- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Allen Ginsberg on Poetry, Voice, Democracy, and More

 

Happy birthday, Allen Ginsberg! Here are some quotes from his writing:

 

“You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening.”

 

“To gain your own voice, forget about having it heard. Become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness.”

 

“The rhythm of the long line is also an animal cry.”

 

“Democracy! Bah! When I hear that I reach for my feather boa!”

 

“The war is language,
language abused
for Advertisement,
language used
like magic for power on the planet.”

 

“Our heads are round so thought can change direction.”

 

“Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.”

 

“Poetry is the record of individual insights into the secret soul of the individual and because all individuals are one in the eyes of their creator, into the soul of the world. The world has a soul.”

 

“My ambition for my content was to be totally personal. So it could rest on fact. I mean the world I knew. But the sound in my throat, that mellow music’s part of the world I know. So if I get ‘hot’ poetically, the vowels heat up.”

 

“Concentrate on what you want to say to yourself and your friends. Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening.”

 

“I just write when I have a thought. Sometimes I have big thoughts, sometimes little thoughts. The deal is to accept whatever comes. Or work with whatever comes. Leave yourself open. ”

 

“It isn’t enough for your heart to break because everybody’s heart is broken now.”

 

“Whoever controls the media—the images—controls the culture.”

 

“The problem was always to break down the barrier between the public and the private. Authoritarian governments thrive on secrecy, blackmail and intimidation. If poetry can include our actual lives and reveal the secrets of how we live, that would be a bulwark against the fascists.”

 

“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does. By poetry I mean the imagining of what has been lost and what can be found—the imagining of who we are and the slow realization of it.”

 

“It’s the ability to commit to writing, to write, the same way that you…are! Anyway! You have many writers who have preconceived ideas about what literature is supposed to be, and their ideas seem to exclude that which makes them most charming in private conversation. Their faggishness, or their campiness, or their neurasthenia, or their solitude, or their goofiness, or their—even—masculinity, at times. Because they think that they’re gonna write something that sounds like something else that they’ve read before, instead of sounds like them. Or comes from their own life. In other words, there’s no distinction, there should be no distinction between what we write down, and what we really know, to begin with. As we know it every day, with each other. And the hypocrisy of literature has been…you know like there’s supposed to be formal literature, which is supposed to be different from—in subject, in diction and even in organization, from our quotidian inspired lives.”

 

“Wanting credentials, wanting confirmation, wanting approval is a kind of aggression.”

 

“The 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 definite 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.”

 

“‘Form’ form is what happens. All considerations are elements of a single ‘discipline,’ which is mindfulness or conscious appreciation and awareness of the humors of line arrangements on the page, intelligence in relation to the mental conception of the poem and its vocalization.”

 

“Usually during the composition, step by step, word by word and adjective by adjective, if it’s at all spontaneous, I don’t know whether it even makes sense sometimes. Sometimes I do know it makes complete sense, and I start crying. Because I realize I’m hitting some area which is absolutely true. And in that sense applicable universally, or understandable universally. In that sense able to survive through time—in that sense to be read by somebody and wept to, maybe, centuries later. In that sense prophecy, because it touches a common key. What prophecy actually is is not that you actually know that the bomb will fall in 1942. It’s that you know and feel something that somebody knows and feels in a hundred years. And maybe articulate it in a hint—a concrete way that they can pick up on in a hundred years.”

 

“In other words, the only way to drag up, from the depths of this depression, to drag up your soul to its proper bliss, and understanding, is to give yourself, completely, to your heart’s desire. The image will be determined by the heart’s compass, by the compass of what the heart moves toward and desires. And then you get on your knees or on your lap or on your head and you sing and chant prayers and mantras, till you reach a state of ecstasy and understanding, and the bliss overflows out of your body. They say intellect, like Saint Thomas Aquinas, will never do it, because it’s just like me getting all hung up on whether I could remember what happened before I was born—I mean you could get lost there very easily, and it has no relevance anyway, to the existent flower.”

 

“Sometimes I feel in command when I’m writing. When I’m in the heat of some truthful tears, yes. Then, complete command. Other times—most of the time not. Just diddling away, woodcarving, getting a pretty shape; like most of my poetry. There’s only a few times when I reach a state of complete command.”

 

“I wasn’t attempting to put a message across at the time, I was trying to write poems, without a message at all. The message is a by-product of my intelligence (and other people’s intelligence). The creation of a work of beauty, which is, frank expression of heart, is a thing which isn’t a message, it’s just an activity, (you know, like a fountain), which sends no messages.”

 

“Well, no, I never enjoyed [my work] or didn’t enjoy it. It’s just like breathing—no choice. I enjoy breathing! I mean—’Do you still enjoy breathing?’ ‘Do you still enjoy breathing?’ It’s a question like that. I never thought of it in terms of enjoyment or not.”

 

“Jazz is the greatest contribution that New York has given to world culture. ‘When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake,’ said Plato out of Pythagoras. He disapproved of changing the mode of music because it meant destabilization of the older society. But when people began moving to a different rhythm, that affects the whole body and thinking process and a new consciousness rises. So I think New York’s ultimate contribution is an inquiry into the nature of human consciousness manifested with the different arts. It may be too much to claim that world consciousness was changed by jazz perception from New York, but New York was like a magnifying glass that focused all of these perceptions and inventions that originated in the Bateau Lavoir in Paris, or New Orleans, or in Mississippi, or in Liverpool, or elsewhere. It served as a magnifying glass where all of the rays could be focused and then spread out over the planet.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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