“Action Needed, Goethean Action”

Allen Ginsberg, Journals: Mid-Fifties 1954-1958, edited by Gordon Ball

During winter and spring of 1996 I went on a binge of poet Allen Ginsberg’s books: poems, letters, photos, journals (I was taking a break from Elie Wiesel dissertation preoccupations). This volume documents his inner/outer life in the period when Howl emerged and just before he created Kaddish. I took note of the following passages…

On the New York literary establishment: “There’s no room for youth and vitality in New York. It is a city full of guilty academicians.” —Gregory Corso. “Too big, too multiple, too jaded.” —Jack Kerouac. “We want everyone to know that we had to leave the Village to find fulfillment and recognition.” Ginsberg.

“And so I thought for the benefit of posterity to keep a record of everything — don’t lose any information.”

“…the best I thought I could do was just keep a record of my own changes of self-nature and perceptions — you know, intermittent perceptions, spots of time. So my notebook is thoughts, epiphanies, vivid moments of haiku, poems, but not a continuous diary of conversations like Virginia Woolf, or Anais Nin, or Boswell.”

“Exaltation (what is the precise word for the sensation of love acceptance?)”

“Creating out of myself the strength to continue in some kind of force, some kind of uncanny care — though I have nothing to give actually but a cheerful spirit now and hands for dishwashing — to give force for my own & others’ pleasure — to learn to give love without despairing of the consequences.”

“…before it drags itself out and I get lost in confusions and imagined rejections.”

“Fortunately art is a community effort — a small but select community living in a spiritualized world endeavoring to interpret the wars and solitudes of the flesh.”

“Will he even come tomorrow? Must I go seek him out again? Does he understand why I’m waiting? Is this a screwy test? 6:20 down to Foster’s. Patience. Intuition of 4:30 not prevailed. Sit & read. Wasting time as before in this love-void. How can I work when etc? Kerouac writes well.”

“And am I even in love or just obsessed with image of possibilities?”

“Major mistake — to fall into passive melancholy & sit by waiting for god of love to lap me up — action needed, Goethean action —“

“And I can’t give real driving intelligence or creative sense unless integrated in sacramental sexual sympathy.”
“Which amounts to exchange of souls & bodies — but a serious exchange of talents & purposes — joyful bargain happy job for me.”

“I wonder what Peter feels — I don’t know, he never expresses it, though there is a lot of sex and affection in his body. I don’t know how to act. His affections seem stable but his attitudes transient. Cannot ask him yet, too early, though I am afraid of hearing something less moving than what I feel. If there’s any real love it will come of itself. I imagine now it’s animal affection satisfaction. I’m beginning to feel absolute lovethrob heartpangs toward a being which as yet I don’t fully perceive, it’s still mysterious.”

“What’s missing in these pages is exhaustive faithful reproduction of scene and characters and speeches — the psychological introspective ramblings are already burdensome and in short time will seem absurd and tiresome.”
“…finally close to tears a few times, irritations, boredom, impatience, dismay.”

“If you don’t jot it down on the instant it disappears.”
“Tiring of the Journal — no writing in it — promotes slop — an egocentric method.”

“I’m consumed with envy of Jack’s holiness & devotion to singleminded expression in writing. I myself write nothing and am sick of fragment sketching. The poems I build out of them are fragmentary, slight.”

“I try to stay at my desk & write but the structure always comes back to the material. I need a structure.”
“Memorize poetry.”
“The droppings of the mind on the page (Jack’s poetry) — cummings is artificial.”

“My childhood is gone with my mother. My memory becomes less clear. My body will go. There is no me left. Naomi is memory. Naomi is a memory. My 30 years is a memory to me. Memory will be nothing. Memory changes toward death. Toward death, memory changes. Memories. Memory. Mors. M…”

“The remarkable thing here is the clarity — the complete & open revelation in his writing & biography — of a soul [Whitman]. You see his inside & deepest thots & worries & the ground of his sense of mortality, his sensible deeps.”

“Rereading Siesta in Xbalba — mimeographed 52 copies on ship — first impression, unbalanced & egoistic; second impression a short poem with mostly logical jumps but no bottom, no outbreak of truth in it, no emotional outbreak, no decision, no discovery, just notes thoughts & nostalgias here * there a touch of pity, no crisis, no drama. Never comes to a point — tho that random ordinaryness was mood & purpose of Siesta title but seems shallow while I’m reading The Life of St. Francis.”

“Slept poorly considering my worth & worthy of these journals which is what I pride myself in and was wretched, praying to St. Francis lay naked in bunk, gusts of erotic memory Tagalong, portrait of Van Gogh on roof of bunk, asked for vision woke after troubled sleep & remember only snatches of dreams.”

“In dreams seems important to remember one after the other each morning’s — miss a morning thru inattention or laziness & you begin missing the next whole series of dreams — remember one & the next day will follow in memory too. Thus I force myself to record these fragments.”

“Is it a search for roots — for a home — I have no mother’s belly left to crawl back to under the covers she’s in the grave, she’s a void — a longing for what was once not void but trembling weepy insane flesh. All of us caught on the hook of the world, grasping in time for love for food for poetry for glory — love’s cold poetry of glory.”

“But there’s no escape from Time but Death & no escape from the burden of Desire in Time.”

“This notebook having become too unspontaneous I transferred to crazy writing in blue schoolbooks and will continue probably henceforth with loose poems rather than formal journal — which is now too narrow a habit.”

“Number & name them as final, my own saints and gods, each of whom I’ve loved & has accepted me & given me a rose of sex or deeper than sex family sacrament or beer all night ashcan binge.”

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