Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews, 1958-1996by Allen Ginsberg
From his conversation with the conservative William F. Buckley on PBS to his testimony at the Chicago Seven trial to his passionate riffs on Cezanne, Blake, Whitman, and Pound, the interviews collected in Spontaneous Mind, chronologically arranged and in some cases previously unpublished, were conducted throughout Allen Ginsberg's long career. From the late/b>
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From his conversation with the conservative William F. Buckley on PBS to his testimony at the Chicago Seven trial to his passionate riffs on Cezanne, Blake, Whitman, and Pound, the interviews collected in Spontaneous Mind, chronologically arranged and in some cases previously unpublished, were conducted throughout Allen Ginsberg's long career. From the late 1950s to the mid-1990s, Ginsberg speaks frankly about his life, his work, and major events, allowing us to hear once again the impassioned voice of one of the most influential literary and cultural figures of our time.
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Marc D. Schleifer
New York City
"Allen Ginsberg: Here To Save Us, But Not Sure From What" Village Voice, October 15,1958
October 7, 1955, Allen Ginsberg steps in front of a San Francisco audience at the Six Gallery and reads his new poem, "Howl," and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, founder of City Lights Press, immediately offers to publish it. Ginsberg takes a job as a yeoman storekeeper on a ship traveling to the Arctic Circle to raise funds to go to Morroco to help William Burroughs edit Naked Lunch. While on board ship he edits the proofs of Howl and Other Poems. Between the Six Gallery reading and giving the following interview to the Village Voice Allen commences a hurdy-gurdy of travel: Ginsberg and colleague Gary Snyder hitchhike from San Francisco to Seattle; with fellow poet Gregory Corso he visits Neal Cassady in Los Gatos, California; Allen and Corso and Allen's lover, Peter Orlovsky, and Lafcadio, Peter's brother, visit Jack Kerouac in Mexico City; from there Ginsberg, Peter, and Kerouac join Burroughs in Tangier via New York; from Tangier Allen travels throughout Spain, France, and Italy before settling with Corso in Paris, where he hopes to persuade Olympia Press to publish Naked Lunch; from Paris, Ginsberg visits Amsterdam and England before returning to New York in 1958.
During these travels the United States Customs Service seized 520 copies of Howl based on their estimate of it as "obscene and indecent," but released the books when the United States Attorney at San Francisco refused to institute condemnation proceedings against the book. The local police then took over, and Captain William Hanrahan of the juvenile department arrested Shigeyoshi Murao--the bookstore clerk who had sold plainclothes officers a copy of the book--and filed charges against Ferlinghetti as the book's publisher, reporting that the books were not fit for children to read. The American Civil Liberties Union defended Ferlinghetti and Murao, who were found innocent because of the book's literary value. Ginsberg was out of the country during much of this period of massive publicity and would continue to travel extensively throughout the early to mid-sixties. It is both because of Ginsberg's frequent travels and that a large alternative press did not fully emerge until the mid- to late sixties that there are so few interviews with Allen in his early career, and most of the early interviews that do exist are brief. We first encounter Allen in this volume upon his return to New York from Paris.
"Why have you come back, Allen," I said. "To save America," he answered. "I don't know what from."
Between the question-smile, answer-laugh, the first beer in the time and space between table and sawdust-covered floor, the order of an interview was lost: order that demands a stiffness one cannot long maintain when talking to Allen Ginsberg, digging Allen Ginsberg..
Data: Allen Ginsberg, 32, Paterson, N.J., Columbia College, Merchant Marine, Texas, Denver, Times Square, Mexico City, Harlem, Yucatan, Chiapas, San Francisco, "Howl," Rue Git-le-Coeur, Lower East Side.
Ginsberg sat at the table in a Village bar wearing a colored T-shirt and faded wash pants. Also remember the breaks into time when I got the beer or he borrowed matches from three girls nearby. Sometimes I took notes and sometimes I didn't, and this is no New Yorker profile but a series of responses, thoughts, and phrases. If I were to write of Ginsberg instead of Ginsberg's sayings, this would not be an interview it would be a litany.
Paris: "Eight months in Paris living with (William) Burroughs and Gregory Corso. Corso's poetry is really flowing now, he and Burroughs ('author of "Naked Lunch," an endless novel which will drive everybody mad'--Howl) are still living there, he's writing great perfect rich poems. Corso has extended the area poetry covers since 'Gasoline.' I'm too literary, you know, but Corso can write about moth balls or atom bombs ... We went to visit (Louis-Ferdinand) Celine, you don't read anything about him anymore in Europe because of politics. He's an old gnarled man dressed in black, mad and beautiful and he thought we were newspapermen--'Ah, the press!'--until we told him we were poets."
Kerouac: "Jack is the greatest craftsman writing today. He writes continuously, can write a hundred words a minute, and gets better each time, reducing the grey- mush percentage that bugs every writer, with each effort ... I dig your comparison of his spontaneous writing and Zen archery, but Jack's style was discovered--arrived upon instinctively, not copied theoretical-like from a theology."
Norman Podhoretz: (in the Spring 1958 issue of Partisan Review, Norman Podhoretz attacked Beat Generation writers, primarily Kerouac and Ginsberg, as "Know-Nothing Bohemians." Podhoretz charged that K. & G. were violent anti-intellectuals and that their cultivation of spontaneity destroyed "the distinction between life and literature.") "The novel is not an imaginary situation of imaginary truths-it is an expression of what one feels. Podhoretz doesn't write prose, he doesn't know how to write prose, and he isn't interested in the technical problems of prose or poetry. His criticism of Jack's spontaneous bop prosody shows that he can't tell the difference between words as rhythm and words as in diction ... The bit about anti-intellectualism is a piece of vanity, we had the same education, went to the same school, you know there are 'Intellectuals' and there are intellectuals. Podhoretz is just out of touch with twentieth-century literature, he's writing for the eighteenth-century mind. We have a personal literature now-Proust, Wolfe, Faulkner, Joyce. The trouble is that Podhoretz has a great ridiculous fat-bellied mind which he pats too often."
Norman Mailer: "I read his 'White Negro' piece, it had a real grasp and kind of apocalyptic flip reality and is the only good definitive article I've run into. I'd love to talk to him...
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Allen Ginsberg was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as a winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. He was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1926, and died in New York City in 1997.
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