Poetry News

Allen & Lou Ginsberg Discussing Hart Crane

By Harriet Staff

Check out this transcript of Allen Ginsberg and his father, Lou, discussing, among other things, Hart Crane.

A snippet:

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?

It's all here.

Originally Published: July 23rd, 2012