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Ginsberg & Merwin


"The rhythm of the long line is also an animal cry. . . . poetry generally is like a rhythmic articulation of feeling. The feeling is like an impulse that rises within—just like sexual impulses, say; it’s almost as definite as that. It’s a feeling that begins somewhere in the pit of the stomach and rises up forward in the breast and then comes out through the mouth and ears, and comes forth a croon or a groan or a sigh. Which, if you put words to it by looking around and seeing and trying to describe what’s making you sigh—and sigh in words—you simply articulate what you’re feeling. As simple as that. Or actually what happens is, at best what happens, is there’s a definite body rhythm that has no definite words, or may have one or two words attached to it, one or two key words attached to it. And then, in writing it down, it’s simply by a process of association that I find what the rest of the statement is—what can be collected around that word, what that word is connected to.' - Allen Ginsberg, interivew in The Paris Review, 37 (1966)

"I got all hung up on Cézanne around 1949 in my last year at Columbia, studying with Meyer Schapiro. I don’t know how it led into it—I think it was about the same time that I was having these Blake visions. So. The thing I understood from Blake was that it was possible to transmit a message through time that could reach the enlightened, that poetry had a definite effect, it wasn’t just pretty, or just beautiful, as I had understood pretty beauty before—it was something basic to human existence, or it reached something, it reached the bottom of human existence. . . . Finally I was reading Cézanne's letters and I discovered this phrase again, mes petites sensations—“I’m an old man and my passions are not, my senses are not coarsened by passions like some other old men I know, and I have worked for years trying to,” I guess it was the phrase, “reconstitute the petites sensations that I get from nature, and I could stand on a hill and merely by moving my head half an inch the composition of the landscape was totally changed.” So apparently he’d refined his optical perception to such a point where it’s a real contemplation of optical phenomena in an almost yogic way, where he’s standing there, from a specific point studying the optical field, the depth in the optical field, looking, actually looking at his own eyeballs in a sense." - Allen Ginsberg, interivew in The Paris Review, 37 (1966)

" . . . the idea that I had was that gaps in space and time through images juxtaposed, just as in the haiku you get two images that the mind connects in a flash, and so that flash is the petite sensation; or the satori, perhaps, that the Zen haikuists would speak of—if they speak of it like that. So, the poetic experience that Housman talks about, the hair standing on end or the hackles rising whatever it is, visceral thing. The interesting thing would be to know if certain combinations of words and rhythms actually had an electrochemical reaction on the body, which could catalyze specific states of consciousness. I think that’s what probably happened to me with Blake. I’m sure it’s what happens on a perhaps lower level with Poe’s Bells or Raven, or even Vachel Lindsay’s Congo: that there is a hypnotic rhythm there, which when you introduce it into your nervous system, causes all sorts of electronic changes—permanently alters it. There’s a statement by Artaud on that subject, that certain music when introduced into the nervous system changes the molecular composition of the nerve cells or something like that, it permanently alters the being that has experience of this. Well, anyway, this is certainly true. In other words any experience we have is recorded in the brain and goes through neural patterns and whatnot, so I suppose brain recordings are done by means of shifting around of little electrons—so there is actually an electrochemical effect caused by art." - Allen Ginsberg, interivew in The Paris Review, 37 (1966)


"I grew up within sight of New York City, and whenever I was asked what I really wanted to do, I would say I wanted to go to the country. I’d been taken out and had seen the country when I was very small and that was what I always wanted to go back to. I’m not sure of the exact origin, but I do know that it goes back a very long way. Feeling that way about “the country” has made me ask questions that I suppose are strange to many of my contemporaries, but they seem to get less and less eccentric as our plight as a species grows more and more desperate, and we behave accordingly. As a child, I used to have a secret dread—and a recurring nightmare—of the whole world becoming city, being covered with cement and buildings and streets. No more country. No more woods. It doesn’t seem so remote, though I don’t believe such a world could survive, and I certainly would not want to live in it." - W. S. Merwin, interview in The Paris Review, 102 (1987)

"I remember walking in the streets of New York and New Jersey and telling myself, as a kind of reassurance, that the ground was really under there. I’ve talked and tried to write about that, but I feel that I haven’t even begun to say it. But that hunger, that tropism, is something that I don’t believe we can live without, even if we aren’t aware of what we’re missing and by now many of us aren’t aware of it. We’re missing it just the same. We’re deprived of something essential. [Is it some profound connection to the natural world?] The connection is there—our blood is connected with the sea. It’s the recognition of that connection. It’s the sense that we are absolutely, intimately connected with every living thing. We don’t have to be sentimental and pious about it, but we can’t turn our backs on that fact and survive. When we destroy the so-called natural world around us we’re simply destroying ourselves. And I think it’s irreversible." - W. S. Merwin, interview in The Paris Review, 102 (1987)

[There is a ] a connection between poetry and prayer . . . if only because I think of poetry as an attempt to use language as completely as possible. And if you want to do that, obviously you’re not concerned with language as decoration, or language as amusement, although you certainly want language to be pleasurable. Pleasure is part of the completeness. I think of poetry as having to do with the completeness of life, and the completeness of relation with one’s experience, completing one’s experience, articulating it, making sense of it. . . .When you talk about prayer in Judeo-Christian terms, prayer is usually construed as a kind of dualistic act. You’re praying to somebody else for something. Prayer in the Western sense is usually construed as making a connection. I don’t think that connection has to be made; it’s already there. Poetry probably has to do with the recognizing of that connection, rather than trying to create something that isn’t there.' - W. S. Merwin, interview in The Paris Review, 102 (1987)