ephemeropteræ 2013/05 – John Giorno

An evening full of word-soundscapes and poetry performing acts with infamous John Giorno, the “poet among painters.”

“It occurred to me,” said Giorno of the early 1960s “that poetry was 75 years behind painting and sculpture and dance and music.” So the poet set out to change the situation. In the midst of New York’s pioneering pop-art movement Giorno found a fertile creative environment within which to take poetry to another conceptual level. A stepping-stone for his artistic career was Warhol’s invitation to star in his film Sleep (1963). The film, consisting of looped material, offers an intimate portrait of Giorno, showing the poet in a vulnerable state of nakedness and unbiased frankness in front of the camera. Over night, Giorno became a major figure in the New York underground of the 1960s. Beyond doubt, the most prominent example is his Dial-a-Poem series, based on the public telephone service, which provided the correct time and weather forecast upon dialing. In Giorno’s version, callers instead heard a provocatively belligerent lineup, including poems by Giorno himself and by others such as Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Abbie Hoffman, and Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. Giorno uses habitually extensive footage of sounds and words derived from everyday situations, such as the sound of the subway, which led to his first poem Subway poem. In addition, Giorno cut out excerpts of magazines and other recorded poetry, which he then synthesized to “per-mutate” different voices and sounds, using newly developed electronic and technical features. Through this method, Giorno permanently widened the scope of his genre. These techniques not only display the influence of Rauschenberg and Johns but particularly of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, with whom Giorno had close relationships. Giorno is a poet working with the “sound of words and with performance,” always striving to engage the audience and thereby make them “surrender themselves”. This approach is evident in his solo work with multi-track tapes as well as in his vocals for the John Giorno Band, in mantra-like marathon poems or Word Paintings made of fragmentary text. In all his diverse structural, artistic-poetic practice, gay rights and anti-war subjects have remained of prime importance to the artist since the 1970s. According to Giorno there is “one bottom line: no compromise in terms of content. In my case, I’m a gay man, so gay and political content always finds its way into my work.” His personal relationships are the central subject matter in poems such as Everyone Gets Lighter (2002), Welcoming The Flowers (2004), Andy & JFK (1987) or the astonishingly intimate The Death of William Burroughs (1998), which opens with the words “I was with William Burroughs when he died and it was one of the best times I ever had with him”. These poems, including Just Say No To Family Values (1994), It Doesn’t Get Better (2010) or There Was A Bad Tree (2001) are characterized by humor and light-footedness despite their fragmentary harshness, addressing the profundity of banality and vice versa, often marked by social critique whilst offering memories of a turbulent and dazzling past. Hence, when Giorno recites “Thanks for exploiting my big ego and making me a star for your own benefit” in Thanx 4 Nothing (2006), there is little doubt who he is settling his account with.

John Giorno was born in New York City in 1936. After graduating from Columbia University in 1958, he was a stockbroker for a short period of time until he met Andy Warhol in 1962. In 1965, Giorno founded a non-profit production company, Giorno Poetry Systems. Well known published poems include Rasberry and Pornographic Poem (1967), Cunt (1969) and Shit, Piss, Blood, Pus, & Brains (1977). His Dial-a-Poem was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970.
John Giorno
May every drug I ever took
come back and get you high,
may every glass of vodka and wine I’ve drunk
come back and make you feel really good,
numbing your nerve ends
allowing the natural clarity of your mind to flow free,
may all the suicides be songs of aspiration,
thanks that bad news is always true,
may all the chocolate I ever eaten
come back rushing through your bloodstream
and make you feel happy,
thanks for allowing me to be a poet
a noble effort, doomed, but the only choice.

I want to thank you for your kindness and praise,
thanks for celebrating me,
thanks for the resounding applause,
I want to thank you for taking everything for yourself
and giving nothing back,
you were always only self-serving,
thanks for exploiting my big ego
and making me a star for your own benefit,
thanks that you never paid me,
thanks for all the sleaze,
thanks for being mean and rude
and smiling at my face,
I am happy that you robbed me,
I am happy that you lied
I am happy that you helped me,
thanks, grazie, merci beaucoup.

May you smoke a joint with William,
and spend intimate time with his mind,
more profound than any book he wrote,
I give enormous thanks to all my lovers,
beautiful men with brilliant minds,
great artists,
Bob, Jasper, Ugo,
may they come here now
and make love to you,
and may my many other lovers
of totally great sex,
countless lovers
of boundless fabulous sex
countless lovers of boundless fabulous sex
countless lovers of boundless
fabulous sex
in the golden age
of promiscuity
may they all come here now,
and make love to you,
if you want,
may each of them
hold each of you in their arms
to your hearts
balling to your hearts
balling to
your hearts delight
balling to your hearts delight.

AND more thx 4 nothing in the conversation with John Giorno recorded on Friday July 12 at Augarten as part of TBA21s conversation series. 
 July 12, 2013 from 7 pm
Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary
TBA21–Augarten, Scherzergasse 1A, 1020 Vienna, Austria
supported by
Wiener Städtische Versicherungsverein
curated by
Daniela Zyman and Boris Ondreička
Free admission