AG: Okay to Hart Crane - another example of that genius and stupidity mixed. The reason he’s interesting to read right at this point is we went through the breakthrough in the late 19th century of the old verse forms, through Rimbaud, Whitman, and then on to the great 20th century voices, Lorca, Apollinaire, Mayakovsky (and you heard Esenin’s voice), some lesser voices, but total voice, like “Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan”[Vachel Lindsay], total vocalization. One man who tried to get it all together was Hart Crane. Hart, (a) terrific first name! – from Cleveland. His father was a candy-maker!. (Crane) ran off to New York and read Rimbaud when he was 17 and 16, 17, 18, hung around with the early American Dadaists and modernes, and the vanguard people in Greenwich Village, went to Europe, and was in the sophisticated ‘20’s scene with Caresse Crosby and Harry Crosby, who were rich millionaires who had the Black Sun Press, printing early Gertrude Stein, early Joyce. Hart knew (F Scott) Fitzgerald and (Ernest) Hemingway, I guess – or knew Hemingway and Matthew Josephson, who was a great sociologist/economist..
Louis Ginsberg: Allen you read Rimbaud?
AG: Everybody did.
Louis Ginsberg: When he read Rimbaud, I said “Allen is always chasing Rimbauds”!
AG: Well, Hart Crane was one of the first great American chasers of Rimbauds. So he tried to bridge the gulf between modern machinery, open-hearted Whitmanic, or post-Whitmanic, American idealistic spirit, as you find in Kerouac, or in Whitman (and some of the early Melville before he’s totally disillusioned). He tried to bridge that modern machine-America with a classic Neo-Platonic idealistic sense of the universe, a Gnostic spiritualism, like a Swedenborgian spiritualism. He ran into Swedenborgian teachers in Ohio, just as Vachel Lindsay had. It’s amazing that the crank Buddhism of that day, which came through theosophical societies emanating out of England in (the) 1890’s, like the Order of The Golden Dawn, the same influences that William Butler Yeats fell into, Aleister Crowley’s, a certain amount of black magic, coming over to Springfield, Ohio, maybe taught in the YMCA by a lonesome dyke schoolteacher… So they all had spiritual friends. If you want to read about that, read Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, for that American loneliness and the beautiful cranks therein. “The Bridge”, then, is his attempt to bridge that gap. And he was writing verse which was both varied – some modern, and some kind of modern Cubist, after Rimbaud and Apollinaire, and some very formal broken associative verse. Partly because of time, I’ll stick to just gists here. First of all, there’s a tribute to (Walt) Whitman in it, at the very beginning, at the opening of a long poem called “The Bridge”, on Brooklyn Bridge. He lived in a room overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and brought sailors home to his room, and had platonic and earthy love affairs, always out of his window the Brooklyn Bridge as his big symbol. A single, furnished room (which was later reconstructed into an apartment house that (Jack) Kerouac and I visited years later). The poem is about forty pages, built in different sections, the end of one section, called “Cape Hatteras”, has an epigraph from Whitman, “The seas all crossed, weathered the Capes, the voyage done”. So there’s a little tribute to Whitman, which is one of the prettiest things ever written about Whitman by a later American follower, both homosexual Neo-Platonists, both trying to either extend themselves to embrace and include the entire universe, or all man, at any rate. [Allen reads from Hart Crane – “Panis Angelicus! Eyes tranquil with the blaze/ Of love’s own diametric gaze, of love’s amaze!”…”yes, Walt,/ Afoot again, and onward without halt - / Not soon, nor suddenly – no never to let go/My hand/ in yours,/ Walt Whitman-"] - So… then, a strange piece of American, sort of hobos-by-the-railroad-yard, so that in the Bob Dylan, (Jack) Kerouac, wandering-minstrel style, or subject, a little piece of, like.. who’s the inspirer of (Dylan)?..a Woody Guthrie, On The Road, scene. A section called “The River” – [Allen continues reading from Hart Crane – “So the 29th century – so/ whizzed the Limited – roared by and left/ three men, still hungry, on the tracks, ploddingly/ watching the tail lights wizen and converge, slip-/ ping gimleted and neatly out of sight” – and, from further on in the poem - “The last bear, shot drinking in the Dakotas…”.. “He trod the fire down pensively and grinned/ Spreading dry shingles of a beard..”..”Behind/ my father’s cannery works I used to see/ rail-squatters ranged in nomad raillery”..”Snow-silvered, sumac-stained or smoky blue - / is past the valley-sleepers, south or west./ As I have trod the rumorous midnights, too…” [tape ends here]
[tape continues. Allen reading/quoting Hart Crane – “…her yonder breast/ Snow-silvered, sumac-stained, or smoky blue../ Is past the valley-sleepers, south or west”] - It’s like Rimbaud, taking off on the open road in France.
Where he finally rose to a height is in a section called “Atlantis”, which was his attempt to break through totally into a completely ecstatic visionary universe, in which the modern engineering bridge-metal, heavy-metal universe was linked to the early American promise of the open road, open heart, open soul – What time is it now?
Louis Ginsberg: It’s quarter to eight.
AG: Well it’ll take about ten minutes to read this. Shall we do that?
Student(s): Read it
AG: Since “Adonais”, I think it’s the strongest bit of sonorous rhetoric that has been written in English that I know of.
AG: [To Anne Waldman, also in the class] Are we alright, Anne?
Anne Waldman: Just announce the reading [for later that evening]
AG: Yeah, a couple of announcements. First of all, the reading tonight – Ed Sanders (in this tradition of visionary-eyed American Hart Crane, (Charles) Olson mid-Western fury), and Michael Brownstein (another shy, laconic, mid-Westerner). Also – I have to give grades to people who want credit. I’ve been grading you according to your poetic responses. Ah, but also, hand in, by Friday, for grading, a poem, or else a piece of prose, or any form you want to put it in, detailing, not generalizing but detailing, anything that sticks in your mind from this course. Gregory (Corso) [Corso had taught a couple of Allen's classes], myself, Shelley, anything you want, but some substance, some matter, that’s been left over, that’s been precipitated. Write it as interesting as possible so I can read it. Type it, for the love of God!, if you can!, or if you write it, write it in a really beautiful hand so (that) it’s readable. For those who want credit. A page will do, because it’s just a question of sampling, tasting your consciousness. That was for this class I was just talking about. For the Visiting Poetics Class, people taking it for credit, you’ve got Visiting Poetics memorandums which were announced in class, and they are due tomorrow at class. One page, or less, unless they have something long and great to say, according to Louie.. Any questions see Louie (Lewis) Macadams..
So.. beginning with a description of the bridge itself , the structure of this (is): It rises, comes to a climax, comes to a demi-climax, goes into a sort of symphonic calm, rises again, comes completely – total orgasm, and then a little post-coitus coda. The last section of “The Bridge”, “Atlantis”, with the epigraph – “Music is then the knowledge of that which relates to love in harmony and system”. About three pages.
Student: Can you read that epigraph again?
AG: “Music is then the knowledge of that which relates to love in harmony and system”. Love in harmony and system. He’s quoting from Plato. So here’s an attempt to get to the Platonic eidolon.
Louis Ginsberg: Do you know what (Carl) Linnaeus said?, “Music is love in search of a word”. Closely related to that. Sorry to interrupt you, Allen, go ahead.
AG: So here it is, literally, love in search of a word, coming to pure music and language. What it means we can always take out later, or you can look it up in the dictionary, but it’s the sounds which are important, and the emotion in the sounds. [Allen reads from Hart Crane’s “Atlantis” – “Through the bound cable strands, the arching path/ Upward, veering with light, the flight of strings..” “The serpent with the eagle in the leaves… Whispers antiphonal in the azure swing”] - There I was following, for my breaths, his exact punctuation – dashes, dots and commas, periods – which gives the indications for breath. And if you follow those through reading it aloud, there’s a certain kind of buzzing high that you get (as you can get through (reading) “Adonais”).So I recommend that for vocalization in the bathroom.. [ class and tape end here]
[Allen and Louis Ginsberg reading at NYU, October 1971 - photo by Layle Silbert]
Louis and Allen - do note/don't miss Charles Ruas' 1968 recording of Louis and Allen reading from the Pacifica Radio Archives, a two-part recording - Louis reads here, and Allen here. (an earlier, 1966, father-and-son reading, and a later, 1975, reading are reviewed here and here). Michael Schumacher's 2001 volume, "Family Business: Two Lives In Letters and Poetry" (described by Publisher's Weekly as "some of the most astonishing correspondence in American Literature") remains happily available, as does (a little harder to track down, but worth it) Louis' Collected Poems (a reproduction of the 1920 volume, The Attic of The Past, can be accessed here).
“Rainy night on Union Square, full moon. Want more poems? Wait till I'm dead. August 8, 1990 3:30 AM”
— American Sentences