Allen Ginsberg on Henri Michaux

interimpadIn September of 1967 the first and only issue of Interim Pad was released by City Lights and sold for just a dollar. The journal was a collection of essays and poems edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and printed on yellow card stock held together by two staples. Flipping through Interim Pad is an experience that immediately reminds us of the DIY ideology that continues to provide the solid ground upon which City Lights was built. This collection includes a piece by Allen Ginsberg in which he recalls a few brief encounters with Belgian-born, Francophone poet and artist Henri Michaux, who had written extensively on perception and consciousness—and particularly altered consciousness—which is what brought these two together in the first place.

Ginsberg writes,

“I sent Michaux a polite note around the corner from Rue Git0Le-Coeur where I stayed, I said I was a jeune poete Americaine who had much experience in the same hallucinogenic field as himself, and would like to exchange information with him”

And as simple as that, their acquaintance in Paris began. The two shared a genuine curiosity for one another; Ginsberg being the jeune poete Americaine seeking those French elders who had been experimenting with consciousness for years, and Michaux, unaware that a generation across the pond was doing some extensive research of their own. Though the descriptions of Michaux provided by Ginsberg are short, one can’t help but notice similarity in their spirits.  It’s often overlooked that surrealism was a direct influence on the Beat Generation, and that City Lights has been publishing international work in translation since its inception.

Ginsberg continues his description below.

“We met briefly once again, again he had the courtesy to come to our hotel (or perhaps he wanted his house kept quiet) where he met Wm. Burroughs—he’d happily looked into the books; I don’t think he got much out of my English, but he certainly was sensitive to Gregory Corso’s language and laughed quoting a line he’d noticed which pleased him “mad children of soda caps”—”children of soda caps?”—I thought it was a funny phrase too, remarkable & inevitable that a superior French language-man should dig it.”

Adobe Photoshop PDFThis week, City Lights releases three previously untranslated books in one volume combining the artwork and poetry of Henri Michaux in ways never seen before. With guidance from a true visionary, Thousand Times Broken: Three Books straddles the fence between looking and reading; between the physical and the surreal. It includes Four Hundred Men on the Cross, Peace in the Breaking, and Watchtowers on Targets – a collaboration with Ab-Ex and Surrealist painter Roberto Matta, and includes commentary by translator and noted Bay Area poet, Gillian Conoley.

While we celebrate the arrival of this exciting collection, enjoy this final excerpt from Interim Pad – a humorous exchange between Ginsberg and Michaux:

Henry crossed the street, “did you get my note?”  “no did you get mine?” “I sent you a note making a date tomorrow,” and while we talked grouped around a lamppost, oddly met on the planet again, H. Michaux noticed out of the corner of his eye that, half way across the narrow street, a rich young lady tourist journalist had pointed a camera at us. He sidestepped and averted his face. i myself, new to fame, assumed we’d been recognised; thought in fact it was fortunate to have the adventitious street encounter imprinted in permanent shadow. “Dear Poet Ginsberg” said Michaux naively, “they are undoubtedly interested in your picture, i must step aside” I was embarrassed, I was afraid he’d think we had been searching him out on the streets with a camera entourage, had found and trapped him, and were ready to charter a plane back to America with all our images captured together for some LIFE magazine of another Eternity. I was about to say, “But I mean…no, I think they’re coming to get you,” but was too confused and ashamed to say anything. The lady meanwhile was giving us instructions, was she asking us to look at her and smile?

“Will you gentlemen please get out of the way, I am trying to take a photograph of the carriage entrance behind you?”

Michaux’s ink drawings are held in the collections of both the Museum of Modern Art and the Tate. In 1978 the Guggenheim in New York City held a major showing of his work. His famous mescaline-induced ink drawings also appear in Thousand Times Broken.

Thousand Times Broken is out now and is available from City Lights Books. Order the book here. Gillian Conoley will be at City Lights on September 10th, reading from and discussing her new translations, with a multimedia presentation of Michaux’s art accompanying. Go here for the rest of her tour, which spans 10 dates.



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