In a comment on another blog, I remarked on my experience studying with Allen Ginsberg - and someone asked me to talk more about that.

Ginsberg himself was more a presence than a teacher - he was at some of the parties, in some of the performances, had some conversations... in fact, he was one of those gay men for whom women do not really impact his reality much. I was introduced to him four times (the school's director thought he'd enjoy my work,) and each time he looked right past me. I wasn't offended so much as amused.

At any rate - this was my response. It ended up being pretty lengthy, so I thought I'd put it here as well.

Well, I took the MFA course in Writing and Poetics at Naropa University. The writing school there was founded by Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg - and named (somewhat absurdly) the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics - the latter half of the name being a reference to Gertrude Stein. I say absurdly, because I always considered Kerouac's work to be very much embodied, very much physical... but that little contradictory bit of excessive name dropping was very much in the spirit of the beat poets.

It's a small school, and the writing department, graduate and undergraduate, was perhaps 60 students, so there was a wonderful intimacy with the instructors. Ginsberg was there in the summer, and others like Hakim Bey, Adrienne Rich, Jerome Rothenberg and Diane diPrima taught courses. Anselm Hollo was on the regular staff. Other people came and spoke, performed or visited - including Philip Glass, Gregory Corso, Ed Sanders, and Ram Daas... I did a fundraiser with Ferlinghetti for a minority students' fund and got chewed out by Amiri Baraka for the same.

Really, it was an incomparable experience. I have several stories.

What I learned (and can apply to screenwriting,) and this may seem as contradictory as the school's name, was the value of structure. I wrote more formal poems while I was there than I ever have. I found that using the structure of a defined form was freeing to the imagination, it gave inspiration a lightning post to be drawn to. It allowed you to direct and craft the raw idea.

I was particularly fond of repetitive forms like the pantoum, which taught me how an image can be repeated to tie a poem together - and can change meaning slightly every time it recurs.

It also inspired me to go out and get life experience, to travel and have adventures - rather than become an academic. Nothing against academia. If I had gone that route I'd probably have a small measure more recognition as a poet, and a literary critic or theorist... but I think I've lived a far more interesting life.

For some of my poetry (I no longer write in form much, but it still influences my work):