know – body sound, salutation. Saraswati - is generally pictured with a veena in one hand and a book in the other. Riding, what? Riding a swan, I think. I'm not sure. Does she have any other attributes? In Hindu she's a wife of Shiva.
Student: ... playing a lute?
Student: ... playing a veena?
AG: A veena, which is, like, a stringed instrument, (a lute would do just as well), a long stringed instrument. Yeah...
Student: She's all flowing. She flows...
AG: Flowing? You mean ... clothes?
AG: ...are flowing? (uh?) – (that's) pretty indefinite. Okay, she flows. She's the mind. She flowed.
Student: Is she the one they throw in the river one day?
AG: Ah, Durga, I think, another wife of Shiva, they throw in the river. But she apparently exists in Buddhist iconography also. I also don't know who she's the consort of. You can ask around your iconography teachers.
AG: Ah, okay, consort of Manjusri.
Student: I'm not sure though.
AG: I think so. I've heard that before. Discriminating wisdom – which would mean a sharpness of mind, a discrimination, and a clarity. Manjusri also has a book in one hand and the flaming sword in the other. So, clarity and definiteness, no bullshit. Flowering, but within specific boundaries, where something specific is flowing; either her clothes, or her mind, or her thoughts, or ... so how many here are sort of familiar with basic Buddhist gossip? Have heard of Manjusri – have heard of Manjusri Buddha? Yeah, well, some. Manjusri's an interesting figure because he's got the sword of mind and the book, which means he's read the classics. Background intelligence and reading, and not just total spontaneous oatmeal – (but) it still is discriminating mind, there would be mind recognizing its own nature, or first thoughts of the mind, remembering what the mind was actually thinking, remembering how the mind was actually working, and thus cutting through bullshit; that is, remembering first thoughts, or remembering what you secretly thought, or what occurred to you on the bathroom stool – a thing you wouldn't necessarily write down for public. It's the making public that private thought that's, in a way, the sword of intelligence or the sword of discriminating wisdom. In other words, being frank. You could call it, like, mental frankness in a way, or you could also call it alertness, that is, remembering, without hypocrisy, what you were really dreaming about. So that would be the husband of Saraswati. Instead of a sword she's (Saraswati's) got a veena, or musical instrument, so she ... I'm interpreting her as, then, speaking out her mind, expressing herself or manifesting her thought forms via music or via any way that involves her whole body and her breath. She's got a book too – that means she's read, she's learned. Anyway, Om-Saraswati-Hrih-Sowah – "Hrih" – I guess I don't know what "Hrih" means. It's a seed syllable, but I've heard it used. Pardon me? [Five Forms of Manjushri - Tibetan Thangka Painting]
Student: I think it's a syllable of the heart chakra.
AG: Is it the heart chakra? That's good. When you say "Om-Padme-Hum-Hrih," "hrir," is used as the bodhisattva extra syllable. Om-Padme-Hum-Hrih. The extra syllable is for getting into the world of action, getting up out of meditation and moving out into a world of action. So, "Om-Sarasati-Hrih." – I guess active, then. "Sowah" is "Swaha," the same as "Svaha" in Sanskrit. I guess it's a Tibetan pronunciation, of "Svaha," meaning "Amen," or "Salutations" - generally to a feminine divinity. So let's all sing that to invoke whatever we can get up.
(AG & Students chant (repeating the mantra), with Allen accompanying on harmonium - OM-SARASWATI-HRIH-SOWAH - open eyes!" he counsels, and, "anyone who doesn't sing it, fails.")
AG: There's another Bengali mantra, very similar, a strotra to Saraswati, has a really nice nursery-rhyme rhythm. I don't know what use it is, except it has such a strong rhythm, It's a little bit like (Edgar Allen) Poe's "(The) Bells," or "half a league, half a league, half a league onward into the Valley of Death charged the six hundred..." It's got a good, solid rhythm. I can give the words, if anybody's interested, but I'll recite it, because it's a good invocation anyway.
(AG sings – JAYA-JAYA-DEVI (Victory-Victory-Goddess – Jya-Jaya-Devi) CHAREY-CHARO- SARI, KUCHA-JUGA-SOVITA - MUKTA-HARI –VEENA NAN-DEE-TAH, PUSTAKA HASTEY, BHAGAVATI BHARATI DEVI NAMASTE.)
(It's) "Jaya-Jaya-Devi," for (whatever it's worth, Jaya-Jaya-Devi – J-a-y-a, J-a-y-a, D-e-v-i). I don't know what it all means actually! I know a lot of it and I've got a book, I can look it up! If anybody's ever seen a copy of a bibliography of my poetry, put out by City Lights, there's a whole page of technical explanations - "Jaya-Jaya-Devu" - "Devi" is "goddessm" "Jaya" is "victory" - "Charey, Charo" (Charo – Sari).
Student: In a purple sari.
AG: Yeah, it's a red-bordered, or vermillion-bordered, or purple-bordered, sari. "Charey Charo (C-h-a-r-e-y, C-h-a-r-o). "Charey, Charo Sari, Kucha" (so, K-u-c-h-a), Kucha-Juga (J-u-g-a, Juga), Kucha Juga Sovita. Next line - "Mukta Hari" (M-u-k-t-a..M-u-t-c-k-h-a? – M-u-k-t-a H-a-r-i) Mukta – "release," "(one) who brings release," "goddess who brings release to the whole world," Hari ...
Student: Sovita wears pearls on the breast.
Student : Yes.
AG: Okay, remember that now. Okay, Kucha-Jug-Sovita-Mukta-Hari-Kucha-Sovita-Muk... pearls-adorning-breast, or, pearl-breasted maybe, Kucha-Jug-Sovita-Mukta-Hari-, Veena (V-e-e-n-a, Nan-dee-tah), Veena Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey (P-u-s-t-a-k-a H-a-s-t-e-y)... veena in the left hand, book in the right hand, or veena in the right hand, book in the left hand, whatever. Veena Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey, Bhagavati...
AG: Pustaka (P-u-s-t-a-k-a). Pustaka Hastey. I guess "Pustaka" would be "book," if I'm not mistaken. Veena... and you could always look it up in the book if the right interpretation is important, (which it probably is), but the sound is what I'm interested in, and rhythm - Veena Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey, Bag-Havati...where was I ? Veena Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey. Bag – (B-a-g) B-a-g-h-a-v-a-t-I, Baghavati (B-a-g, h-a-v-a-t-i). Bharati (B-h-a-r-a-t-I, B-h-a-r-a-t-I – "Bharati" is the word for India, but, I guess, for the whole world also). Bhagavati Bharati, Devi (Goddess) D-e-v-i – Namaste (N-a-m-a-s-t-e) - "hello," "hello Goddess," or "namaste" ("salutations," "respect"). It's catchy, sort of, can be sung together.
(AG chants along with class – JAYA-JAYA-DEVI–CHAREY-CHARO-SARI, KUCHA-JUGA-SOVITA - MUKTA-HARI –VEENA NAN-DEE-TAH, PUSTAKA HASTEY, BHAGAVATI BHARATI DEVI NAMASTE.)
While singing, I was thinking of something Robert Duncan told me in (19)63, which was that when I was singing "Hari Krishna," which I was just beginning to do in '63, he found that I was using my voice and my body a lot more thicker, more involved, using my body and my voice a lot more than when I was reading poetry, that I was putting more force and more energy, more conviction, into the physical rendering of the mantras than to what I was supposed to be good at, which was the poetry. It was, I think, a real criticism. It was a seed that got stuck over time and flowered somewhere. From then on. For one thing, I realized that singing is a very good thing if it can bring that out and break through the shyness or the barrier of fear of energy or fear of expression. But it also turned me on to, or made me more conscious of, the fact that in whatever great poetry I wrote, like "Howl" or "Kaddish," I was able, actually, to chant and use my whole body, whereas in lesser poetry I was not, I was talking – or, I wouldn't say "lesser," but poetry that didn't involve me so much, so, in that sense, lesser. So from that point of view, poetry becomes less intellectual or verbal and also becomes, like, a physiological thing, something where you actually use your body, use your breath, use your full breath. At least chant becomes that, and poetry can approach chant. When you're really into it, poetry can become an expression of the whole body, of a single body/single mind, really all, with real oomph! As distinct from the practice of poetry as it was all along into my day, and probably yours still, which is more of a tentative thing, where you're dealing with the flimsy materials of your own mind, and so you're not really sure whether you should lay it out, solid, like a prophet or something, whether it's worth shouting or speaking or howling or using your whole self in. That's not, of course, the only form of poetry because there is a quiet, conversational, poetry, and there's a whispered poetry – I guess, whispered transmissions, even. But ... since that area of full energy is very rarely appreciated now – well, it's appreciated when you hear it, when you hear it in (Bob) Dylan, it's totally appreciated, which is a great thing about Dylan in a way, that what he's doing is, in one vowel, he puts his whole lung - "How does it fEEEEEl?" (or, as in old blues – "hOOOOOme, I'm goin' hOOOOOme"). So, you have the whole body into it because what is meant is something very definite emotionally, rather than tentative. So it's good, then, to link poetics with some form of vocalization. I began the class somewhat thoughtlessly, crudely, with vocalizing, so we're all vocalizing together with some spirit. And, in a way ... there's no reason that poetry... or, there are reasons, but it would be ideal if the poetry we arrive at, writing, could involve us enough, joyfully or lively enough, involve us enough that we could recite our own poetry with the same kind of spirit (as) that we sing, the same kind of abandon, dig it as much, actually dig our own utterances as much as we could our own nonsensical chanting. It's a state that I've sort of arrived at over the years with my own poetry, and I've seen other poets arrive at (it) also, and I think it's a good thing to keep in mind, because you immediately get the danger of bawling out bullshit. Or reciting in high, cracked tense nervous or tearful voice – over-tearful voice, or over-sentimentally tearfully voice reciting bullshit. "The police are after me. My best friend was busted..." –"THE POLICE ARE AFTER ME! MY BEST FRIEND WAS BUSTED! WHERE ARE ALL THE ROSES?" – which was typical of the poetry of the early '60's – over-generalized, but shouted or howled. So that's an obvious danger. That's an obvious danger, but if you noticed the voice came from somewhere in the top of the throat, rather than the center of the body, uh. That's another interesting technical matter, for the voice, for the vocalization of poetry is that the best poets I've heard, or orators say, do speak from their whole body, and someone who commands attention and authority, very often, you notice, it's a very subtle thing, it's not so much what they're saying, it's that the voice comes from the center of the body, from, say, the heart chakra, which is a learn-able thing, I mean that's something develop-able when you come conscious of it, when you do a lot of chanting. I think it develops naturally as you sort of solidify and mature. Some peopled have natural actor's theatrical voices, but if you do something that's really solid, like (Edgar Allen) Poe's "(The) Bells," you can do it: "Hear the sledges with the bells/Silver bells/What a world of merriment their melody foretells/How they tinkle tinkle tinkle in the icy air of night /While the stars that oversprinkle/ All the heavens seem to twinkle/ With a crystalline delight/ Keeping time time time/ in a sort of Runic rhyme/ To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells/ from the jingling and the jangling of the bells bells bells/ From the twinkling and the twangling of the bells. Hear the loud alarm bells, brazen bells/What a world of monody their bullshit foretells..." Do you all know that from grammar school, you all know Poe's "Bells"? That was what I was brought up with for rhythm, actually. And it's still a sound that's really solid, and it's what reminded me of " Jaya-Jaya-Devi, Charey-Charo-Sari, Kucha, Juga-Sovita, Mukta-Hari, Veena, Nan-dee-tah, Pustaka Hastey, Bhagavati Bharati, Devi Namaste." There's a funny little rhythmic kick that used to be a little corny in poetry, cornily taught, possibly, sort of mindless, it wasn't connected with sex, maybe, (because) it wasn't connected to (Wilhelm) Reich or something, wasn't connected with realization, self-realization, or realization of the whole body, but would be safe, I think, to turn children onto nowadays again. So there's vocalization, but to have vocalization you've got to have vowels and vowels make the vocalization easy – you've got something to vocalize. With a vowel you can use your whole lung. What is that called technically? – the assonance - the repeated musical use of vowels. Which they also used to teach but they didn't teach (sort of) how much fun it was, or they didn't teach that it was a form of yoga, or maybe they did but I wasn't listening. And people who are too mentally hung-up on what they are saying, and too careful in what they are saying, and not relying enough on their body and spontaneous mind, generally fail to appreciate the solidity and strength of their own organ-like tones and fail to appreciate that they can really swing with vowels also. In other words, if you want to give yourself something to work with poetically, while writing, just remember A-E-I-O-U, or any variation of the vowels you can. And for that.. If you look at a lot of classic great war-horses like "The Bells" or (Percy Bysshe) Shelley's "Adonais," or Shelley's "Epipsychidion," or "Paradise Lost," Milton, a lot of really interesting, or vibrant, vibratory, stanzaic poetry, or blank verse, you find that it's really solid chunks of vowels that you can get your glottis into, or wherever vowels issue from . One that my father taught me when I was young was some lines, I think, in Book 1 of "Paradise Lost," which was: "Him the Almighty Power/Hurled headlong flaming from th' ethereal void (ethereal sky)/ With hideous ruin and combustion down/ To bottomless perdition, there to dwell/ In adamantine chains and penal fire/Who durst defy th' Omnipotent arms." It was just a great voice exercise, a great vowelic. I didn't see it as such. I just saw it as this great streak of bopping, I guess. I never saw my father come on like that, you know, with such great vocal fire, or vocal force, with such breath. It was nice to see my father so animated. Is there a connection between the root word "animated" and breath?
Students: Yeah, sure.
AG: Soul, I guess, and breath, I guess, mixed up somewhat. Soul is breath, in a way, they say. [seed syllable AH, (in fact an A) - Calligraphy by Chogyam Trungpa (1980). The title of the course is "Spiritual Poetics," which was just a spontaneous title arrived at when we had to have a title, but it might as well be used. And we're beginning with considerations of breath, considerations of vowel, and the relationship between vowel and intelligence, vowel and soul, I'll try to define more clearly the words I'm using.
Vowel and intelligence and vowel and soul, as they are etymologically connected as breath and soul have been connected, as with Chogyam's teaching – "AH" is a basic mantra. "AH" as the exhalation of the breath (as appreciation of breath also, appreciation of the empty space into which breath flows, or appreciation of the space into which breath flows, the open space into which breath flows). So, if we're talking poetics and beginning with breath, via the vowel road, it is connected then to the title of the course – "Spiritual Poetics." And it's a lot more important, I think, than has been understood in Western poetry – that mantric aspect of poetry and pure breath and as exhalation of breath, as articulation of breath, as manifestation of breath, as animation, as expression (in the really easiest and most natural way of your own nature which is by breathing and by making a sound while breathing, just like the wind makes a sound in the leaves, no more presumptuous than the wind in the leaves (of course, no more honorable, either, but, at any rate, not guilty), no more guilty than the wind in the leaves. You're just making the "sounds of Aleph and Aum/ through forests of gristle." If you took the approach that you're singing, or chanting, or your poetics is as neutral, impersonal, objective, as the wind through black oak leaves, then you wouldn't have to be ashamed of expressing yourself, because it's not yourself, it's just your wind, it's just wind, it's just soul going through you, or breath going through you, then you might take the trouble to fit it to whatever your subjective intellect is thinking about at the moment, and you might take the trouble to link that breath up to what's going on in your mind at the moment, or what you remember is going on in your mind or your body at the moment, but that can be done as spontaneously as breathing (in the sense that the mind is always working. It's hard to stop, as those of you who have been meditating know. How many sit?
(Students raise hands)
AG: So, nearly everybody. So, we all know the experience of observing our mind moving and listening to chatter and gossip, discursive thought, not being able to stop it, and maybe not even needing to attempt to stop it, simply observing it. I've lately come to think of poetry as the possibility of simply articulating that, you know, observing your mind, while thinking and remembering maybe one or two thoughts back, and laying it out. So, in that sense, as easy as breathing, because all you're doing is loosening the particulars, letting loose with the particulars of what you were just thinking about. And in that respect, it's very close to meditation. Meditation is good practice for poetry. In other words, it's not the opposite – it's not the enemy of poetry, I don't think. It was formerly seen to be, occasionally, by various hung-up intellectuals who were afraid of meditation – that they'd be silent and they wouldn't be able to be poets then. But, actually, all it does is give you lots of space and place and time to recollect what's going on in your mind, so providing lots of material ... ammunition, lots of material to work with. There's a problem, since you're thinking all the time. There's always some kind of discursive thought or lyrical thought or observation going on – very often verbal. I seem to tend to think in words. Whether that's universal or not, I don't know. I think most people think somewhat in words or have words going through their head a lot of the time Though the ideal samadhi condition, apparently, is no words, no nuttin' goin' on – endless mind. (William) Burroughs, years ago, I think twenty years ago, told me that he didn't think in words, he thought in pictures, which is very interesting, and, I think, is true
Student: Is that what (Albert) Camus talks about?
AG: I didn't read anything on that. Did he talk about that?
AG: Camus spoke about thinking in pictures?
Student: In images.
AG: Aha! Well, did he mean verbal images or picture images?
AG: Well, we do see flashes of images all the time, too. But (William) Burroughs was claiming that his thought was silent pictures, like silent movies, and I think, considering the quality of his prose-poetry, it's likely true. I remember twelve years ago in Tangier him sitting at a typewriter sort of staring into space, and I said, "What are you thinking about, Bill?" because I really was curious about how he worked, and he said, "Hands pulling in nets from the sea," which is, like, a very mysterious, beautiful image, just coming up like that. Hands pulling in nets from the sea – it was like something out of Saint-John Perse or Rimbaud – just a pure image. And I wondered where it came from and later asked, and he said, "Oh, every morning in Tangier, on the beach, the fishermen go down and pull in their nets from the sea." So it was actually a practical thing, too - something that he had observed. He was just remembering that picture. He thinks in silent movies, and then his method of writing is transcription of the pictures he sees flashing by. A lot of Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded are written that way. He reshuffles them very often, cuts them up and reshuffles them, but his primary method is simply transcription of thought-forms, visual thought-forms. (Andrei) Voznesensky, the Russian poet, asked me in an elevator in Moscow how I thought, what language I thought in, and I said, "Sometimes French, sometimes Spanish, mostly English." And he said, "I think in rhythm" - which is another interesting thing, which is true, some people think "Un-un-un-un-uh-ah, Un-un-un-un-uh-ah." Like a lot of babies do. Like a lot of babies do in cradles, rocking back and forth, singing to themselves – little sing-song things which are rhythmical. Words may change with a stable rhythm, which I think adults (use), like on the subway, quite a bit in New York, riding in a car (I'm trying to be specific and practical about it). I think in rhythm, sometimes. Like, for years, I've had in my head the "Dah-duh-duh-Dah-duh-duh-Dah-duh-du-duh, Dan-duh-duh Dah Dad-duh-duh-dah. Dan-duh-duh-duh Dan-duh-duh-duh Dan-duh-duh-duh-duh," or some such dance rhythm as being a great thing to write a poem about, or, one time I was thinking of, uh, "Dah-dah, duh-Dah-du-dah-dah-dah-Dah-dah, DAH, duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-Dah-du-du-dah" – "Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows" - like that, so, in other words, that was a definitive physiological rhythm thing, which occurred before the line (came) and which was filled in by the words. But usually they occurred together. And to get a rhythm like that you have to have that long vowelic breath, also, for that one long, rhythmic, run. You had a question?
Student: (unintelligible - Is there a name for this?)
AG: Well, it probably would be better off for us if we didn't have a name for it. Just consider it as, just, you know, raw data, raw practice.
Student: (unintelligible – phanopoeia?)
AG; (Ezra) Pound's "phanopoeia," yes – "the casting of visual images on the mind," was it? What was the definition? Phanopoeia?
Student : (unintelligible)
AG: No, Pound used the word, the "casting." Oh! You said that an image should have the quality of "phanopoeia," which is "the casting of a visual image on the mind" – on "the mind's eye," maybe, he said.
Student : (unintelligible)
AG: Well, you could say Burroughs' primary mode of thought is phanopoetic. If you wanted to ... but I don't think anybody would profit from the formulation (unless anyone wanted formulations). Pound had three ... ("phanopoesia") ... "melopoeia," the music, which I guess would be covered by what I was talking about (with) vowel assonance, though it would be more detailed (his analysis of melopoeia would include consonantal trickery and syncopation – "t's, "q's, "p's, and "titties"), and "logopoeia," "the dance of the intellect among words" – the wittiness or funny-ness of the images, or the funny-ness of the conjunction, of the juxtaposition, of the words. That's something – just native intelligence and shrewdness on your part. It's absolutely necessary, I think, to make a poem interesting, that the combination of the words and the words themselves, be goofy or strange or interesting or elegant, or reverberating, in-between themselves – "in the dread vast and middle of the night" (Shakespeare). "In the dread vast and middle of the night," "in the dread vast and middle of the night" – vast and middle... that's like a weird... very funny. Kerouac, listening to Shakespeare said, "Genius is funny" – speaking of the quality of juxtaposition of words, that, when you get down to it, the juxtaposition is so strange and odd that it's funny. It makes you laugh with appreciation of freshness of mind, the oddity freshness of the mind. "Every third thought shall be my grave." That's also Shakespeare – "every third thought.." – which is what six-year-olds think – about every third thought - "Every third thought shall be my grave." So, logopoeia, melopoeia, phanopoeia. Well, I started on melopoeia - vowels. I'd rather stick with vowels because that's what we know about more, and it's also related to mantra, spirit. Pound's was more of a literary formulation. It wasn't quite yet connected up to the practice of yoga and meditation that we know, so I was trying to put it in the context of our own experience, sort of solitary improvisation, or meditating, or blues-shouting, or rock dance vocalization, Dylan's long vowels, Dylan stretching out his vowels (for a) long time. Or Bhagavan Das's stretching out his vowels a long time, upstairs. Is that Bhagavan Das?
AG: ... back to ... where does the actual material come from, then? So it comes from the mind (whatever that Is), mind-body. It comes from the consciousness. We think in pictures, rhymes, words. Everyone does it all the time, so it's not a big hassle. So the problem, then, is, two problems, as I see it. One, is being...
[Side one of the recording ends here. Side two continues – ed.]
AG: ...rhapsody, or to get Finnegan's Wake, universal mind babble. It's pieced together synthetically, but, if you are practicing, more, I guess, in the line of Gertrude Stein and more of Kerouac, spontaneous transcription, transmission of your thought, how do you choose, then, what to put down? The answer, in a way, is that you don't get a chance to choose, because everything is going so fast, and so, it's like driving on a road, you just have to follow the road and take turns, "eyeball it," as a carpenter would say, you don't have any measuring-rod, except your own mind, really. In other words, I don't know of any scientific method for the artist ... measuring-rod ... that's usable. So you just have to chance whatever you can, and pick up whatever you can. There's almost a process of automatic selection - whatever you can draw in in your net, is it, is what you got. Whatever you can remember, and whatever you can manage physically to write down, is your poem, or is your material. And you've got to trust that, sort of, as the principle of selection. So you've got to be a little athletic in that, in the sense of developing means of transcription, and ease of transcription, and overcoming resistance to transcription.
Student: Does it always have to do with what you choose to use - whether you're typing, or writing, or (using a) tape-recorder (amassing) amounts of material in that way?
AG: Right. Very much so. Yeah. I want to go into that, actually, in about four sentences. I just want to get to the nub of "selection," because that used to be a big academic argument – the principle of selectivity, and "beatnik" writers being un-selective, and that selection was so important, that you really had to make fine intellectual distinctions between different kinds of thoughts, and only choose the (most) loftiest thoughts, or the most poetic thoughts, and you had to intercede or intervene on your mind, with another mind, from somewhere else, somebody else's mind actually, Lionel Trilling's mind, or Allen Tate's mind, or (Cleanth) Brooks mind, or (Robert Penn) Warren's mind (those were the critic minds). You had to use somebody else's mind, or some "objective" mind, to choose among the thoughts. But I think that's too hard – that's too much work. It will only get you tangled up in a feedback loop of some sort, because you'll forget what you are thinking and you'll think what you're supposed to be thinking. The problem is to stay with what you were really thinking, rather than what you think you're supposed to be thinking. So, from that point of view, I would say, the only thing that you can get down is what you remember and what you can write down. In other words, the actual writing-process, the physical process of writing (or vocalizing, or tape-recording, or babbling spontaneously), (it's) that physical activity determines what gets laid out on the paper, or on the air, and it's a pretty good critic, because the mind, somehow or other, if you leave it alone a little bit and accept it, tends to "select its own society." It tends to cling to its real obsession(s)-preoccupations. Recurrent thoughts finally do get out. Things that are really recurrent do come up and are memorable. And one really difficult part is, that there's a tendency toward censorship, that some thoughts seem too embarrassing, too raw, too naked, too irrelevant, too goofy, too personal, too revealing, too damaging to one's own self-image, too cranky, too individualistic, too specialized, or too much ... fucking-your-mother, or something ... so you (don't) want to put it (them) down. That's a real problem with everybody, including myself – modesty. Shyness. Like, I failed to write down a dream the other day. Fortunately, I remembered it. Peter Orlovsky caught me smoking. He's very much anti-smoking, and we were living together, and in the dream he was so dismayed that he vomited up his liver! And I realized I was violating something sacrosanct and rooted in him and something real. I got so scared of the domestic situation that I didn't write that dream down. But it was actually one of the more interesting dream poem-possibilities that I'd had in the last month. But in the moment of writing, they'd be all sorts of images rise, separate "thinks" (sic) that will be unappetizing. I think that's the most important point – the parts that embarrass you most are usually, the most interesting poetically, are usually the most naked of all, the rawest and goofiest and strangest and most eccentric, and, at the same time, most representative, most universal, because most individual, most particular, most specific, like vomiting out a piece of liver. Actually, I thought that was just my scene, but, really, it's (a) universal ... it's an archetype, much as anything is an archetype. And that was something I learned from (Jack) Kerouac, which was that spontaneous writing could be embarrassing, or could seem to be embarrassing. So the cure for that is to write things down which you will not publish, and which you won't show people. To write secretly. To write for nobody's eye and nobody's ear but your own so you can actually be free to say anything you want. In other words, it means abandoning being a poet, abandoning any careerism, abandoning the idea of even writing poetry, really abandoning, giving up, giving up as hopeless, abandoning the possibility of really expressing yourself to the nations of the world, abandoning the idea of being a prophet with honor and dignity, and abandoning the glory of poetry and just settling down in the muck of your own mind. And the way that's practiced is you take it out a week later and you look at it, and it's no longer embarrassing. It seems, by that time, funny. The blood has dried, sort of. But you really have to make a resolution to write just for yourself, but really for yourself, in the sense of no bullshit to impress others, in a sense, not writing poetry to impress yourself but just writing what yourself is saying. My own experience of "Howl" was precisely that – that, after writing some very formulistic poetry, I decided I'd let loose whatever I wanted to let loose with and say what I really had on my mind and not write a "poem," finally, break my own forms, break my own ideals, ideas of what I was supposed to be like as a poet, and just write whatever I had in mind, and, once written, I realized it could never be published, because it would offend too many people (I thought), particularly my family (which, I think, is a problem Kerouac had too. He was afraid his mother would read his secret thoughts, and disapprove of his friends, or his sexual activities, or his dope-smoking, or "beatnik" habits, or something – the drinking? Who knows? The snot, his masturbation, whatever). Yeah?
Student: A friend of mine once, a Canadian poet, got into the habit of making copies of all the letters he typed to his friends, and they turned out to be more poetry than his poetry. And one day he read them as such, and that was really beautiful.
AG: Sure. Yeah, that's a common occurrence, especially among younger poets – to find that the form of writing that they didn't conceive of as their main thing, their main schtick, their main poem - like notes to themselves, or their journals or letters, or just sort of banjo-chanting by themselves, or chanting to themselves walking across Brooklyn Bridge, or mountain-tops – was actually more interesting, later on, than the stuff they prepared as poetry. And I found that it my case to be so – that for years I wrote very formal rhymed verse and, at the same time, was keeping, like, a loose erratic journal, very similar to a journal I published called Indian Journals (1996), a journal which I've kept continuously from '46 on. And I found that little fragments from the journal were a little more hot that anything I'd written down and prepared and rhymed and poeticized with the idea of writing poetry. So it's almost like if you can catch yourself not writing poetry but writing down what you're really thinking, actively, you arrive at a genuine piece of writing, of self-expression and that may be more interesting than what you're careeristic-ly considering as your poem. I had a good guru for that, besides Kerouac, who was William Carlos Williams. I sent him a whole bunch of poems that I'd prepared, like – "If money made the mind more sane,/ or money mellowed in the bowel/ A hunger beyond hunger's pain/ Or money choked the mortal growl/ And made the groaner grin again/ Or did the laughing lamb embolden/ I'd go make money and be golden. If fame were not a fickle charm,/ There were far more famous men:/ May boys amaze the world to arm,/ Yet their charms are changed,/ And then fearful heroes fall to harm;/ But the shambles is a sham/ A few angels on a farm/ Fare more fancy with their lamb." It went on and on. It was pretty good, actually, for that mode, but he said, "In that mode perfection is basic, and these are not perfect. They were near-perfect, but they were imitation, they weren't my real thought entirely. So I went through my notebook-journal prose-pieces, and selected about eight (to) ten little fragments, and re-arranged them from prose into little poetry lines, imitating Williams, that were just awkward little notes to myself, and sent it to him, and that forms a book called Empty Mirror (1961). And he said, "This is it! Have you got any more of these?" He immediately responded. So it was genuine, in the writing. It was sort of natural – which was unfaked, which was awkward, which was raw, which was my own, as distinct from something with the inheritance of a lot of other people's styles. They were little pure, odd, personal realities that I had to deal with. A sample would be – "I made love to myself/ in the mirror, kissing my own lips,/ saying "I love you/ I love you more than anybody" – or – "How sick I am!/ Does this thought always come to everybody?" ("That thought always comes to me with horror/ Is it this strange for everybody?") – "(But) such fugitive feelings have always been my métier" (that's a little literary) – "Baudelaire, yet he had great (joyful) moments staring into space/ Looking at his image in eternity" ("Looking into the middle distance, contemplating his image in eternity"), "These were his moments of solitude ..." No, these were his moments of identity (it's solitude that produces these thoughts). "It's Christmas, almost. They're singing Christmas carols down the block in front of the department stores on 14th Street." Well, now, that plain, raw, piece of mind-jump, exhibition of actual native thought, was what made Williams say, "This is it! This is active." And I sent him more, longer pieces, and he told me, in one piece, to get rid of two or three pages of prefatory bla-bla-bla and just keep what was exciting and raw. He said even one or two lines of really active statement are more interesting than a lot of "poetry." Just a few lines of real thought are more useful to other people and yourself than a big frame about it. So you can just have little poems of just fragments of thoughts, whatever you can get down. And that immediately catalyzed, crystallized, clarified, precipitated, my own thinking about it. And I saw where my natural bent was, or where my own mind was, Before that, I didn't have my own mind, or wasn't writing my own mind, exactly. I was imitating what I thought should be poetry. I had an idea, an external, an outside, learned, college idea of what it was, So then there's this struggle, then, continually, then, to return to your own mind, keep track of your own mind, just like in meditation, not get too sophisticated, not loose track of the root of your feelings and self and embarrassments, and use that as the basis for heroic epic poetry. So as soon as you begin to get that ambitious then, of course, you begin overlaying it, and so there's always a struggle to find your mind again. So, as I say, one of the technical aids would be to stick to poems that you're not going to publish, so that you're really free to write down what you want to write.
Student: Do you find that even just transcribing down straight thoughts tends to focus your attachment to your thoughts sometimes? I found that...
AG: Focus your attachment? What do you mean?
Student: Yeah, with journals. I found that keeping journals, I got so attached to thoughts, so aware of thoughts that I would, I think, actually, subtly manufacture more to make a more pleasing journal.
AG: Well, yeah, there's a certain amount of baroque elegance that can be indulged in, playfulness. If it's playful enough, it's alright. Sometimes. Because that's just sheer abundance and playfulness, but actually, while you're doing that, sometimes, there's something else going on – an undertow of real thought, that you've got to pay attention to. So maybe you start getting baroque and then interrupt it, just break it off in the middle, be playful and break it off in the middle. (William Carlos) Williams used the dot for an unfinished sentence, an unfinished thought, a dot extended out like a period but in the middle of the line - or just a dash could be used, as Hart Crane did, in a really interesting poem which you might look up, "Havana Rose," which was like a drunken suicide-note to himself (I'll try and bring it in and read it, because it was one of the things which turned me on to raw thought as poetry, a little free-associational piece, like the kind of note you might write to yourself drunk which wasn't meant as a poem, which was recovered from his papers and which was one of his most charming personal pieces.
Student: How did you use that stuff for material and what could you possibly do afterwards that wouldn't super-impose that other kind of stuff you're trying to get away with ... (I mean, get away from, not get away with)?
AG: Yeah. You use that stuff to publish, you mean, by material? Or what?
Student: Forget publishing, but, as you say, you use those fragments of thoughts as material – what are you using them as material for?
AG: That's the ... they're the poem.
AG: You don't have to work any more on it, that's it. You don't have to do any more work.
AG: No, The whole process of poetry is without any work at all. It should be. I think. At least to begin with. There might be some work later on but until you establish this basis of honesty, or of practice, I don't think it's worth working on anything beyond that. It takes a lot of practice just to get down what you've got already, to find out what you've got already, to get it down. You can worry about it later. I mean it's really so charmingand hard. I can't do it that often. To catch myself and write it down. You can only do it once a day, or once every week, or once a month even. To really catch yourself thinking, thinking something interesting. And if you can do one little four-line fragment a month, you've got it made for the rest of your life, you realize. You'll be better than Sappho! – as much as Sappho, as much as Anacreon. If you're young and you start out four-lines-a-month, you build up a total body of work by the end of your life that will be too much to read! If you do a few - five minutes a day, practicing five minutes a day writing, it's more, oddly enough, more than anybody wants to read.
Student: Does that mean catching yourself with something interesting you said, or, where does that...
AG: Well, interesting, because clear, and because definite, and because there, and because you really did catch yourself unwittingly, trapped yourself in a moment you didn't like (or maybe did like a lot). So that brings up, "how do you catch yourself?" and how to be prepared to catch yourself, so that brings up ... brings us back to the question of materials, what you use for transcription. What I use, basically, is this ... well, there are different (things). I use a pocket notebook. I generally use one a month, or one every two months.
Student: Boy, it's cheap too - 29 cents!
AG: Yeah, 29 cents and a 19-cent ballpoint pen is all the investment you need. That's for moving around, for travelling, for getting thoughts on the wing. "Dinosaur, cancer, Buchenwald, hell-rat, heavy-metal, petro-chemical, sweet oleanders down the middle of the strip of the freeway?" Well, I don't know. It was part of a conversation with Gary Snyder. And the title is – "On The Way To Pick Up Peter, Sacto Airport, June 1." Not much of an entry. Well, it's mixed up, because I'm building a house, it's mixed up with addresses for "granite, oak, two bundles, slate, asbestos sheet 4 x 8, Olivehurst turn-off on Route 70 – Stanley Tools, Workingman's Headquarters, used tools, Mission and 24th Street – So Cal Hardware, Cost Plus, tatami mats, work shoes. Well, so that's nothing much. "Nothing lonelier than being on a Greyhound crossing Donner Pass on this Super Highway 80, through Truckee to Reno, age 20, rolling over concrete, past the pines and icy Castle Peak." So that was just a thought.
Student: When you've done meditating, do you ever sit and jot down some of the neat stuff that happened in the last...
AG: Well, sometimes I take this (notebook) to meditation and I sneak in a couple of lines or go to the bathroom. I did that. I was in Wyoming, at the seminary, sitting for that three months (of) September to December last year. I had a little notebook and a couple of times I interrupted the sitting to write something down. (Pablo) Neruda had died and I read it in the paper before I went in to sit, and I was thinking about breathing, and – "Some breath breathes out Atlantis Adonais/ Some breath breathes out Bombs and dog barks/ Some breath breathes over Rendezvous Mountain/ Some breath breathes not at all." And I thought, jeez, that's funny, Neruda's not breathing – "Some breath breathes not at all." It was so mysterious and strange, the thought, that I pulled out my notebook and wrote.
Student: Did it come out like that?
Student ; Did you shine it up a little?
AG: No, I didn't have to mess with it. Well, I shined, yeah, I messed with it. I added the first line – "Some breath breathes out Atlantis Adonais" and "Canto General" because I was thinking of Neruda. Then, later on, I wrote more, but the more wasn't any good. It was just that nut. I went on later, Actually, I went down to the bathroom then and wrote a little more, but it was "now your shoes have no feet and your neck-tie has no neck, your underwear, no chest to put on," or something. It was a little more literary. I was taking advantage of writing the poem. I published the whole thing, but then, using Williams' principle of just a few active lines are better than something surrounded by fuzzy distracting material, I just reduced it to that little piece, finally. If I make a book, I'll just make that little piece, in a book, I'll just have that little four lines – "Some breath breathes not at all." It's enough. It's said there, and that was the end of my thought, so if I wanted another poem, then begin another. Another thought would be another poem, and that was a very definite end. What else? You can't go on from there - "Some breath breathes not at all."
Student: Do you think it's possible to get ... to go back to the place you were when you were writing that, or something, something that you... something that you wrote (and), when you look back later, you want to change?
AG: I don't know if you can intentionally do it, but you might find yourself back, particularly if the place where you were was a basic place, so you'd naturally go back there. Though I mean "basic," in terms of your feelings - your sitting, your posture, your breathing, your appreciation of your eyeballs, your appreciation of space in front of you, or wonder at being there again – in a body, sitting, breathing. That's a place you always go back to when you're sitting, or sometimes when you're writing, but then the content (Neruda's death) you couldn't go back to, the freshness of that knowledge.
Student: Do you ever find a few fragments that were separate for a long time and they were...
AG: If they're related, I put them in, 1-2-3-4, and have done so. Earlier, I used to try and tie them together as big formal poems, but it was fakery. And I got more and more interested in just the bare bones of the process as being enough – more exemplary - teaching more to other people and, at the same time, teaching me more, and, at the same time, more honest and less weighty, less heavy, less heavy-handed, less ambitious, less egotistical. Also, there's an awful lot of writing by now. There's more writing than anyone can read. The swifter we are at it, the better, I think. You get more chance of being read if you stick to what you know, rather than trying to construct something that you don't know. Though, in the process of trying to construct something using your spontaneous mind, and playing, there's also that element of invention and comedy and friendliness that also is useful and can sometimes arrive at a genuine soul feeling. So, the problem of transcription becomes a very practical, grounded problem of what kind of notebook you use, and always being prepared with at least two pens, because one might run out at a crucial moment, because you never know when you're going to be writing. If you're a real pro, you've got to be prepared all the time, always, in this mode. Other people get up 9 to 5, or 9 to 3, or, Michael McClure has managed to get up before his family and actually sit down between 7 and 9, and actually write every day and produce beautiful things. Yeah?
Student: Are you talking about, now, writing with preconceived ideas for a sort of poem or are you just talking about as it comes up?
AG: As it comes up.
Student: What do you think about...
AG: Preconceived idea of a certain poem?
Student: Yeah, writing as a... (indecipherable).
AG: Well, I've never been able to write a poem where I had a preconceived idea, because it always turned out different.
Student: What kind of an idea, or a poem (indecipherable) that you can write about, sort of an idea behind it...
AG: I've never been able to do it.
Student: Neither have I, but...
AG: So why bother? Why go to all that trouble? If an idea is recurrent, in that sense preconceived, if a recurrent perception comes up at the time of writing, or comes up so strongly clear – "Some breath breathes not at all" – so you take your notebook out and write it, then you got it. If it's a recurrent perception, and not just a preconception based on a lot of reading and sociology, or temporary metaphysics that you've arrived at on the basis of your latest samadhi – I wouldn't trust it as material. It's too wobbly, it's too shifty. Gary Snyder recently wrote a poem that did have a preconceived idea. He wrote a bookthat was a history of the last 60 billion years on earth, which talked about the flowering of the brain, in which the biota was looking for a form to produce brain and eyeballs, so that it could look at itself from high, which is, like, an old thought, you know, that man is, like, an evolutionary creature, that, finally, looks back on it all. It's a corny old idea, and probably everybody's thought it and written about it at one time or other in high school essays about the future, but Gary finally put it down, and it sounded pretty good, finally. That somebody said it, again. It's sort of an idea-idea. I don't know if it's a perception, I don't know if it's really a genuine visionary perception, or just sort of an accumulation of thinking that idea over so many times that it seems reasonable, though it was nice to hear it said. But when I heard him read it, I said, "Gee, well that's another fake idea," but one of those archetypal fakes, that you might as well write about, because, it so often comes up, maybe it's true?
Student: That's sort of what I had in mind.
AG: Well, I don't bother with that, because, finally, in my case, later on, I find my language is stilted and artificial and arbitrary and too snobby, snotty, creepy, self-y. The language you arrive at, trying to reconstruct something like that, for me, my language, the language I arrive at constructing something like that, generally, is too artificial for me to recite and hold voice and really feel and believe in. I feel I'm trying to get away with something and sneak it over as an idea.
Student: It encourages me that India has had this experience of yoga and meditation for a millennia, tho' I don't get the sense that Hindus write poetry like yours.
AG: They sure do!
Student: They write the Vedas and the write the hymns to the deities, but they don't write things about suicide-notes and they don't subject you to the garbage of the mind.
AG: If you think the mind is... I don't know if I want to buy that "garbage" phrase, I mean, the mind is the mind.
Student: You don't have to buy...
AG: Well, first of all, I don't agree with you. There's a whole branch of Indian poetry which impinges on what we've been talking about – the vocalization and vowel and all that is basic to Indian poetry, and the understanding that mantra quality, and (that) breath is basic - that aspect.
Student: Yeah, that aspect.
AG: And ideas about the aspect of spontaneous mind are very basic in Tibet and Japan and India.
Student: Can you give me an example?
AG: Yes. Baul songs are improvised in spontaneous mind. Poems by Meerabai [c. 1498-c.1547]. Many poems by Kabir are just spoken as such...
Student: Yeah, but look at the...
AG: ... and taken down. Well, I'm saying, you've got to arrive at a level of mind that's clear, here.
Student: Well, that seems the difference. Spontaneous mind can be spontaneous at different levels. Spontaneous at one point could be just garbage. Spontaneous at another point could be inspirational.
AG: Okay. I would say, that the more genuinely spontaneous it is, then, it's not garbage. The more reflectively thought-out – pseudo... the more it's an attempt at spontaneity with the intervention of self-consciousness and literary overtones, the less elevated it will be.
Student: But their poetry mostly all describes their religious experience.
AG: Well, or using religious imagery as a mask for sexual experience.
Student: For sexual experience?
AG: Or for loneliness-experience, or for normal William Carlos Williams experience. It's very varied. I have a book on it, which I was going to use as a text, so I'll bring some in.
Student: Yeah, I've read some of it.
AG: The one I had in mind was Obscure Religious Cults by Shashibhusan Dasgupta [1911-1964] which has some, really, very strange, funny poems. But the Baul tradition...
Student: Yeah, but still, my sense is, that there are different levels of inspiration.
AG: Okay, then you're not quarreling with the method, you're quarreling with the elevation of the mind.
Student: ...where your mind is coming from when you're being spontaneous.
AG: Well, that's something we haven't fully described, haven't gotten to yet. Remember, I'm trying to describe a general path or practice to get to the mind, and how far in the mind we get, it depends, really, on the application of practice, and the application of meditation with sincerity and practice, the clarity of the practice, as distinct from the ambitiousness of it, the simplicity of the practice, as distinct from the greediness of it.
Student: But, I mean, that process will continue forever, if we are just writing what the mind is thinking...
Student: Without any focus of a religious nature?
Student: Without writing a hymn to a deity?
Student: Or without writing a song with some kind of input?
AG: Yeah, yeah.
Student: You'll always be writing about the garbage in our mind.
AG: You're assuming that the mind won't arrive by itself at its own source, that the mind won't want to think about deity or emptiness. I think most people who try and write spontaneously, write garbage, I'll agree... I think most people who try and write spontaneously do write garbage, I'll agree there.
Student: Well that's why I'm saying, perhaps, there's a need for more self-conscious.
AG: Well you better define what you mean by "self-conscious."
Student: Well, having the name of a deity in mind when you're trying to...
AG: Are you saying then, you're saying you have to have a pre-supposition, pre-context, or...
AG: Well, I think that would be contrary to this practice. And I think that until you are accomplished in the practice of observing your own mind and transcribing it, you can't start off with a pre-fixed idea, because, then, you won't observe your mind, you'll be observing the idea, and trying rationally to create an extension of the idea, or an image, of a hymn.
Student: Well is that your understanding of how Baul poetry is written.
AG: Baul poetry is sung spontaneously very often. It's just that they've got a lot of practice at getting to the root of their thought. They practice it. I mean, they practice a lot. You gotta practice a lot, or you've gotta get to good accidents, sing it a lot, writing a lot. So this kind of writing requires writing quite a bit. There is a certain amount of selectivity in what you might want to show to other people or publish. In other words, the fragments that I showed Williams were just five or six lines out of hundreds of pages of bullshit – but there were maybe five or six lines that I said something that was natural, rather than ambitious. So you have selectivity there in your editing, in your choosing what you're going to present outward as a poem, there – that is, if you're writing, if you're improvising on the stage, however, you don't have a... (you have no) chance to select, you just have to take what you got.
Student: It seems to me that the Bauls don't keep books for all the things they don't want to show people.
AG: I'm not sure what their practice is. I know they have books full of things they want to show people, things that they've done. But sometimes it's oral transmission and sometimes they don't have books, but Purna Das had things in mind which he passed on to his son, things that he'd arrived at and kept.
Student: But you've got an internal structure in your mind, your unconscious, however you want to rationalize it or describe it, which determines what comes out, and you can't say that's less structured than a tradition of oral transmission, such as the Bauls.
AG: Not only the Bauls, but you've got the Baul form, you've got Kabir, Meerabai. Most of the great saint poets didn't even write their stuff down (but) it was all spontaneous utterance. I thought you were being inaccurate, if you were saying that, in India, there is no ancient tradition of spontaneous utterance in poetic form. Then there is the tradition of the qawwali, which I have seen practiced, which is where poets get together, say, on Christmas, Jahan's Taj Mahal's birthday, at the Taj Mahal, and spent all night capping each other with improvised songs. Then in Japan there's an old tradition of spontaneous calligraphy, of course, and spontaneous painting, and spontaneous haikus, made up on the spot. That process has to be totally spontaneous, relying on observation of the mind at that moment. Actually Chogyam Rinpoche told me something about two years ago, which extended something that Kerouac had said. Kerouac and I were worrying about this problem, or trying to formulate it, and he said, "If the mind is shapely, the art will be shapely." Mind is shapely, art is shapely. So it's a question of knowing your own mind. So, the discipline, in a sense, would be, having a mind and knowing it, and then when you're writing, your writing will be interesting according to that mind.
Student: But even the spontaneity is done within a certain form.
Student: Haiku has a certain number of syllables.
AG: Some spontaneous forms are very formal, like the haiku and like blues, and some are utterly informal and open like William Carlos Williams' poetry.
Student: Can you give me an example of that - spontaneity without form?
AG: Yes I believe there are. I can't give you an example, but I'll go check and find out. I think Milarepa is an example of spontaneity without form in certain poems. There are certain open poems... Pardon me?
Student: But he was enlightened.
AG: We're all enlightened! Fuck that bullshit enlightenment! There is no enlightenment. If you're going to start waiting to be enlightened to start writing poetry ... Well, I fear that you're going ... you're imposing all sorts of prohibitions on your poetry.
Student: But just syntax, language is form.
(Poet Diane di Prima is in the class and speaks out: I'm seeing there's something in the content of your head that you don't want to look at, that you're labeling "garbage."
Student: Part of this business of elevation seems to deal with just the world you live in, and mind can be used as a unique correlate with world, or with language, or, if you want to get formal, with proposition, and if you live in a different world, if you live in India and you have different practices, then, when you're spontaneously reflecting on that world, you're gonna have a different poem. It's gonna have form, it's gonna have that form.
AG: Well, in America, the most extensive practice of spontaneous form is the blues (and calypso, but mostly the blues), and that has a very strong form, very definite forms. On of the forms I'd like to teach here (Naropa) is the practical application of blues to Buddhist meditation or something. But I didn't finish.. Staying with your subject, the other phrase, that was a key phrase from 1971, or '72, I guess, here in Boulder ... I was writing a spontaneous chain poem with Chogyam, and he said, we finally agreed, "First thought is best thought." That was sort of the formula to sum everything up. "First thought, best thought." That is to say, the first thought you had on your mind, the first thought you thought before you thought you should have a better thought, before you thought you should have a more formal thought – first thought, best thought. If you stick with those first flashes, then you're alright. But the problem is, how do you get to that first thought? That's always the problem. In other words, the first thought is the great, elevated, cosmic, non-cosmic, empty, sunyata thought, at least according to the Buddhist formulations, and then after that you begin imposing names and forms and all that. So it's a question of catching yourself at your first open thought. But we've deviated a little from the subject, which I wanted to keep to something simple, which was forms of notebooks.
What time is it now and how much time do we have?
Student: It's 25 'til...
AG: And we have till when? Quarter of?
Diane Di Prima: Fifteen minutes.
AG: Okay, now, for heavy-duty work, for heavy-duty transcription, for beside, for home, for zafu-side (well, the little one is better for zafu), but for formal work, where you've got lots of space, lots of time), then a big notebook is really useful – any kind of big notebook (I've found, over the years, I've used school copybooks and done really great things in those, or, things I liked) and I've used beautiful ledgers. This (one) was bought in Idaho Falls at a Mormon bookshop, a really great giant-size, 155-page, ledger. I bought it last Fall and I've got... I've filled about 129 pages. It's huge. So maybe from Fall to now, this is the main body of what I've written. This begins, let's see – "Allen Ginsberg 10 October 1993, 3.42 p.m. - wall cubicle basement men's room police station Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA. Notebook journal diary dreambook poetry composition book meditation accounting blank line page haiku register epic container fantasy deposit." And the first entry is - "Water dripping and gurgling in the urinal basement men's room Idaho Falls police station. Agnew resigns Vice-Presidency, indicted, pleads guilty, fined and sentenced in the blink of an eye." The next thing is "Hara Hara Maha Deva Sham-bow Kash-ee Vish..Hara Hara Maha Deva Sham-bow, Kash-ee Vish-va-hasha-gong-gay" (which I got from Bhagwan Das). "November 28th." I didn't get to use it for about a month. "Six a.m. woke from dream and later remembered in Hotel Europe with Vajrayana Buddhists, trying to fuck William Seward Burroughs in the ass... Saw his asshole flashing like a cunt, but I couldn't get in the bed, couldn't get my pecker up. Strange flash of rectum in the sheets – nobody there but the loose hole." Well, you can call that garbage if you want. But, on the other hand, if you don't pay attention to the garbage of your mind, you'll never know what's going on, and you gotta, you gotta, pay attention to that or you lose track of your mind.
AG: Because if you don't pay... if you don't have good habits of attention to what's actually happening, you'll miss, perhaps, more elevated thoughts. You gotta just take what comes. You gotta take what comes. Actually, I thought that was pretty elevated thought. It was real, it was a dream, and had to do with a very deep relationship, and it actually expressed certain basic aspects of my relationship with Burroughs, and was kind of mysterious and poetic.
Student: Is he going to be here (at Naropa) at all?
AG: I don't know. I haven't been in touch with him. He was going to come up and...
(tape runs out before the class is over.)
[Permission to reprint this transcribed lecture provided by Allen Ginsberg Trust. Originally published at http://www.allenginsberg.org/index.php?page=spiritual-poetics. This text is a slightly edited version of the originally published text at the AG Trust by Jim Cohn, Museum of American Poetics, September 23, 2011.]