Waiting for Ginsberg

When psychiatrists, Marxists, anarchists, and politicos converged on London in 1967 for the Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation, the young Iain Sinclair was there with camera in hand. He and a friend tracked down Allen Ginsberg, counterculture superstar, and interviewed him for their film Ah! Sunflower. In today's guest post, Sinclair describes how he created Kodak Mantra Diaries, a self-published account of that exhilarating summer, combining photographs, personal notes, and reportage into a sort of retrospective diary. A copy is on view in The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.

The Kodak Mantra Diaries. London: Albion Village Press, 1971. Gift of the family of Carter Burden.

The edition was large by our small press standards: 2,000 copies (as against 200-500 for most of the poetry books). The books were self-distributed, by means of a van, making a tour of the country. There were plenty of independent and counter-cultural shops and arts centres in those days. They were happy to take copies, but rarely paid. There were reviews in the underground press and a press profile in Time Out (the London listings guide). Around 1,500 copies vanished within a few months. The others tricked out for years. I was still selling them from my stall when I became a secondhand book-dealer at Camden Passage in Islington in 1975.

The diary part of this book was retrospective. I've never kept a diary for publication. But I have always scribbled jottings and fragments of potential future works in notebooks. (Some of these notebooks form part of an archive which went to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.) The Kodak Mantra Diaries gathering is really more of a text-film or contrived scrapbook than a true diary. It's constructed from letters, telegrams, viewings of the film, transcripts of interviews (old and new). The attempt, in form and content, is to re-make the documentary film that never happened, or was aborted in the version shown by WDR (Cologne) on German television. The inspiration for the long thin form (like a strip of film) was the magazine Ant's Forefoot, which was then to be seen in London's underground bookshops, places like Compendium in Camden Town.

It was my hope to assemble a small book, in order to do justice to the wealth of material gathered around the filming in July 1967. I had some encouragement in this project from Cape Editions. While I was away on the island of Gozo, doing the work, the editor left Cape. And that fine series was closed down. So I decided to revise and bring in more personal material, to make the book a portrait of the period, by way of the group of people with whom I was involved. In the spirit of those times, and to avoid prolonged dealings with 'proper' publishers, we did it ourselves. And the prose form, influenced by writers like Robert Creeley, Fielding Dawson, as well as the Beats, took on its diary-memoir format.

Ian Sinclair's works of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and documentary include Downriver (1991), Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London (1997), and Edge of the Orison (2005), a reconstruction of the poet John Clare's walk from Epping Forest to Helpston, near Peterborough. His latest book, Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire (2009), was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's 2010 Ondaatje Prize.

Blog category: