COLUMN TWENTY-FOUR, AUGUST 1, 1997
(Copyright © 1997 Al Aronowitz)
THE ALLEN GINSBERG MEMORIAL COMMITTEE
On the drive to Allen Ginsberg's funeral, poet/activist Amiri Baraka kept bemoaning the probability that the services were going to take place in a Buddhist meditation room too small to hold all those who wanted to attend.
"But Allen's secretary told me the funeral is going to be private,," I commented.
"You'll see," Amiri said.
In the Buddhist meditation room, some were sitting in chairs, some were sitting on the floor, some were sitting on radiators. The room was jam-packed. To watch the proceedings, some were forced to crowd into the room's doorway, blocking it. Some tried to hear what was going on from the adjoining room. Some were in the corridor. Some were on the sidewalk below.
Nor was St. Mark's Church accommodating enough to hold the crowd trying to attend the Poetry Project's Memorial for Allen a week later. Nor did the Veteran Wadsworth Theater provide room enough for all those who wanted to attend the memorial for Allen in Los Angeles a few weeks afterwards. There were memorials for Allen all around the country, including Brooklyn, and my understanding is that the preponderance of these memorials were in venues not large enough to accommodate all those who wanted to attend. In fact, more memorials for Allen are planned throughout the globe. A giant of our times has died and not all those who wish to honor his memory have been given the opportunity to do so.
Which is one reason why Amiri and I, both
of whom had known Allen for some 40 years, decided to form an ad hoc
organization known as THE ALLEN GINSBERG MEMORIAL COMMITTEE, enlisting the best
minds of our times to form a world-wide alliance of poets, writers, painters,
musicians, actors, photographers, filmmakers, educators and others prominent in
the intellectual community, the arts and allied fields. Plus a lot of people who
just knew Allen or who felt any kind of kinship with him. The purpose of this
committee is to honor our departed Allen with a memorial befitting such a giant:
a gigantic International tribute to be held in Central Park, a venue which ought
to be large enough to accommodate everyone who wants to be there. Amiri, a New
Jersey native like Allen and like me, is also
The membership committee, which includes many notables, keeps 'snowballing'
planning a second tribute in his home town of Newark. It is our intention that both these tributes represent a gathering of some of the best minds of our times.
The membership of our committee keeps snowballing, with more names being added every day from all parts of the world. So far, the membership includes such notables as actors Johnny Depp, Peter Coyote and Dennis Hopper, playwright Sam Shepard, musician David Amram, authors Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, George Plimpton, Ken Kesey and Dr. Maya Angelou, photographer Robert Frank, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter Gerry Goffin, legendary music producers Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler and on and on, plus Andrei Voznesensky, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure heading a list of poets from around the globe.
And we keep seeking others to join our committee. It is our hope that our snowballing membership will turn into a movement in support of Allen's worthiest causes and he championed many. Who was it who said that poets are the legislators of humankind? Really, Allen was out to save the world. Isn't that a good cause? His foremost message? The Devil is threatening our planet! It's as if a meteor is hurtling toward us and is about to impact on us all. The Devil? The Devil lives in all of us, deep in our hearts. The Devil has another name. He's also called Greed. Blinded by the Devil, we keep raping the earth, ensuring that the earth inevitably will be rendered uninhabitable and our species will become extinct. Are we no more intelligent than the dinosaurs?
As everybody knows, we can never beat the Devil but we MUST keep the Devil at bay. We'd like this movement to fight the Devil and we encourage more memorial committees to stage tributes to Allen all around the world.
But that was only one of the messages which ennobled Allen as one of the world's great messengers. And in his role as one of the world's great messengers, Allen's greatest tool was "the word." "The word," in fact, is the basic tool of all the best minds of our times who will be on both sides of the stage at our international Central Park tribute. Consequently, we thought it only fitting that we should look to the word-processing industry to sponsor and underwrite the costs of the event. After all, where would we be without the word-processing industry and where would the word-processing industry be without us?
On behalf of the committee, I wrote a preliminary letter to feel out Microsoft's William Gates, saying "We lack one important ingredient: funding. We will need a stage, sound amplification, lighting and a crew. Also, I imagine that the New York City Parks Department will require insurance and police. In addition, we will have to pay for airline tickets and hotel rooms for those who we feel must appear at the event but who are unable to pay their own expenses. Plus, I'd like to be reimbursed for the few hundred dollars I've already spent out of my own pocket for postage, telephone and other necessities incident to organizing the committee."
No dice, came the reply in a form letter from one of Mr. Gates' spear-carriers. But then there are other CEOs in the word-processing industry who might be more sensitive to the wishes of that industry's clientele. We might also bombard Mr. Gates and the word-processing industry with a letter-writing campaign. We will also consider any other corporate sponsors who might wish to underwrite our Central Park tribute. Perhaps even the tobacco industry. Allen would enjoy that. We knew from the outset that we were going to need funding from some corporate entity with deep pockets, but because we have faith that our cause is worthy enough, we also have faith that our committee will be influential enough so that corporate sponsors will come knocking at our door
Our original intention was to hold the Central Park event in late August of 1997 but when New York City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Henry Stern ignored first one letter and then a second and then a third and then a fourth and then a fifth, we had to keep postponing our target date until the warm months of 1998, by which time we hope to have persuaded Parks Commissioner Stern to take us seriously. By then also, Mr. Gates might be persuaded to have second thoughts.
So far, the membership of THE ALLEN GINSBERG MEMORIAL COMMITTEE consists of upwards of 125 names, including the following:
John Perry Barlow, Andrei Voznesensky, Robert Frank, Aram Saroyan, Yoko Ono, Johnny Depp
Robert Frank, Michael McClure, George Plimpton, Aram Saroyan, Charlie Rothchild, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Rosenthal, Jim Ragan, Alfred Leslie, Ed Adler, Robert Creeley, Anne Waldman, Gary Snyder, Yoko Ono, Ed Sanders, Ann Charters, Robert Viscusi, Bob Fass, Eric Drooker, Tuli Kupferberg, Larry Sloman, St. Clair Bourne, Kinky Friedman, John Tytell, Chris Felver, Joseph Grant, John Perry Barlow, Andrei Voznesensky, Richard Cammarieri, Jonathan Lim, Fred McDarrah, Kurt Vonnegut, Rosebud Pettet, John Zacherle, Barry Feinstein, David Stanford, Levi Asher, Lillian Davis, Pete Hamill, David Greenberg, Danny Schechter, Robert A. Sobieszek, Gerry Goffin, Barney Rosset, Hettie Jones, Jerry Wexler, Jerome Rothenberg, Danny Shot, Arnold Weinstein, Janine Vega, Robert Lavigne, Joel Dorn, Bill Gargan, Jimmy Lyons, Quincy Troupe, Charley Plymell, Pamela Beach Plymell, Ed Dorn, Ellis Paul, Brigid Murnaghan, Hiro Yamagata, Kevin Moore, George Reed, Latif (William) Harris, Dennis Hopper, Johnny Depp, Joyce Johnson, Brett Aronowitz Luke, Ray Bremser, Brenda (Bonnie Bremser) Fraser, Jules Feiffer, Leonard Cohen, Oscar Janiger, Kathleen Delaney Janiger, Paul Krassner, Arthur Perley. Attila Gyenis, Morris Dickstein, Taylor Mead, Diane DiPrima, John Sampas, Gerald Nicosia, Steve Cannon, John Sinclair, Ted Joans, Art D'Lugoff, Ahmet Ertegun, Fernando Rendon, Gloria Cavatal, Marcus Williamson, Kenneth Koch, Birgitta Jonsdottir, Hayes Greenfield, Merilene Murphy, Peter Hale, Pavel Grushko, Kirill P. Grushko, Toni Morrison, John Ashbery, Sam Shepard, Michael Dean Odin Pollock, Mary Rudge, Gozo Yoshimasu, Ken Kesey, Ken Babbs, Jonas Mekas, Peter Coyote, Ide Hintze, George Krevsky, Dennis Gould, Bernard Kops, Irving Rosenthal, Paul Nelson, George Aguilar, Krishna Fells, Lucas Gutierrez, Andrew Matovich, Heather Haley, Jean Portante, E. Ethelbert Miller, Andrea Thompson, Ken Sherman, Dave and Ana Christy, Barbara Read, Theodore Wilentz, David Gascoyne, Regina Weinrich, Kevin Ring, Robin Blaser, Carl Hanni, Ron Whitehead, Pi-Oh, Philip Salom, Dr. Maya Angelou, Sharon Levy, Kathy Acker, Philip Whalen.
Still awaiting positive responses from the following, all of whom have been contacted:
Bob Dylan, John Eastman, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Neil Aspinall, Ron Delsener, George Harrison, John Wieners, Ishmael Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Lew Lapham, Howard Stern, Don Imus, Tom Friedman, Frank Rich, Sally Grossman, Liz Smith, Richard Goldstein, Joanne Kyger, Sara Dylan, Richie Havens, Joel Siegal, Andrew Wylie, Ted Koppel, Cecil Taylor, Scott Muni, Sterling Lord, Brian Hamill, Miguel Agarin, Brice Marden, Jack Newfield, Henry Stern, Hunter Thompson, Carolyn Cassady, Norman Mailer, Lisa Phillips, Richard Gere, James Grauerholz, Jim Dickson, Ornette Coleman, George Soros, Lita Hornick, Jack Micheline, Felipe Feliciano, Don Allen, Lew Welch, Daisy Aldan, Barbara Guest, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ntozake Shange, Larry Rivers, Archie Shepp, Odetta Gordon, Jonathan Williams, Vaclav Havel, Jaap Blonk, Michael Horovitz, Miriam Patchen, Grace Paley, Peter Orlovsky, Gordon Ball, Howard Hart, Patti Smith, Ani Di Franco, Megas, Dirk Gortler.
Still to be contacted:
Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Jose Angel Figueroa, Sarah Wright, Country Joe McDonald, Marion Brown, John Giorno, Gil Sorentino, Hubert Selby, Mrs. Bob Kaufman, Lou Reed, Gelek Rintoche, Barry Miles, Michael Horovitz, Esteban Moore, Gonzalo Rojas, Ersi Sotiropoulou, Haroldo de Campos, Tony Harrison, Mazisi Kunene, Lauri Anderson, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits, Joe Strummer.
If you can provide addresses for any of the above or think of anyone else who should be contacted, please let me know. And if you have any Email addresses you think I could use, please let me know that, too.
Meanwhile, it turns out that many of the committee members listed above have interesting websites, which I will now begin to link to mine with a self-explanatory Email from Prometeo in Medellin, Colombia, a magazine of an organization of poets headed by Fernando Rendon ("What a good person he is!" comments Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic poet and a creator of websites, to whose own website I will link to mine before long). Fernando Emails:
"I would like to take this opportunity to remit to you a message from the Organizing Committee of the VIIth International Poetry Festival in Medellin regarding the cardinal events which took place in this city in the month of June, events which have nothing to do with either drug trafficking or bloodshed, and to kindly request that you publish it in this important medium. . .
"Seven thousand people congregated on the evening of June 21ST in the Carlos Vieco open-air theatre, situated on the hilltop of the Cerro Nutibara in Medellin, for the joyful conclusion of the VIIth International Poetry Festival (inaugurated on the 13th of the same month and convoked by the poetry magazine PROMETEO), in which there participated 60 poets from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Colombia, the Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Egypt, France, Greece, Holland, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Rumania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the People's Republic of China, Uruguay and Venezuela, and which was not only one of the biggest poetic events in the world this year but also a jubilant and collective celebration of existence.
"The audience at the International Poetry Festival in Medellin is one of the most numerous at any contemporary poetry festival: tens of thousands of people who know and love poetry, who have learned to live together beyond ethnic, religious, political, and class differences, in an annual ritual which fully identifies human destiny with a temporal and
Poetry Festival \
was founded in 1991
atemporal vision of poetry. This gesture of a public united in its appraisal of the poetic word, expressed in 16 languages, set the scene for a true catharsis and transformed audience and poet alike into a continent, a reality to be lived as transition, rather than collapse.
"For the first time since its foundation in 1991, the Festival was attended by four Mamos (high-priests) from the indigenous Arhuac community of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in the north of Colombia. Their message alerted the world to the urgency of making a full turn on the vector of self-destruction, accelerated by the forces responsible for the devastation of nature.
"Before the multitudes which congregated in university auditoriums, libraries, union and cooperative halls, neighborhood parks, in the municipal planetarium and city jail, at 51 recitals and eight conferences, as well as auditoriums in Medellin, Bogota, Barranquilla, Manizales, and Apartado, itself the scene of brutal warfare, the International Poetry Festival provided a forum for the expression of the poetic art in its most diverse forms, from the traditional mythic chants of the Arhuacs of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the indigenous Mapuche of the south of Chile, to the poetry of Africa, impregnated with airs of the struggle against colonialism; from the participation of poets who have gained the recognition of the international poetic community: Ahmed Hegazi (Egypt), Jean-Clarence Lambert (France), Egito Goncalvez (Portugal), Giuliano Scabia (Italy) Birgitta Jonsdottir (Iceland), Sutardji Calzoum-Bachri (Indonesia), Tendo Taijin (Japan), Ashok Vajpeyi (India), Peter Boyle (Australia) and the Latin Americans Eugenio Montejo (Venezuela) and Marosa di Giorgio (Uruguay), to name only a few, to expressions of contemporary acoustic poetry by Jaap Blonk (Holland).
"Thousands of people wrote on posters under the epigraph 'poetry should be written by everyone', in a collective poem to be pasted on the walls of the city.
"Part of the recognition for this achievement must go to the international and national media, for an encounter which reflects the growing influence of poetry in our country and which incarnates the powerful belief of Colombian people in the rebirth of human kind, transcending these violent times of intolerance and injustice.
"As part of a survey distributed at the Festival, members of the public were asked the question, 'What significance does the International Poetry Festival in Medellin hold for you?'
"Below are some of the answers.
"'Peace, it's like being born again and feeling like an inhabitant of the city once more. It's a necessary part of life and the individual, a way of regaining hope.' --(Mario Ricardo Echavarria Gallego; architect. Age 22)
"'It's like we're living in a different city, a different universe.' --(Monica Lopera; student. Age 22)
"'It's the opportunity to affirm the universality of the word and, from that, the possibility of creating an atmosphere of greater justice.' --(Jorge Mario Loaiza; student. Age 17)
"'It has always had a valuable significance as it offers the possibility of subtly sublimating the sensibility of this society which is so abandoned and vulnerable.' --(Alonso Hincapie Arroyave; chemist. Age 49)
"'As Ashok Vajpeyi said yesterday: "The Festival means being in contact with the secret, in the house of the sacred"'. --(Maria Carmenza Correa; forest technician. Age 21)
"'It signifies the outlet and spirit of the mind.' --(Sussy Karina Quinto Moreno; student. Age 13)
"'To inject life into a city of the near-dead.' --(Luis Angel Ocampo Cardona; driver, prisoner, Bellavista Jail. Age 42)
"'The chance to interact with others' diversity of thinking.' --(Carlos Gaviria; teacher. Age 36)
"'A special moment that nourishes a short instant in my brief and marvelous existence.' --(Carlos Enrique Monsalve; carpet-fitter. Age 36)
"'The universalization of Medellin and the universe united in Medellin.' --(Ivan Albeiro Colorado; diver, prisoner, Bellavista Jail. Age 29)
"'Brain and heart galloping along the hidden paths of the city.' --(Hector Castrillon Ruiz; artist. Age 44)
"'It's the cultural event I most look forward to in the year; it makes me forget that countries have borders.' --(Adriana Lopez Velez; systems technician. Age 26)
"'It's a beautiful way to discover how immense is the world of dreams.' --(Nohora Montoya; dental nurse. Age 29)
"'The most beautiful dream for the redemption of life.' --(Hortensia Naizara; teacher. Age 35)
"'An encounter of souls and sentiments which desire to interact.' --(Bertha Guerra Tuiran; student. Age 26)
"'Discovering poetry.' --(Didier Correa Ortiz; student. Age 13)
"'A long, deep breath.' --(Fabian Vargas R; economist. Age 54)
"'The spilled juice, the native dream of the wisdom of stars.' --(Oscar Mario Vasquez, artist. Age 32)
"'An encounter with the song of gods.' --(Gloria Elena Carmona; nurse. Age 33)
"'It's the voice of life and love on the lips of humankind.' --(Juan Pablo Ospina Velez; student. Age 17)
"'The transforming of the world.' --(Dora Maria Gutierrez; student. Age 17)
"'It's like a tree, trapped in a mass of cement: a passion brought alive, a language which refuses to die.' --(Leonardo Gomez Marin; student. Age 18)
"'A converging of winds, to remain in eternal peace with us, with others, with everyone.' --(Yuliana Rios Ruiz; student. Age 16)
"'A chance to learn, grow and feel. I owe so much to this festival, as a spectator. I've grown so much.' --(Viviana Lopez Garcia; student. Age 18)
"'A brush with the world, a contact with the soul, a voice in the silence.' --(Janeth Yepes Vergara; student. Age 16)
"'It's the healing work of the blood; leaving a new skin on this wounded land.' --(Quito Morales; construction worker. Age 20)
"'An opportunity for Colombia to express its feelings, through poetry and without violence.' --(Astrid Liliana Pena Arango; student. Age 16)
"'To open new doors on cultural diversity, it's a meeting with life itself.' --(Jorge Kierman Londono; student. Age 19)" ##
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