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don riggs redux

I had an opportunity to ask Don Riggs, a contemporary poet and professor, for his take on Allen Ginsberg, and he wrote back, "Ginsberg was a major influence on me; his poem 'Howl' was described as the 'Waste Land' of that generation, and I wrote in a quasi-Beat style, in what I perceived to be the Ginsberg manner, in the mid-late-1970s." As part of his response, Don included a poem he wrote 30 years ago which he considers to be his "most successfully Ginsbergian poem." He wrote the poem at the end of the nineteen seventies, and I believe we can find in these lines that Ginsbergian awe in the face of America's fragmented beauty and banality, our shit and our soul intermingled, so to speak.

Please note that the line breaks of Don Rigg's "Those of us who" do have a function in the read-aloud rhythm of the poem but do not transfer into this online format.

Here then is Don Riggs's "Those of us who":

Those of us who
Those of us who live in the assholes of the city
leaking apartment roofs over gravel back alleys
Those of us who watch the trashmen trash themselves at 7am when we get up
Those of us who speak to them moneyless when we traverse our parking lot back yards
Those of us who gaze at the wide red sunset and the one black crooked tree
over the flat black rooftops
Those of us who hear the dumpsters who have been waiting all day
being visited by their dump truck lover at 3am rising graceful as whales
in his arms for their cleansing kiss
Those of us with late black coffee nights typing typing ceaselessly typing our lives
onto all too brief sheets of onionskin
Those of us who will never be President
Those of us with only $5 plastic ponchos for raincoats with rips in their sides from our
Those of us who never get work done on time
Those of us who drop everything and run for two hours
whenever we think we’ve seen the Muse of Beauty disappear round a corner
And sleep exhausted and sweaty and unsuccessful and blissfully peaceful that night
And our dreams are Haydn’s lost symphonies cut into curling rolls by his wife
And those of us whose shoelaces tie in five places
And whose lawns are moss on the next roof
accessible through the window, soft down on the tarred gravel
We have not forgotten Sappho
or Ventadorn, or Van Gogh
Rembrandt’s poor uncle lives on the next hall
the floorboards of our rooms shift when he walks to the closet
We discussed Li Po with our neighbor the moon
We shouted koans to streetlights and discarded paint cans, the plants at the feet of our
stairs, we sang
and sing still of hidden roses, of verdant distances, of the mountain hut
of the imagination
rising invisible above the redbrick backs of buildings of downtown America.
-- Chapel Hill, 1979

For more Don Riggs, click here.


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