bard goes country (PoemTalk #4)


Hear the voice of the bard....

Which bard? Well, we're not quite sure how bardic Charles Bernstein is but he certainly loves the idea of poem as song; he joined some by-now regular PoemTalkers (Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Jessica Lowenthal) and chanted for us that very line. We've worn the grooves on an old LP of Allen Ginsberg singing William Blake's Songs of Innocence & Experience and for the fourth PoemTalk chose Ginsberg's countrified (crossover?) rendition of "The Garden of Love." Does the snappy, twangy (and relatively tuneful) setting create an irony? Jessica thinks yes; Charles thinks no.

But perhaps the tune should be in conflict with the poem's sense, and thus perhaps Ginsberg was not so much pushing a song of experience into a popular (and thus single-direction-tending) mode so much as making it still more Blakean.

The binary of innocence and experience, Rachel says, is broken by the way the song is sung. Blake wanted the binary to be broken; Ginsberg only breaks it further. And seems to been having fun along the way.

Listen for the happy out-take at the end. We had some fun ourselves, albeit somewhat atonally and quite arhythmically.

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

PoemTalk #4 was recorded in the Arts Cafe of the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia. Al Filreis and Mark Lindsay produced; Steve McLaughlin is our director, engineer and editor. Ginsberg's Blake song were recorded in New York City in 1969; PennSound has a complete collection of these recordings. Be sure to check out PennSound's Ginsberg page.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great show. I bought “Holy Soul, Jelly Roll” the Allen Ginsberg CD box set in 1998. Disk three had all the Blake songs on it. I think they were different recordings than the one presented here. Some were live. I loved them. I think for Ginsberg the recording and performing these songs were important to him because they culminated he felt that he had some sort of mystical connection with Blake. For the Blake poem itself, I always thought that it had do with the progress of time, the loss an Eden, either in a land or in an individual. The transformation of a “Garden of Love,” some idealistic reality. to some institutionalized reality. Could be the state or the church.