Allen Ginsberg:”India has a more intimate awareness of the relation between people and God”

So afler almost a year and a half in India, what did you find there that you had not found in the West? 

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Allen Ginsberg:  A more intimate awareness of the relation between people and God. Just the very notion of Ganesh with a noose in one hand and a rasgoolla in the other, and his trunk in the rasgoolla, riding a mouse…. Such an idea of a god, such a sophisticated, quixotic, paradoxical combination of the human and the divine, the metaphysical and the psychological! You don’t often get that in Christianity, except maybe in some esoteric Christianity. The idea of an entire culture suffused with respect for that mythology, that religion and its practices, that poor people could under- stand its sophistication and grant things that hard-headed West- erners are still trying to kill each other over. That was a revelation: how deeply the sense of a spiritual existence could penetrate everyday relations, the streets and street signs . . . Naga sadhus walking around naked—people who would have been arrested in America . . . or for that matter—I remember writing to Kerouac—everybody walking around in their underwear, in striped boxer shorts. What would seem outrageous or strange to Americans was just normal—it was hot and people wore very light cotton—it seemed so obvious. That showed me the absurd artificiality of some American customs. . . . And then just the notion of somebody being a businessman and then renouncing the world and being a sannyasi and going around with an intel- ligent expression looking for moksha, that was such a switch from the American notion of business, such a good model, but it doesn’t work for even Indians now. . . . A n d then the availability of ganja and its use in religious festivals and ceremonies was a great source of release for an American used to government dictatorship of all psychedelic drugs (even marijuana), to prohi- bitions, murders, beatings, corruption.8 At least in India there was some familiarity with what it was.

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“In poetry, you don’t have to tell a story: Jack Kerouac

INTERVIEWER

You have said that haiku is not written spontaneously but is reworked and revised. Is this true of all your poetry? Why must the method for writing poetry differ from that of prose?

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KEROUAC

No, first; haiku is best reworked and revised. I know, I tried. It has to be completely economical, no foliage and flowers and language rhythm, it has to be a simple little picture in three little lines. At least that’s the way the old masters did it, spending months on three little lines and coming up, say, with:

In the abandoned boat, 

The hail 

Bounces about.

That’s Shiki. But as for my regular English verse, I knocked it off fast like the prose, using, get this, the size of the notebook page for the form and length of the poem, just as a musician has to get out, a jazz musician, his statement within a certain number of bars, within one chorus, which spills over into the next, but he has to stop where the chorus page stops. And finally, too, in poetry you can be completely free to say anything you want, you don’t have to tell a story, you can use secret puns, that’s why I always say, when writing prose, “No time for poetry now, get your plain tale.”