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Angkor Wat – a poem by Allen Ginsberg [Transcript]

Angkor Wat

a poem by
Allen Ginsberg

a video notebook by
Lars Movin

poem read by
Lawrence Weiner

editing and soundmix by
Niels Plenge

Deep in the jungle of northern
Cambodia, in the Angkor region,
are hidden the ruins of hundreds
of temples from the ancient
Khmer Empire.

During the Angkor period, from
year 802 to 1432, powerful kings
built magnificent Buddhist and
Hinduist temples like Bayon,
Ta Prohm and, most famous,
Angkor Wat.

In 1963 the American
poet Allen Ginsberg visited
the temples of Angkor.

Allen Ginsberg:
Ankor – on top of the terrace / in a stone nook in the rain / Avelokitesvera faces everywhere / high in their stonyness / in white rainmist //

Slithering hitherward paranoia / Banyans trailing / high muscled tree crawled / over the roof its big / long snakey toes spread / down the lintel’s red / cradle-root / elephantine bigness // Buddha I take my refuge / bowing in the black bower / before the openhanded lotus-man / sat crosslegged / and riding in the rain in the / anxious motorcycle putting / in the wetness my shirt / covered with green plastic / apron shivering / and throat choking / with upsurge / of fear / cancer Bubonic / heart failure / bitter stomach juices / a wart growing on my rib / Objection! This cant be / Me!

Angkor Wat is one of the temple[s] belong[ing] to the King Suryavarman II. And here, Bayon is one of the temple[s] [that] belong[ed] to the King Jayavarman VII, so … to show his or their power.

The King Jayavarman VII (1181-1220), he was Buddhist of Mahayana, so he built this one, and he had as … You see the carvings all around, even here? This we call the apsara[s], the beautiful lady dancings … Yeah, they [are] representative to the Cambodian ladies. And this also, they are the supporter[s] of the Buddhism as well. Yeah. And, you see, the dancing … lotus flower is representative to the flowers of the Buddha.

You know, Angkor period starting from the ninth century until the early of the thirteenth century, when the King Jayavarman VII died, so it seem[s] to be the power of the Khmer Empire getting lost.
So, in this temple, you know, it’s Buddhist temple, it really seem[s] to be like the king … [was] not really a religious person. He is a philosophy king, he [is] taking care of people … he built this temple for Buddhism, but he is a philosophy king that make[s] mobilisations between Hinduism and Buddhism. That make[s] … all the people never been angry or fighting because of the religions.

Sir … you want to buy scarf, postcard … you buy one? Sir, you remember too … you want to buy … one for one dollar! Sir … one for one dollar! One scarf for one dollar! One scarf, one dollar! You want postcard?

Allen Ginsberg:
asuras with teeth fangs / and fat eared Devas / with military mustaches // hanging on to the great Chain Snake / muscle sandstone railing / length of the moat-bridge to / The South Gate, Avelokitesvera’s huge / many faces in opposite directions / in high space / thru which ran new black road / at the knees of greater trees, one // needed a haircut, root-hair sprouting / on branches – thru the forested / Castle grounds to pathways fallen / sandstone headless statues / Damp black bas-relief Dancing Shiva / or angel lady // The huge snake roots, the vaster / serpent arms fallen / octopus over the roof / in a square courtyard – curved / roofcombs looked Dragon-back- / stone-scaled / As frail as stone is, this harder wooden / life crushing them // with the cricket-glare and parrot / squads walking across the roof / – last nite full moon in misted heaven / and slow girl dance bent albow and insp[i]ring / fingers snaking it thru the middle – // I am afraid where I am / “I am inert” …… “I’m just doing my / Professional duty” … “I’m scheming / murders” … “I’m chasing a story” / I’m not going to eat meat anymore / I’m taking refuge in the Buddha Dharma Sangha / Hare Krishna Hare Krishna / Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hara Rama / Rama Rama Hare Hare

Allen Ginsberg:
As I rode thru the forest Hari Hindoo and Lord of Mercy / struggled like Asur-Devas / with my mind-snake drifting / motorized under the trees – that / long road with a dip and slow strange / rise into the arch of the four-headed / Smile – gate to the old park / of Khmer palaces – ancient morphine / in a room – // The many Sphinx-heads with ears on the towers / Looking around the country seventeen, cheek on eye, / Bewildered in a hurry in the rain to make / this City conquered by Chams (upriver / burning the wooden city) of / Stone to last in forest // Even that permanence warped cleaned / in the Alice and Wonderland giant garden / of Ta-Phrom – followed // by the young guardian with a caterpillar- / like green frond in his hair / – he shrank back a second when I went to / touch his crown

This frame, and inside with, eh, what is called small relief of Buddha doing meditations … but then they took it away because of the next king that they … after the King Jayavarman VII died, so they changed the religion from Budhist to Hinduist, and then they chopped … they chopped off the Buddha away in order not to show [it] to the people in the Hinduism religion.
They changed from Hinduism to Buddhism starting from the fourteenth hundred … about 1432, when they … when they moved … when they moved the capitol, when they moved the king’s palace to the other area[s] like Oudong and then Phnom Penh. So in about fourteenth hundred to fifteenth hundred … so they changed to Buddhism again.

Allen Ginsberg:
Everything drifted away in the dream / even the stone buildings of Low Library, / even the great dome of Columbia, / even the great cities of Khmer – weak / dancers at the portals of Angkor – / where I saw the praying young / head shaved peasant kneel at / the foot of the stairs on a purple / straw mat, / The cries of the boy dancers to the / deliberate slow walking drum’s / triple beat – Faunlike / conscious asian steps on the / stonewalk – My cries of Sex / in bed echoed in their / lap-head grass eyes – / Motorcyclists crying together / entering the inner gates to / the huge temple left behind by other / Hindu dreamers – Kingdom / Come or Kingdom Yore – // reassurance from Buddha’s / two arms, palms out / stept up to 13th Century / Sukothai feminacy / step forward – // I’ve read the 1910 Guidebook about them / giant trees strangling the heavy palace / one altar full of little black bugs I never saw / before, / Broken or stray Lingams left over from another / Imperial History, Goon squads with Moats, / Kingly reservoirs dried up, must’ve / been a big city full of wooden poles right / near here, bamboo thatchments / Chinese babies screamed at the bearded / Han traveller – Palms together / Salute I don’t care I don’t know

In the Happy New Years, eh, Cambodian people come to see the temples, like Angkor Wat, Bayon, and the temples around. Every year … we have once or twice or three times a year that Cambodian people come in from different province[s] to see Angkor Wat.

Allen Ginsberg:
Blind white mossed grey carved / blocks of stone noses smiling / thin lips / green mossy fronds of giant / trees, the white drift smoke / sky / The millions of familiar / raindrops dripping in / floor rock crevasses / on the broken crown of the / grey lotus / The stone benches on the roof / Snake balustrades / Buddha’s faces on the / many towers, the forest snakes / waiting in the tall trunks of / wooden trees

Ankor / where I dreamed of trembling to / write – here again after the / hot sun, sleeping and dreaming / 2 days ago – back in the wished / for rain past / rain on my elbows // Buddha save me, what am / I going to do / again dreamed of / This awful stone moment / being in the streams / or change of the Clouds / in the sky – / Kneeled to the statue on / Porch / Saranam Gochamee Catchme quick / forced with incense – have to / go down to the / velocycle / thru the bat-tower / again, or out / in the rain!

June 10, 1963 / Siemreip, Cambodia.

Since the fall of Khmer Rouge
in 1979 a number of
international organisations
have resumed the restoration
of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Bayon
and other temples in the jungle
of northern Cambodia.

idea, camera, production
Lars Movin

editing, additional sounds, mix
Niels Plenge

thanks to
Lawrence Weiner
Steen Møller Rasmussen
Bob Rosenthal
Map (guide at Bayon)

excerpts from
Allen Ginsberg: »Ankor Wat«
(written 1963)

published by
Fulcrum Press, 1968

used by kind permission of
the Allen Ginsberg Trust

Lars Movin © 2004