“It’s inexplicable how or why somebody is a great artist. It transcends any reason. As a poet, you have to work with your mind, because you’re working with absolute truths. I’ve been a Buddhist in the Tibetan Nyingma tradition for 45 years; Fanny Howe is a devout Roman Catholic. She’s worked with her mind so much. Every year she goes to a Benedictine retreat in Ireland where they do Gregorian chants only for six weeks. It’s like Buddhist meditation, and you just rest your mind in the sound of these chants. Whatever ‘wisdom’ is, the wisdom that’s beyond all concepts – every one of her lines is like that, and she gets to it by being a Roman Catholic meditator, in a sense. Roman Catholics don’t use the word ‘meditation’, they say ‘contemplation’. It’s all just resting the mind. The mind is very magical. By training it or letting it relax, this true wisdom arrives.”
John Giorno is 78; Fanny Howe is 74. They recently became friends, though Giorno has loved her work for 40 years. He says they never felt they were part of a generation, “but now that we’re at the end of our lives…” The artist and poet, and star of Warhol’s Sleep, is about to have his first major retrospective at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. For Giorno, poetry is temporal, spiritual, spatial, “one big soup”. He breathes in, he meditates; he breathes out, he performs. He writes all morning on one level of the Bowery building he’s lived in since the 60s, and paints on another. Today he’s in the kitchen, seated between a painting, his own, reading “Life is a Killer” and his meditation altar.