Hal Willner (1956-2020) on Kaddish

Below is the program message written by Hal Willner (1956-2020) for his production of Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, presented by CAP UCLA in 2013.

When asked my most treasured moments in my life so far, one was in 1994 sitting on my couch next to Allen Ginsberg in my old apartment at 153 Avenue B word checking the 1964 Brandeis University recording of Kaddish with the text for the CD box set Holy Soul Jelly Roll. Allen’s finger followed on each word as we moved along… what a gift… wish I knew how much at the time… I wrote then and still feel that besides being one of Allen’s best known poems, this is one of the greatest pieces of writings ever.

I was one of the fortunate people that Allen called a few days before he left us when he knew he was dying and asked me to do what I can to help keep his poetry alive. Whenever I have the opportunity I will always work with Allen’s words. I’ve wanted to do something with Kaddish for a long time, but was never able to figure out how.

When asked to revive Kaddish last year for New York’s Park Avenue Armory and considering the enormity of the project that this poem presents in execution, I felt it essential to enlist collaborators who, besides being extraordinary artists, are very close friends.

The visuals of Ralph with Bill’s music and Chloe’s acting bring a unique and powerful chemistry that serves Kaddish well. Hopefully I won’t screw it up. The work is extreme in its beauty and horror, its unspeakable joy and sadness… Thank you for being here.

—Hal Willner