Spoken word artist John Giorno’s most recent and most celebrated publication so far, You Got To Burn To Shine is more than an anthology title, it sums up an extraordinary life. Paul Andrew chats porn, poetry and pop with Dial-a-Poem visionary and ACCA guest John Giorno.
John Giorno is the elder statesmen of perpatetic poetry. His prosaic, pornographic and prurient poetry, poppy performances and publications have inspired five generations of poets and performers including the likes of Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Phillip Glass, Diamanda Galas, Laurie Andersen, Karen Finlay, Henry Rollins and Nick Cave.
Tibetan Buddhism of the Nyingma tradition has been the cornerstone of both Giorno's life and life’s work since the early 1970’s. As the title of his last book suggests, his life has included some measure of suffering. Life is suffering is a noble truth of Bhuddism, or as Giorno says, “suffering is great, it allows compassion, forgiveness and opens your heart, and keeps opening your heart”. The power of it’s ethos of emptiness has inspired him equally as much as the sphere of amphetamines, hallucinogens and reefer madness did in the make-love-not-war climate of the Post Kennedy 1960’s.
It was during this time that Giorno’s circle included pop artists, beat generation poets and writers and musicians who have since become household names including long time friends William Burroughs Brion Gysin, Allan Ginsberg and Andy Warhol.
In between airport lounges and public appearances on his latest international touring schedule including Midsumma's Rapid Fire Giorno is putting final touches to a new book of poetry, the eagerly awaited memoirs of the incendiary drug addled 1960’s called Everyone Gets Lighter.
Giorno is renowned for his "collaborations" with gay icon Andy Warhol, in particular Warhol's 1963 film Sleep, in which Giorno is the star somnambulist. Giorno recounts modestly, “I knew these people before they were famous, for instance I met Andy Warhol during his first group exhibition in 1962. For Andy and many others being out and gay then was the kiss of death. I recently wrote a foreword for an exhibition of the many many gay drawings he did during the 1950’s which sold recently in London, only now have they come out, so to speak”.
Giorno laments, “Warhol was perceived as being too fey and his work too gay. Andy had rejection after rejection in the 1950’s and it wasn’t until he let go of his gay work and made those iconic portraits of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley that his life changed forever.”
On recounting his own young life and his watershed poem Pornographic Poem first published in 1965, “this was really my beginning” and “being gay in 1960’s New York was like walking Blind, there was no frame of reference no one to look too.” He adds, in fact, “it was the same with poetry and spoken word performance at the time, we were walking blind there as well.”
Giorno is here with his partner artist Ugo Rondinone for the Midsumma festivities and to perform his shiny new work The Wisdom of Witches at the Rapid-Fire event at ACCA. Giorno asserts triumphantly that “the last thirty years will be truly remembered as the golden age of poetry. The multitude of venues, publications, touring events and MTV and the Internet has never before existed in the history of poetry. Poetry is never just words it is performance.”
You Got to Burn to Shine (Serpents Tail, 1994)
29 January 2003 7 – 9.30pm
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
Photo: John Giorno, Dial a Poem