American Vortex

On Ginsberg’s Wichita Vortex Sutra:

“Wichita Vortex Sutra” originated as a kind of proto-podcast that Ginsberg intoned into an Uher tape recorder while traveling across the American heartland in the winter of 1966. Though the language of the poem is specific to the Vietnam War (which was escalating at the time), it certainly speaks to the conditions of 2006 — not only in its refrain about how empty language started, but cannot end, a military action, but also in its riff on the contradictions between distant Asia and the Middle American conservatism that has enabled a war there; in its alarm at the numbing impact of global telecommunications and the media preoccupation with statistics; in its despair at the hypocritical politicians and corporations that are profiting from the war. Fragments of the poem first appeared in the May 27, 1966, issue of LIFE, and the full text later debuted in a City Lights “Pocket Poets” collection entitled Planet News.

Ginsberg’s journey to Kansas, which he undertook in a Volkswagen van purchased with Guggenheim grant money, stemmed from his long-standing fascination with the state (in “Howl,” he mentions Kansas as the place where “the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet”). In one sense, Ginsberg felt that Kansas was politically representative of Middle American support for war and the military-industrial complex — a stereotype that presaged its current “red state” reputation by several decades. But beyond political generalizations, Ginsberg saw Kansas as the mystic center of America, celebrated by Whitman in Leaves of Grass (“chants going forth from the center, from Kansas, and thence equidistant / shooting in pulses of fire ceaseless to vivify all”). The poet saw Wichita, the ultimate destination of his road-trip poem, as the symbolic heart of this transcendental American vortex.   [more]

From The Last Anti-War Poem by Rolf Potts at The Believer

From “On ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra'” –

With admirable sincerity and making no bones about it, Ginsberg attempts to assume the role called for by Shelley in the celebrated if somewhat petulant assertion that poets are “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”  Ginsberg assumes this role when he attempts to legislate by declaring the end of hostilities in Viet Nam. . . .  What makes this assertion so original is the means by which Ginsberg strives to give validity and authority to his act of legislation: he declares the end of the war by making a mantra. . . .

Does the mantra work? . . .  [more]

Paul Carrol

Hearing Ginsberg read “Wichita Vortex Sutra” during the war was exhilarating. In a large audience the declaration of the war’s end was collectively purgative. The text of the poem retains that fragile, deluded but dramatic effectiveness because it registers its unresolvable ambiguities with such clarity. [more]

Cary Nelson

Wichita Vortex Sutra

Philip Glass

Wichita Vortex Sutra, Allen Ginsberg (audio)

Advertisements

Ginsberg’s Anti-War Poem

From Wichita Vortex Sutra

O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me–
                     On the bridge over the Republican River
                                almost in tears to know
                                           how to speak the right language–
                     on the frosty broad road
                                uphill between highway embankments
                     I search for the language
                                          that is also yours–
                                almost all our language has been taxed by war.
Radio antennae high tension
           wires ranging from Junction City across the plains–
           highway cloverleaf sunk in a vast meadow
                                lanes curving past Abilene
                                          to Denver filled with old
heroes of love–
                                to Wichita where McClure’s mind
                                          burst into animal beauty
                                          drunk, getting laid in a car
                                                     in a neon misted street
                                                               15 years ago–
           to Independence where the old man’s still alive
           who loosed the bomb that’s slaved all human consciousness
                             and made the body universe a place of fear–
Now, speeding along the empty plain,
                      no giant demon machine
                                visible on the horizon
           but tiny human trees and wooden houses at the sky’s edge
                      I claim my birthright!
                                reborn forever as long as Man
                                          in Kansas or other universe–Joy
                      reborn after the vast sadness of War Gods!
A lone man talking to myself, no house in the brown vastness to hear,
                      imaging the throng of Selves
                                 that make this nation one body of Prophecy
                                          languaged by Declaration as
                                                     Happiness!
I call all Powers of imagination
           to my side in this auto to make Prophecy,
                                                                         all Lords
                      of human kingdoms to come
Shambu Bharti Baba naked covered with ash
                      Khaki Baba fat-bellied mad with the dogs
Dehorahava Baba who moans Oh how wounded, How wounded
           Sitaram Onkar Das Thakur who commands
                                                       give up your desire
Satyananda who raises two thumbs in tranquility
           Kali Pada Guha Roy whose yoga drops before the void
                       Shivananda who touches the breast and says OM
Srimata Krishnaji of Brindaban who says take for your guru
           William Blake the invisible father of English visions
            Sri Ramakrishna master of ecstasy eyes
                       half closed who only cries for his mother
Chaitanya arms upraised singing & dancing his own praise
            merciful Chango judging our bodies
                       Durga-Ma covered with blood
                                    destroyer of battlefield illusions
                       million-faced Tathagata gone past suffering
            Preserver Harekrishna returning in the age of pain
Sacred Heart my Christ acceptable
                       Allah the Compassionate One
                                           Jahweh Righteous One
                                     all Knowledge-Princes of Earth-man, all
            ancient Seraphim of heavenly Desire, Devas, yogis
                                     & holymen I chant to–
                                            Come to my lone presence
                                                    into this Vortex named Kansas,
I lift my voice aloud,
            make Mantra of American language now,
                             I here declare the end of the War!
                                         Ancient days’ Illusion!
                     and pronounce words beginning my own millennium.
Let the States tremble,
            let the Nation weep,
                       let Congress legislate it own delight
                                  let the President execute his own desire–
this Act done by my own voice,
                                          nameless Mystery–
published to my own senses,
                               blissfully received by my own form
            approved with pleasure by my sensations
                       manifestation of my very thought
                       accomplished in my own imagination
                               all realms within my consciousness fulfilled
            60 miles from Wichita
                                          near El Dorado,
                                                     The Golden One,
in chill earthly mist
            houseless brown farmland plains rolling heavenward
                                                                        in every direction
one midwinter afternoon Sunday called the day of the Lord–
            Pure Spring Water gathered in one tower
                                  where Florence is
                                                        set on a hill,
                                  stop for tea & gas

Allen Ginsberg