21 March 2024

The day after I returned from Naples, I went with Jill to the Frank Auerbach show at the Courtauld. I wish I liked his work more and I do get some pleasure from his paintings but how he can spend so much time scratching away in charcoal, erasing and redrawing and yet achieve so little is beyond me. The paper surface gets so damaged that he sometimes pastes on patches and in the end, it is the paper surface that is of most interest, not the drawing. He appears so aggressive, lunging forward and attacking the paper that I feel he would have been better off as an action painter. There’s no subtlety in the work, no gradual improvement and development of the image in this continuous scratching just a reiteration of something very crude and basic. This was the best one:

The next week I selected and installed my collection of Allen Ginsberg artifacts in the vitrines at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury for a short ‘Allen Ginsberg In London’ festival. These began with Allen’s 39th birthday party in London, where he stripped naked, continued through the press conference for the Albert Hall reading of 1965, the concert itself, production photographs from 1969 when I produced an album in New York of him singing his musical tuning of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, to the time I spent living on his poetry farm in Upstate New York, and various visits he made to London when he usually stayed with me. There were signed illustrated books and other bits and pieces. 

The events were organised by Stephen Coates of the Bureau of Lost Culture and Roger Burton at the Horse Hospital and began with the launch of a picture book of Allen’s archives by Pat Thomas. Stephen and I had previously done a ‘William Burroughs in London’ event with Stephen at the London Art Library, and this festival or celebration was an enlarged version of it – talk+exhibition. The archive book launch was on 7 March and was a bit problematic because book launches, at least in Britain, are usually stand-up talking affairs where you meet your friends, drink lots of wine and maybe, but not always, hear a few words from the publisher. Maybe even buy a copy of the book. Consequently, we did not provide much seating. However, after an all too short panel discussion between Pat, Peter Hale from the Allen Ginsberg Estate, and archivist Rozemin Keshvani, and Pat had given his spiel, we had a long set from folk singer Wizz Jones who’d not even read Allen’s work, followed by poet Aiden Dun who limbered up back-stage by doing yoga and oiling himself. He had previously written a major poem influenced by Blake – according to Iain Sinclair – but he went on and on and was eventually booed off, but by then most of the audience had gone home. It would have been far more interesting to hear about Allen’s huge archive from Peter and Rozemin who hardly got to say anything. 

On Saturday March 9th, I did an onstage conversation with Iain Sinclair. We’ve done these before at the U of Manchester and the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, so that was fun. I have always greatly admired his work. It was followed by Peter Whitehead’s film Wholly Communion about the 1965 Albert Hall reading, Colin Still’s wonderful film of Paul McCartney acting as Allen’s accompanist, and Iain’s superb documentary about Allen’s 1967 London visit Ah! Sunflower. Iain seems to be cultivating the William Blake look and I was struck by the resemblance between him and the Blake life mask at the entrance to the Blake show on at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. 

Thursday March 14th was ‘Sunflowers and Sutras’ day, when Iain and Camila, billed by her full title Dr. Camila Oliveira Querino, had an onstage conversation, moderated by Jason Whittaker from the William Blake Society. Camila did indeed read ‘Ah, Sunflower’, and Iain read Allen’s much longer ‘Sunflower Sutra.’ After the break, Vanessa Vie, Tim Arnold and Libro Levi Bridgeman gave a vigorous reading of ‘Howl’. I thought the evening was a great success.

The next day, the 15th, I did another onstage conversation, this time with Youth and Pat Thomas. I’d not previously met Youth (Martin Glover) so I had him over to dinner along with Stephen Coates and some others a few days before the event. Stephen, the organiser of the Ginsberg festival, has his own glittering career as composer, performer and author and it was a pleasure working with him on this project. Youth and I got on well and I liked him very much. There’s plenty on the internet about his extraordinary career as a record producer and performer. After our talk, during which I described working with Allen on his musical renditions of Blake back in 1969, and a few videos, Youth did his set while Antonio Pagano did a free-form image mix on the screen behind him. It was like a revival of the eighties revival of the sixties psychedelic ‘freak-outs’. Antonio said afterwards that Youth appeared to time his trance set by how long the stick of incense in front of him took from lighting it to it burning out. Quite some time in fact. 

The mini-festival also launched the second volume of recordings released by the Allen Ginsberg Estate under the title of Fall of America. These are co-produced by Peter Hale, who runs the estate and maintains the wonderful Ginsberg website, and Jesse Goodman who also co-produced the first volume. Many of the tracks, in which present-day musicians and composers provide a musical setting to a poem recorded by Allen back in the day, had videos to accompany them and Peter showed a selection from them, beginning with Philip Glass and Anne Waldman. Jesse and his husband Maxi were around throughout the period and provided high energy to the proceedings. L to R: Peter Hale, Maxi and Jesse. 

That morning Camila and I went to the Yoko Ono show at Tate Modern. It was my fourth time there but I keep finding new things. It was a beautiful spring day, so we were able to sit outside. I hope this year will be better than the last. 

Lest we forget. Since October 7, the Israeli military has killed more than 31,726 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mostly women and children, in addition to 382 Palestinians in the West Bank and another 73,792 injured. [UN-OCHA figures 20 March 2024] It is one of the last national liberation struggles left – virtually all the others have succeeded, as the Palestinians will, – but the cost can be high. The Vietnamese lost over two million people before they succeeded in throwing out first the French, then the Americans. And the Algerian war of independence, which the Palestinian conflict resembles in some ways, was ugly and brutal. The million French had sometimes been living there for three generations. But the fact is, if you occupy someone else’s country, they will eventually succeed in getting it back, no-matter how many decades it takes.

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