Poetry News

When Allen Ginsberg Met Henri Michaux

By Harriet Staff


We're overjoyed to see City Lights has publisher 3, count 'em 3, previously unpublished books by Henri Michaux, all in a single volume. Yesterday at their blog Abandon All Despair Ye Who Enter Here, Katherine Duckworth wrote:

This week, City Lights releases three previously untranslated books in one volume combining the artwork and poetry of Henri Michaux in ways never seen before. With guidance from a true visionary, Thousand Times Broken: Three Books straddles the fence between looking and reading; between the physical and the surreal. It includes Four Hundred Men on the Cross, Peace in the Breaking, and Watchtowers on Targets – a collaboration with Ab-Ex and Surrealist painter Roberto Matta, and includes commentary by translator and noted Bay Area poet, Gillian Conoley.

This isn't the first time Michaux has graced the City Lights list with his presence, going way back to 1963 with the publication of his mescaline journal Miserable Miracle. As Duckworth notes, "It’s often overlooked that surrealism was a direct influence on the Beat Generation, and that City Lights has been publishing international work in translation since its inception." A fruitful connection to make. To help illustrate this point, Duckworth draws on a short meeting between Michaux and Allen Ginsberg that is as delightful as it is charming:

Henry crossed the street, “did you get my note?” “no did you get mine?” “I sent you a note making a date tomorrow,” and while we talked grouped around a lamppost, oddly met on the planet again, H. Michaux noticed out of the corner of his eye that, half way across the narrow street, a rich young lady tourist journalist had pointed a camera at us. He sidestepped and averted his face. i myself, new to fame, assumed we’d been recognised; thought in fact it was fortunate to have the adventitious street encounter imprinted in permanent shadow. “Dear Poet Ginsberg” said Michaux naively, “they are undoubtedly interested in your picture, i must step aside” I was embarrassed, I was afraid he’d think we had been searching him out on the streets with a camera entourage, had found and trapped him, and were ready to charter a plane back to America with all our images captured together for some LIFE magazine of another Eternity. I was about to say, “But I mean…no, I think they’re coming to get you,” but was too confused and ashamed to say anything. The lady meanwhile was giving us instructions, was she asking us to look at her and smile?

“Will you gentlemen please get out of the way, I am trying to take a photograph of the carriage entrance behind you?”

There's more to the story. Head over to City Lights to check it out, and get your hands on Thousand Times Broken today!

Originally Published: August 20th, 2014