Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ginsberg and Jeffers in the same bed

I was reading Allen Ginsberg on the DC Metro, and I had this urge to read him out loud to the assembled. Of course, I did no such thing. But it was a relatively strong urge--and I was held back only in part because the Ginsberg I had with me was not particularly good Ginsberg. They were poems from Kaddish, not my favorite book.

However, in many ways, the DC audience was the one Ginsberg was trying to reach--the assembled young Hill aides, and jaded lobbyists, feckless attorneys, plotting Schedule C political appointees, the rest of the government bureaucrats all working for the retirement benefits and the health insurance, and various gluttonous mercenaries that characterize the DC milieu--these were the people Ginsberg was ranting at the most. NYC was his empathy audience--these are the people who'll nod and agree, shout out their agreement--WDC was the audience Ginsberg was eager to proselytize to.

BTW, I was reading "Death to Van Gogh's Ear!"--some of which goes something like this:

"Money has reckoned the soul of America
Congress broken thru to the precipice of Eternity
the President built a War machine which will vomit and rear up
Russia out of Kansas
The American Century betrayed by a mad Senate which no
longer sleep with its wife"

C'mon--this is still DC.

Last January, at residency, when Mark Jarman said in his basic way in which you don't even dare to argue with Mark Jarman that Allen Ginsberg did not have a philosophy, I asked Tony Hoagland if he thought Ginsberg had a philosophy (as opposed to, say, Robinson Jeffers, on whom Mark Jarman was leading Bookshop). Tony said something I thought to be incredibly apt, something I certainly wished I had thought of, which was that, yes, Ginsberg had a philosophy--it was an inductive philosophy, whereas that of Jeffers was deductive.

Frankly, I now think that Jeffers and Ginsberg were cut out of the same piece of cloth--both long-lined poets with apocalyptic visions, both unafraid of hyperbole, both unafraid of judgment.

Look at this from Jeffers' poem "The Purse-Seine":

Lately I was looking from a
night mountain-top
On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light:
how could I help but recall the seine-net
Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how beautiful
the city appeared, and a little terrible.
I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all
together into interdependence; we have built the
great cities; now
There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations
incapable of free survival, insulated
From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless,
on all dependent. The circle is closed, and the net
Is being hauled in. They hardly feel the cords drawing . . . "

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