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Happy 88th Birthday, Allen Ginsberg!

3 Jun

ginsbergAllen Ginsberg at the Miami Bookfair International on November 7, 1985. Photo by MDCarchives via Wikipedia.

 

Today would’ve been Allen Ginsberg’s eighty-eighth birthday, and in honor of the Jersey-born poet’s powerful and beautiful work we asked people on the Burning Furiously Beautiful facebook page what their favorite Ginsberg poem was. I’ve loved hearing the results! So far we’ve heard:

My favorite is “Sunflower Sutra,” in which Ginsberg writes about Kerouac and him sitting under the shadow of a train as the sun set and spying a dried up sunflower amdist the machinery. The line “when did you forget you were a / flower?” slays me every time.

What’s your favorite poem by Allen Ginsberg? Leave it in the comments below or on the Burning Furiously Beautiful facebook page.

Want to read more about Ginsberg on his birthday?

And if you’ve ever been curious about how Allen Ginsberg met Jack Kerouac in the first place, you can read all about the early origins of the key people who came to represent the Beat Generation but who are all really so much more than that in Burning Furiously Beautiful.

 

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

23 May

Happy Memorial Day weekend! Are you doing anything fun?? Grilling out on the patio? Reading The Haunted Life? Reading Burning Furiously Beautiful? Hitting the beach? Spending time with the family? Taking a road trip??

Whatever you do, I hope it’s just what you want it to be!

Here’s my Memorial Day post from last year, in which I asked if the Beat Generation writers were anti-American, and here’s the one from the year before in which I explore Jack Kerouac’s time in the Merchant Marines.

TODAY: William S. Burroughs Centennial Conference

25 Apr

burroughsimage via CUNY

William S. Burroughs turned 100 back in February — and we’re all still celebrating!

Today the WSB@100 Festival continues at the CUNY Center for Humanities. What I particularly love about this event is how academic it is! Though the writers associated with the so-called Beat Generation are studied in colleges across the country, many critics and scholars alike still focus more on the writers’ personal lives than on their literature. The William S. Burroughs Centennial Conferences tackles weightier issues such as innovation and technique, the business of publishing, and gender politics.

Here’s a look at the schedule:

Fri Apr 25, 9:30am – 6:30pm | Conference | Room 9206-9207

William S. Burroughs Centennial Conference

John M. Bennett
Ann Douglas
Oliver Harris
Barry Miles
Jed Birmingham
Charles Plymell
Geoffrey D. Smith
Anne Waldman
Regina Weinreich
Jan Herman

Held in honor of the centennial of William S. Burroughs’s birth, and the WSB@100 Festival in New York City scheduled for the entirety of the month of April, 2014, this conference will explore the life and works of one of the most innovative and influential twentieth-century American writers and artists. Join us for a series of talks and roundtables by editors, artists, and scholars on a range of issues from the problem of gender in Burroughs’s writings to his role in postwar America little magazines, his still unpublished archival materials, cut-up experiments and novels, and his photography.

“Listen to my last words any world. Listen all you boards syndicates and governments of the earth. And you power powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory to take what is not yours. To sell the ground from unborn feet. Listen. What I have to say is for all men everywhere. I repeat for all. No one is excluded. Free to all who pay. Free to all who pain pay.” – William S. Burroughs

This conference is free and open to the public.

This event will be livestreamed. For viewing during the event, please see here: https://videostreaming.gc.cuny.edu/videos/livestreams/page1/

Join this event on Facebook.

SCHEDULE:

9:30AM  Coffee

10:00AM
Editing Burroughs with John Bennett and Geoffrey Smith

11:00AM
Burroughs and Literary Magazines with Jed Birmingham, Charles Plymell, and Jan Herman

12:30PM Lunch

2:00PM
Biography and Photography: Barry Miles in conversation with Oliver Harris

3:30PM
Gender Trouble with Anne Waldman, Regina Weinreich, and Ann Douglas

5:15PM Coffee Break

5:30PM
Keynote:  Oliver Harris Cutting up the Trilogy

 

Cosponsored by the English Students Association, Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, the PhD Program in English, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, the Doctoral Students’ Council, and the WSB@100 Festival.

You can find all the information on the CUNY website.

* * *

Interested in how William S. Burroughs helped shape Jack Kerouac’s literature? Check out Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” the book I coauthored with Paul Maher Jr. (2013). It’s available through Lulu’s print edition, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

See New York Through David Amram’s Eyes Tomorrow

25 Apr

First80

Ever since pioneer jazz French-horn player David Amram mentioned that he’ll be doing an urban hike, pointing out places of importance to him on the Upper West Side, I’ve been counting down the days.

I usually associate David with Greenwich Village. Whenever I see him play at Cornelia Street Cafe or (le) poisson rouge, he always tells enthralling stories of how we’re only steps away from where he and Jack Kerouac did their first jazz-poetry readings or how he used to go into the music store down the street and learn how to play instruments from around the world. It’s that curiosity, though, along with talent and tenacity that allow him to transcend any particular place or “movement” or style. Uptown, he worked, for instance, with The New York Philharmonic’s conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos; in 1966, Leonard Bernstein selected him to be The New York Philharmonic’s first composer-in-residence.

Now, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has acquired David Amram’s archive and is hosting David Amram’s New York, a series of free events, which includes a screening of a documentary about him and the urban hike. Here’s the info via the New York Public Library:

Composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and author David Amram is a musician with a celebrated career as prolific as it is diverse. While his achievements and influences extend far beyond the city, New York has played a vital role in Amram’s life and music. Specific locations throughout New York have served as inspiration for Amram’s compositions, and his pioneering work with Leonard Bernstein and The New York Philharmonic, Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan, Joseph Papp, Jack Kerouac, Dizzy Gillespie, Pete Seeger, and many other jazz, folk, and world music artists has helped shape the city’s cultural landscape. To celebrate the recent acquisition of Amram’s archives, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center will present David Amram’s New York, a series of public programs and offerings that explore his remarkable career and ongoing relationship with the music of New York.

The series begins on Saturday, April 26 with a screening of the documentary feature film David Amram: The First 80 Years, followed by a conversation between the filmmaker Lawrence Kraman and Amram. Later that afternoon, Amram will lead a walking tour of Manhattan locations that have played a significant role in his life and music. The walk will be co-hosted by author Bill Morgan and sociologist Dr. Audrey Sprenger of SUNY Purchase.

On Tuesday, April 29, the series concludes with a special concert of Amram’s chamber music compositions, featuring a program that spans Amram’s career and musical influences. Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie, will also be in attendance to celebrate her commissioning Amram to compose THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie. Performers for the concert include Howard Wall and Kim Laskowski, both members of The New York Philharmonic, former Metropolitan Opera concertmaster Elmira Darvarova, and saxophonist Ken Radnofsky. The evening will also mark the release of two new albums of Amram compositions: The Chamber Music of David Amram – Live from the New York Chamber Music Festival (Urlicht AudioVisual), featuring Darvarova; and Newport Classic Records’ album of Radnofsky performing Amram’s compositions for saxophone, including the concerto Ode to Lord Buckley and Trio for Tenor Saxophone, French Horn and Bassoon.

In conjunction with the programs, The Library for the Performing Arts will exhibit original materials from Amram’s archives.

One of the most influential and prolific composers of his generation, David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works, two operas, and scores for the award-winning films Splendor in The Grass, The Manchurian Candidate, and Jack Kerouac’s Pull My Daisy–all while balancing a career as a pioneering jazz improviser, symphony conductor, and multi-instrumentalist featuring 35 instruments from around the world, all of which remain a source of inspiration for many of his formally composed classical works. Amram was a vital force in the Beat Generation, and presented the first-ever public jazz-poetry concerts in New York City in the 1950s with Kerouac. Amram was the first Musical Director and composer for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, for the Phoenix Theater, and for The Lincoln Center Repertory Theater, where he composed scores for new plays by Arthur Miller directed by Elia Kazan and Harold Clurman. In 1966, Leonard Bernstein named Amram The New York Philharmonic’s first Composer-In-Residence. Five years later, Amram became the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s first Musical Director for Young People’s, Family and Free Parks Concerts, a position he held for nearly three decades.

Today, Amram continues to compose music while traveling the world as a conductor, soloist, bandleader, author, visiting scholar, and narrator in five languages. In addition to the David Amram’s New York programs at The Library for the Performing Arts, Amram’s other projects this spring include the release of THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie (Newport Classic Recordings), a live recording of Amram conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his work by the same name, and the DVD release of David Amram: the First 80 Years in May. Amram’s fourth book, David Amram: The Next 80 Years, will be published in 2015.

All events included in the David Amram’s New York series take place at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (40 Lincoln Center Plaza), and are free and open to the public.

David Amram’s New York

Saturday, April 26 @ 1pm
Film Screening: David Amram: The First 80 Years
Post-Screening Conversation with Lawrence Kraman and David Amram In Person

http://on.nypl.org/1l4ObCG
Lawrence Kraman’s 2012 documentary about the life and times of David Amram features interviews and performances with Buck Henry, Pete Seeger, Sir James Galway, Kurt Elling, Paquito d’Rivera, Max Gail, Larry Merchant, Candido Camero, Bobby Sanabria, John Ventimiglia, Philip Myers, Maurice Peress and the Queens College Orchestra, David Broza, Avram Pengas, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, the Earl McKintyre Orchestra, and David Amram and his three children Alana, Adira and Adam. This compelling film not only explores Amram’s unique career and the breadth of his talents, but as the title implies, also proves that one of the most exciting aspects of Amram’s story is knowing that with his endless energy and zest for life, his narrative is far from over, and the future chapters are sure to be just as exciting as the past.

Saturday April 26 @ 3pm
Walking Tour With David Amram
Meet in the lobby outside of The Bruno Walter Auditorium, located at the Library’s 111 Amsterdam Avenue entrance
http://on.nypl.org/1hpUzo5 
David Amram leads this walking tour of Lincoln Center and other nearby locations that have influenced his life and music. The tour will be co-hosted by Bill Morgan and Dr. Audrey Sprenger.

Tuesday, April 29 @ 6pm
Chamber Music Compositions of David Amram: from 1958 – 2014
http://on.nypl.org/1gqMVsQ
Over the course of his career, David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works. For this concert, he selects four of his favorite chamber works:

Trio for Tenor Saxophone, French Horn and Bassoon (1958)
Ken Radnofsky – Saxophone
Howard Wall – French Horn
Kim Laskowski – Bassoon

Violin Sonata (1960)
Elmira Darvarova – Violin
Linda Hall – Piano

Blues for Monk for Unaccompanied Horn (1982)
Howard Wall – French Horn

Three Greenwich Village Portraits (2014)
For Alto Saxophone and Piano
Ken Radnofsky – Alto Saxophone
Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek – Piano

About The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world’s most extensive combination of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts — whether professional or amateur — the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. For more information please visit www.nypl.org.

Don’t live in New York? Check out David Amram’s extensive calendar to see when he’ll next be in your neighborhood.

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How Antonin Artaud Came to Influence the Beats

24 Apr

Antonin_Artaud_jeune_b_SDAntonin Artaud had great fashion sense.

Bronx-born writer Carl Solomon joined the United States Maritime Service in 1944 and traveled overseas to Paris, where he was encountered Surrealism and Dadaism. When he came back to the US, he voluntarily admitted himself to a New Jersey psychiatric hospital as Dadaist expression of being beat, being conquered, being overpowered. There, he received shock therapy instead of the lobotomy he requested. He wrote about the experience in Report from the Asylum: Afterthoughts of a Shock Patient.

At the psychiatric hospital, Solomon met Allen Ginsberg. (You can read about how Ginsberg ended up there in Burning Furiously Beautiful.) He introduced the young poet to the poetry of Antonin Artaud, a French poet of Greek ancestry (his parents were from Smyrna) whom he had seen give a screaming poetry reading in Paris. Artaud had written the first Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), and produced Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci in 1935. The year after that, he went to Mexico, living with the native Tarahumara people and experimenting with peyote, before Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs would pack their bags for Mexico. Another year passed and Artaud was found penniless in Ireland, where he was arrested and deported. Back in France, he was sent to various psychiatric hospitals, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. Notably, in his earlier years, Artaud had spent time in a sanatorium, where he read none other than Arthur Rimbaud.

Solomon wrote Report from the Asylum with Artaud in mind, while Ginsberg wrote “Howl” with both Artaud and Solomon in mind.

Once again, I could not find any of his poems in public-domain English translation. So, here’s a quote I found interesting and relevant from Artaud’s prose piece The Theater and Its Double:

“I cannot conceive any work of art as having a separate existence from life itself.”

You can read one of his poems, “Jardin Noir,” here.

*4/24/14: The subject’s name was originally misspelled and has now been corrected. Thanks to my reader for pointing that out!

Before the Beats, Rimbaud Had a “Bohemian Life”

17 Apr

225px-RimbaudPhoto by Etienne Carjat (1871)

Rimbaud’s kinda cute, eh?

Before Jack Kerouac coined the term “Beat Generation” during a conversation on the Lost Generation with fellow writer John Clellon Holmes, before he went on the road and lived a bohemian life, he attended (and dropped out of) Columbia University. It was through his Columbia connections—which Paul and I explain in more detail in Burning Furiously Beautiful (it’s actually super interesting to discover how they all met and became friends)—that Kerouac met Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg. Back then, the phrase they were throwing around was a “New Vision.”

Carr had borrowed the phrase from Arthur Rimbaud, and the young friends in Morningside Heights used it to mean:

1) Naked self-expression is the seed of creativity. 2) The artist’s consciousness is expanded by derangement of the senses. 3) Art eludes conventional morality.[17]

As a teenager, Rimbaud was part of the Decadent movement in late-nineteenth-century France. The term “Decadents” refers to the clever poets who preferred to show off their literary skill rather than emote as naturally as the Romantics. The earlier Romantics—such as William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats—used more colloquial language than the highly stylized language of the Decadents.

In a letter to a friend, Rimbaud wrote:

I’m now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I’m working at turning myself into a seer. You won’t understand any of this, and I’m almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It’s really not my fault.

 

Sounds like something Kerouac might write, doesn’t it? Not because the author of On the Road sought to make himself scummy by any means, but because he shook off pretensions and suffered for his art, appreciating the authenticity of experience.

I couldn’t find a translation of any of Rimbaud’s poetry that was in the public domain, so here is Rimbaud’s “My Bohemian Life (Fantasy)” in the original French:

Ma Bohème (Fantaisie)

Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;
Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal ;
J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;
Oh ! là là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.
– Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course
Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.
– Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,
Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes
De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,
Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques
De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

You can read a 1962 English translation by Oliver Bernard here.

 

The Feast Day of Saint Bernadette

16 Apr

469px-Bernadette_Soubirousimage via Wikipedia

Bernadeta Sobiróus was only thirty-five years old when she passed away. A miller’s daughter from Lourdes, France, Bernadette was fourteen years old when she first saw a “small young lady” appear to her while she was out fetching firewood in Massabielle. This apparition requested that a chapel be built in the grotto near there, and later it was revealed that she was the Immaculate Conception. Indeed, a number of chapels were built at Lourdes, and today Bernadette is remembered as a saint even though many did not believe she’d had visions at the time.

In Jack Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, where many French-Canadian Americans resided, there is a a Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, which he writes about it. I’ve visited it twice and wrote about it as part of my Church Hopping column.

 

 

 

Writing Wednesday: Are Writers Right or Left Brained?

16 Apr

brain_resultvia sommer+sommer

Years ago, I read somewhere that right-brained people are more likely to put their right shoe on first. Since being right-brained is associated with creativity, naturally I began telling myself to put my right shoe on first whenever I left the house.

How left-brained of me!

Using facts — instead of intuiting — is a left-brain trait. My very attempt at subverting my instinct proved just how left-brained I am.

When I came across “Right-brained? Left-brained? Take the brain test!” on sommer+sommer, I had to take it. I’ve always been told I’m “creative” and have been interested in the arts, but I also take things very literally and sometimes veer toward the anal retentive. Perhaps that’s why I’m an editor. My left-brain tendencies to follow rules and look at parts can shine in a right-brained creative field that I enjoy.

I think the same holds true for writers. We tend to think of writers as being right-brained thinkers. Writers embrace fantasy, curiosity, chaos, and intuition. But writing takes a great deal of left-brained work.

Language itself is a left-brain trait. Nonfiction writers in particular deal in research and details, also left-brain traits. Fiction authors and poets also consider rules and details, even if they choose to subvert them. I think of the New York School poets in particular when it comes to writing rules, for their very creative writing experiments were in fact formulaic. For instance, Bernadette Mayer‘s “Writing Experiments“:

  • Make a pattern of repetitions.
  • Explore the possibilities of lists, puzzles, riddles, dictionaries,
    almanacs, etc. Consult the thesaurus where categories for the word "word"
    include: word as news, word as message, word as information, word as story,
    word as order or command, word as vocable, word as instruction, promise,
    vow, contract.
  • Structure a poem or prose writing according to city streets, miles, walks, drives. For example: Take a fourteen-block walk, writing one line per block to create a sonnet; choose a city street familiar to you, walk it, make notes and use them to create a work; take a long walk with a group of writers, observe, make notes and create works, then compare them; take a long walk or drive-write one line or sentence per mile. Variations on this.

Forced creativity! I love it!!

Having a successful writing career also take a great deal of left-brained work. As mentioned in Burning Furiously Beautiful, Jack Kerouac kept a running tally of the number of words he wrote each day. He also kept meticulous records of his work. Writers who seek to be published often create writing schedules and work regardless of whether the “muse” inspires them or not, they have to think analytically about the best market for their work, and they must keep notes on when and where they send work out to literary journals. There’s a lot of business in writing, as there is in many creative endeavors.

So what did the brain test reveal to me?

Congratulations
You use your brain equally.

It said I’m 59% left brained and 41% right brained.

You can take the test here. What did you get?

Find more Writing Wednesday entries here.

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die”

10 Apr

ShelleyPortrait of Shelley by Alfred Clint (1819)

When you think Beat Generation do you also think Romanticism? No?? Don’t get tripped up by the overuse of the word “neon” and other supposed markers of so-called Beat poetry. Think more about their shared notions of colloquial language, intuition over reason, and spontaneity. Beat poetry is a natural evolution of Romantic poetry. (Caveat: “Beat Generation” and “Romanticism” are convenient labels, but the people associated with them wouldn’t identify themselves as being “members” of any sort of “movement.”)

I’ve written before about Beat poet Gregory Corso’s connection to one of my personal favorite poets, John Keats. Even more than Keats, though, Corso professed an admiration for Percy Bysshe Shelley. Corso is actually buried across from Shelley. While Allen Ginsberg (read last week’s post on Ginsberg’s Blake vision here)  is known for littering his poetry with the names of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, Corso wrote of Shelley in “I Am 25” and “I Held a Shelley Manuscript.” I love, love, love the language he uses in those poems and can relate to the theme of idolizing other poets who have gone before one’s time.

When thinking about possible poems to share with you for National Poetry Month, I decided on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die” not just because of Gregory Corso’s love for Shelley but because it reminded me of the themes I’d found myself wonderfully entrenched in while recently reading Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, a book the Beats also read—themes of memory and love and music and flowers. (Swoon, swoon, swoon.) Like Corso’s “I Held a Shelley Manuscript,” Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die” sensually touches on what remains after death.

Without further ado, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Music, when Soft Voices die”:

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heap’d for the belovèd’s bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

What’s your favorite poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley?

Allen Ginsberg’s William Blake Vision

3 Apr

 Blake_Roses_Sun-Flower_LillyWilliam Blake’s illustrated “Ah! Sun-Flower”

I’m kicking off this National Poetry Month series with William Blake for reasons that will soon become obvious. In 1948, when he was in his early twenties, Allen Ginsberg experience a supernatural vision. He was alone in his Harlem apartment, reading William Blake, when the Romantic poet appeared to him. Ginsberg said he wasn’t high at the time but was having some … um, personal alone time. Wink, wink. He looked out his Harlem window at the bright blue sky and realized that the sky had been created, that the sky did the creating, and found God. In later years, Ginsberg experimented with drugs to try to recapture that feeling.

One of the poems that Ginsberg heard Blake read in his vision was “Ah! Sun-flower,” published in his 1974 poetry collection Songs of Experience. Blake illustrated the poem (see above). Here is the poem in its entirety:

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Close to a decade after his Blake vision, while in Berkeley in 1955, Ginsberg composed his own sunflower poem, “Sunflower Sutra.” I’m inclined to say it’s my favorite poem. You can read it here.

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And of course you can read more about Allen Ginsberg in the book I coauthored, Burning Furiously Beautiful.