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Project 52 ’11 18: Allen Ginsberg

May 15, 2011

To celebrate what would have been the man’s 85 birthday, @onenightstanzas ran the following Allen Ginsberg competition out on Twitter:

The idea being that they send you a Ginsberg poem and you write your own response to it. On offer was the chance of being published by One Night Stanza in a chapbook to be released in June, and to attend its launch in Edinburgh. I’m not overly familiar with Ginsberg, (I think we may have glanced at him briefly at university) but I decided to give it a go and see if I could recreate any of the success I managed with Project 52 ’11 15.

Here’s the poem which they sent me –


for David Shapiro and John Ashbery

You used to wear dungarees & blue workshirt,
sneakers or cloth-top shoes, & ride alone
on subways, young & elegant unofficial
bastard of nature, sneaking sweetness into Brooklyn.
Now tweed jacket & yr father’s tie on yr breast,
salmon-pink cotton shirt and Swedish bookbag
you’re half bald, palsied lip and lower eyelid
continually tearing, gone back to college.
Goodbye Professor Ginsberg, get your identity
card next week from the front office so you can
get to class without being humiliated dumped on the
sidewalk by the black guard at the Student Union door.

Hello Professor Ginsberg have some coffee,
have some students, have some office hours
Tuesdays & Thursdays, have a couple subway tokens
in advance, have a box in the English Department,
have a look at Miss Sylvia Blitzer behind the typewriter
Have some poems er maybe they’re not so bad have a
good time workshopping Bodhicitta in the Bird Room.

March 27, 1979

I was quite impressed with what I read. It’s not the sort of thing which I usually like, but I could certainly see the merit of it. I printed it out and spent a happy hour or so making notes on the poem, just like I used to. I was unsure at first of where to go with it or how my response would look. I found it quite hard to write in poetry that which I used to be very able to put into essays and I really enjoyed the challenge.
I could go through the thought process behind each line and the things I tried to achieve with sounds and such, but I think it is best to just show you my response and let you decide what I tried to do and where I tried to go.

The Bondage of Words

I thought I saw a bird
From my commuter train –
A sun-caught flaw on the sky,
Stalking prey at dawn.

It hovered above our small talk.
I whispered “hawk”.

Suddenly the sun glared
And blinded me
With brilliant Road to Damascus light.

When I had blinked back to focus
The bird was gone,
Disappearing at the mention of its name –
As if to breathe the word
Was to lose the word.

We’ve tried to define freedom
And freedom has taken flight;
We’re left with sounds of freedom
Resounding in our ears,
Blue-grey blotches in our blearing, tearing eyes,
Palsied lips
And balding heads.

On Saturday I received a reply from the editors of One Night Stanza. I was very excited and nervous when I saw who the email was from. I try to not let myself get excited for things like this and I can be quite calm throughout the whole process only to end up a nervous wreck when the results are announced. (I was physically shaking when I collected my final set of A Level results!)

Unfortunately I didn’t make the cut. I’m not too disappointed, though. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot out of the process of writing this and certainly haven’t been put off submitting things in the future. This is the first submission of mine which has been rejected (yes, it is only my second submission but who’s counting?) and far from putting me off writing, I feel like I want to have another bash at it and to see if I can come up with something One Night Stanza likes better. Shame the deadline has passed, really.

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