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Politics, Pederasty and Consciousness

Interview

By Robert F. Cunha jr.

ALLEN GINSBERG sat down in Tommy's Lunch last Friday afternoon and ordered a raspberry-lime rickey. The foremost living American poet, in town to plug his new volume of poems, White Shroud, carried the several books and notebooks he carts from one poetry reading to the next. For a self-styled "post-beat modernist," he looked remarkably conservative: blue blazer, candy-striped shirt, and rep tie. The only hint of nonconformity was a small dried flower under glass which he wore as a lapel pin.

Ginsberg held court on a dizzying variety of topics, from poetry to television to his unabashed homosexuality. Clearly his favorite subject was politics; nearly every question was ultimately answered by his own inimitable brand of political analysis. In a deep, resonant voice, he switched subjects continually, drawing comparisons and painting allegories that both illuminated and obscured his diatribe.

"MY POETRY'S always been pretty accessible to everybody except pipe-bound academics and critics, at first. The reason is probably that I've been following William Carlos Williams' tradition in writing in the living American language and speech, writing in the living tongue, rather than an imitation of a literary tongue....It seems obvious. I don't know why other poets don't do it....It's like poets do themselves out of their audience.

"Mostly [the poems in White Shroud] are about sex or dope or politics or meditation. Now that I'm 60 I'm looking at who I am as a public persona and a private persona and seeing if there's any difference....Do [the poems] seem self-conscious? A wkwardly so?"

Are you the establishment now? "I've always been--from the point of view that Thoreau, Whitman, Williams is the American tradition. So that's one establishment, you might call it the hermetic establishment, the native establishment. Then there's an opposed, fake establishment that runs the money.

"Primarily my interest is in Buddhist meditation....The Buddhist thing is if you see the Buddha on your path, kill him--if he gets on your way. Because if you get confused and get attached to the idea of it, cut it off, cut it down. Unlike the Moral Majority which would never cut down, never say their Christ is a stick of shit like Buddhists say Buddha is a stick of shit.

"I don't have an obsession with [aging], it's an acknowledgment and a dealing with it. You know, Yeats had to deal with it, Eliot had to deal with it, we all have to deal with it. Everybody except idiots has to deal with it.

"As I get older, having very specialized sexual tastes, it gets harder to make out....I like young boys. Why? Well, I'm not a young teenager. I'd have more chance at making out with younger guys if I were younger, dewier, dewy-limbed.

"[White Shroud] is the most graphic ever, except for one early poem called `Please, Master,' which was supergraphic. This is pretty clear, I think. Just the right moment in Moral Majority history to come out with something really graphic.

Is this a way of thumbing your nose at the censors? "No, it's a way of grounding my consciousness, and other people's consciousness, in the reality of erotic life when at this point Meese, the attorney general, wants to ban erotic life and persecute it, and get the Supreme Court on our backs over sodomy.

"Remember they were going to get the government off our backs? Now they even got them snooping in the bedroom. They want to turn the United States into a nation of informers, like Russia. The next thing you know kids will be informing on their parents for sodomy. Not merely just smoking a little grass, but sodomy.

"Remember they were going to get the government off our backs? Now they even got them snooping in the bedroom. They want to turn the United States into a nation of informers, like Russia. The next thing you know kids will be informing on their parents for sodomy. Not merely just smoking a little grass, but sodomy.

"Fuck the American government. The American government is nothing but a bunch of second-rate poets and mass murderers--including our very popular president, who after all has a lot of karma bloodshit on his hands. He's hardly one to be pointing a finger. Nor his wife.

"The whole government program on drugs is a lot of total hypocrisy to begin with, and why put up with that bullshit?...There's nothing wrong with dropping a little acid or smoking a little grass....They're a bunch of yapping dogs selling their own dope, double-dealing, corrupt, up to their ass with the Mafia, trying to get votes by denouncing poor, suffering junkies on the street....The government can take its whole dope morality and shove it back up its own ass as far as I'm concerned, and the American public, too, if they're so stupid as to listen to the lies the government tells them."

Ginsberg ends White Shroud with a poem called "Things I Don't Know." "I just realized that there are a lot of things I don't know, that a lot of people don't know, but at least I don't know.

[I did not] try to bring [White Shroud] to a triumphant, or untriumphant, ending. It's kind of an anticlimax. But I don't mind. Somebody's got to take on the anticlimax, or else everybody will be doomed to be afraid of the anticlimax....Sometimes I can't come. That's pretty anticlimactic.

"[People] are always trying to make anybody who is dissident sound like a flake or a loser. It's exactly the same psychology they use in Russia. If somebody's a dissident, they call him a troublemaker, a neurotic. They even send him to a psychiatric hospital. It's a Time magazine-CIA-ex-Harvard con, that you're not really `serious' like the businessman is `serious.'

"That psychological consciousness...takes me in, it takes everybody in. Except every once in a while you wake up and realize--What did Walt Whitman say? `I find no fat sweeter than that which sticks to my own bones.' Like, I'm bigger than the government, the government is a loser, the government is a flake, not me."

Has Ginsberg become more political? "It's not really so much political, unless you can call Thoreau political. Thoreau, you know, did sit in jail rather than pay his war tax for exactly the same war we're fighting now [in Nicaragua].

Does Ginsberg pay his war tax? I'm stuck with everybody else with that."

Is poetry the best way for Ginsberg to foment his "world revolution"? "It's the only way. Because ultimately it's a psychological revolution....People are controlled by language, their thought patterns. He who controls language controls minds.

"The government is itself made of our words. So if you get in there with a jiu-jitsu in the language, you have the best chance of altering people's awareness or mind consciousness. It's sort of a psychedelic situation.

"Being vulnerable is being heroic--not being number one. Now we're supposed to be number one? From Nixon onward we're supposed to be number one. Not being number one is heroic. Being number one is cowardly, macho, S & M."

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