It was the summer of 1990…or possibly ’91…and I was a year out of college, no prospects for or particular interest in promising careers of any kind, embarrassing my parents living the life of a slacker out in Boulder…no offense to any fellow Elephant contributors who might currently be embarrassing their parents by living the lives of slackers in Boulder…and, when not wandering in the mountains or otherwise sacrificing brain cells to unknown gods, attending a free Zen meditation class at the Naropa Institute, which was also attended, at least once or twice, by Allen Ginsberg, who one Saturday (I think), as part of a benefit for something or other, along with some other poets, did this Haiku thing….
Basically, you stood in line, paid a few bucks…maybe five…and a famous poet would write you an instant haiku on the spot. I told Ginsberg I was just wandering, kind of a bum—apparently thinking maybe he’d be impressed and tell me I reminded him of Kerouac or something (he wasn’t, and didn’t)—I also told him I’d gone to a poetry reading the night before, and now, in the morning, was hung over…and so ended up with a piece of rag paper, with this poem, a little drawing of a flower and what looks like a snake, and Ginsberg’s signature on it. I’ve still got it, though in the midst of a long summer living out of my van…the White Whale…in the mountains, something apparently got spilled on it, staining and smudging it badly, particularly the signature, though you can still read it…kinda…..
Just wandered in from
the void for a poetry
reading, the next morning
I was hung over.
You’re probably thinking that doesn’t look much like a haiku—in fact it looks even less like one on the original page, since the line brakes above are really just where the writing hit the edge of the paper, and he certainly wasn’t even trying for 5-7-5 (though it has been argued that, given the essential differences between Japanese and English, that schema isn’t important for English-language haiku, anyway) (then, those presenting that argument might simply be lazy) (not that I’m gonna judge…I don’t even bother to write proper sentences half the time…).
That summer or maybe the next one, also attended a seminar Ginsberg did—once a week for I think three weeks we read Blake and Whitman, and Allen related the poems to his sex life, drug experiences, and conversations with Bob Dylan…which could be interesting, sometimes, like when he talked about this Blake poem:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
…applying it to how, at one time in his life, he’d kept taking acid, each time hoping this one will last until, finally, he learned to kiss it as it flies. He also drew attention to this part of a line from an obscure version of the well known I askéd a thief…‘twixt earnest & joke…arguing that it was central to his own poetry as well as that of Shakespeare and lots of other people…
…now that I think of it, it’s probably central to what I write, as well…for what it’s worth…and, some years later, in grad school I used it as the basis for an paper, about a poet name Thylias Moss, who wrote about the way subtitles fuck up the possibilities of truth…so said that what she does in her poems is un-fuck up the possibilities of truth…and it ended up as my first scholarly publication…which made my parents very proud…though that was long after I left Boulder….
*a much different version of this article appeared a year or two ago at Yoga for Cynics*