Allen Ginsberg on the Book of Urizen

The Allen Ginsberg Project has recently begun publishing unedited transcriptions of Ginberg’s lectures on the First Book of Urizen, given in 1978 at the Naropa Institute. When the serialization is complete, there should be about 12 lectures available. The preliminary lecture is here and includes a brief bibliography and other first-day basics. I imagine the first day of a Blake seminar led by Allen Ginsberg would have been a little more exciting than your average first day of class!

The second lecture, on the Gnostic background of Urizen, is here. Ginsberg gives a nice crash course in Gnosticism and also ties the ideas into Buddhist principles, like vajra, or intellect. In his useful comparison of vajra and Urizen, he notes that

In Buddhism, vajra quality can also have its corrupted or perverted opposite, where you have an excess of vajra, where everything is complete intellect and cutting through (perhaps cynical or destructive intellect, or negative intellect, or intellect that’s so solidified and impacted that it doesn’t allow for any feeling, or any richness, or any generosity, or any work…).

He also talks about Urizen as an apt figure for modernity, which also requires people to deal with “titanic forms,” like the atom bomb. Ginsberg also gives a good bit of background in this lecture on Blake’s social circle and his ties to figures like William Godwin and the Neoplatonist Thomas Taylor.

The third lecture, on Urizen and Milton, is rich with analysis and connections to contemporary issues (like politics and drug culture). It also includes an aside on Milton’s apparitional visit to Blake at Felpham.

Lecture four can be found here, and introduces Los, who “gives a body to Falsehood [Urizen] that it may be cast off for ever.” Ginsberg notes that Los gives Urizen a body to

Take it, transform it into something poetically visible, which can then be analyzed, observed, reasoned upon, understood, seen clearly, and related to . . . [to] try and find out his system. Because if you have his system then you’ll have his secret. Then you’ll know wherefrom he comes, how he operates, why he’s doing what he’s doing and what his functioning is. And every Satan has a system.

The next lecture should be up next week at some point, and promises to be fascinating!

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Blake beats

A discussion on the listserv for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR) has turned up some fascinating musical adaptations of Blake’s work, ranging from indie rock to garage to singing Beat poets. Contributors to the discussion and the links they provided are below.

James Rovira: The discussion began with his announcement of a CD put together by William Blake and the Human Abstractions, which includes some of their work for an Blake exhibit at the Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College last June. Information about ordering the CD is available on their MySpace page. You can hear two songs from the CD, “Spring” and “The Sick Rose,” on the page. Rovira notes that the CD, according to the exhibit’s curator, will include “Spring,” “The Sick Rose,” “Night,” “The Human Abstraction,” “Chimney Sweeper,” “The Ecchoing Green,” “Ah! Sunflower,” “Little Boy Lost/Found,” “Infant Joy/Sorrow,” “Hear the Voice of the Bard!”, and an improvisational piece, “Wings of Fire” (also the title of the exhibit). Although the MySpace page gives the release date as Fall 2008, I was unable to locate any further information about whether or not it’s actually out. You can e-mail brkirchner_AT_hotmail.com for more information. Songs are also available for purchase on iTunes, although I’m having some trouble searching for it. An iTunes search for “William Blake” did, however, pull up some Patti Smith songs, including “My Blakean Year,” which is well worth a listen.

Dennis Low pointed the list to this interview with Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous from the BBC Culture Show, who has been heavily influenced by Blake’s poetry in his life and music. The interview includes a performance of “London,” as well as Linkous reading an excerpt from “A Poison Tree.”

Avery Gaskins noted that The Fugs, a folksy band with a good dose of garage rock/psychedelic sound, set “Ah! Sun-flower” and “How Sweet I Roamed” to music. I was able to find a recording of “How Sweet I Roamed” on Last.fm.

Peter Melville provided a link to Kevin Hutchings’ essay on the musicality of the Songs of Innocence and experience from Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (RaVoN). Hutchings has also released a CD, “Songs of William Blake,” available for purchase here.

Misty Beck brought up Greg Brown’s versions of some of the Songs, as well as Allen Ginsberg’s renditions, recorded in New York December 15, 1969, and available for your listening pleasure at PennSound. Beck also reminded me of Iron Maiden’s cheesy, and oddly catchy, adaptation of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Steve Jones points us to poet Anne Waldman singing “The Garden of Love,” for the Romantic Circles Poets on Poets series. Download the MP3 here.

Dorothy Wang and David Latane both suggest classical composer William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, available at Amazon.

Nelson Hilton mentioned the Songs hypertext site, hosted by UGA. Choosing a song pulls up the page along with a piper icon in the corner. By clicking on this icon, you can access musical adaptations of that song by musicians like Finn Coren, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ginsberg, and Gregory Forbes.

Timothy Morton brought up Jah Wobble’s album, The Inspiration of William Blake, available on Last.fm here. Tangerine Dream’s version of “The Tyger” is also available on last.fm via this YouTube video that is sure to liven up any party.

Last but not least is Joseph Viscomi’s stage adaptation of An Island in the Moon, with songs by Margaret LaFrance set to flute, piano, and voice in traditional 18th century ballad formats. The play, performed at Cornell in 1983, is available here.

Update: Melissa J. Sites and Dave Rettenmaier, the Site Manager for Romantic Circles, has consolidated all the recommendations from the NASSR post within the Scholarly Resources section of Romantic Circles, including some of the adaptations I didn’t get to for folks like Byron and Percy Shelley. The list, Pop Culture Interpretations of Romantic Literature, also includes suggestions from an earlier discussion (about 10 years ago) on the same subject.

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