He is not
an ordinary poet, but rather, an extraordinary one.
At The Golden Gate
A single plover far at sea
wings across the horizon
A single rower almost out of sight
rows his skull
And I take a buddha crystal
in my hand
And begin becoming pure
course and unfortunately, in many ways he has been overlooked.
But the savvy mayor of San Francisco, who, surpisingly, Lawrence
trusts, has nominated and the state legislature has elected
Ferlinghetti San Francisco's Poet Laureate. "It was time,"
said the Mayor, offering nothing beyond that brief comment.
Shortly after his birth on March 24, 1919, his mother was
committed to an asylum for the insane and the young boy was
sent to France to be raised by a relative. He didn't beginn
learning English until he was five years old. He wrote his first
poems in the eaarly 1920's. He was an Eagle Scout and joined
a New York street gag, The Parkway Road Pirates," resulting
inn his arrest for petty theft. A gift of Baudelair poems inspired
him in literature. in his youth. In the U.S. Navy in World War
II as a shipÕs commander, he took part in the Normandy Invasion
and was sent to Nagasaki, Japan six weeks after the city was
destroyed by the world's second and last wartime atomic bomb.
After the war, using the GI Bill, he attended the University
of North Carolona, He received a MasterÕs degree from Columbia
University and ultimately earned his doctorate in poetry at
the Sornonne in Paris with a dissertation entitled,
The City as Symbol in Modern Poetry: In search of a Metropolitan
Tradition." He became the discoverer of "The Beat
Generation." The City Lights Bookstore, which he founded
with Peter Martin, and named after a Chalie Chaplin movie, became
one of the most famous bookstores in the world, and still stands
proudly in its original location today. His legal victory against
obscenity charges for publishing Allen Ginsberg's "Howl,"
was landmark for free speech. His rustic cabin in Bixby Canyon
became the focal point of Jack Kerouac's 1962 novel, "Big
Lawrence Ferlinghetti has written poetry, translation, fiction,
theater, art criticism, film narration, and essays and has in
his later years become well-known as a painter. His work has
been shown at various galleries around the world, from the Butler
Museum of American Painting to Il Palazzo delle Esposizioni
His simple images of a penny candy store under the subway, or
a pretty woman letting a stocking drop, haunt and fascinate
poetry lovers endlessly. He is considered one of the great American
modern poets and no Anthology is complete without him.
Ferlinghetti was a contemporary of Rexroth, Ginsberg, Kerouac.
In fact it was his book store, City Lights, where they met and
gathered together, distilling and discarding ideas. Poets still
go there, today. He still works in the store and he is still
publishing and writing today. His, "Coney Island of the
Mind," became one of the most popular collections of poems
of the 1960s and 1970s, and there over 1 million copies in print..
Ferlinghetti, at the time of his elevation, was asked about
poetry in America. Referring to the prolific rappers, he described
it as "much more violent, much more alienated that the
Beats ever were."
"These are the most materialistic, militaristic, avaricious
times today. There is more of a need for Beat ideas, non-materialism,
spiritual values, being free as an individual."
And, from his wonderful, "Coney Island Of The Mind,"
here is the poem which headlines the book:
They are the same people
only further from home
on freeways fifty lanes wide
on a concrete continent
spaced with bland billboards
illustrating imbecile illusions of happiness
The scene shows fewer tumbrils
but more maimed citizens
in painted cars
and they have strange license plates
that devour America.
Some of he works of Ferlinghetti
: Pictures of the Gone
World City Lights
, 1955. A Coney Island of the Mind
Directions, 1958. Her New Directions, 1960. Starting from San
New Directions, 1961. Unfair Arguments with Existence
New Directions, 1963. Routines
New Directions, 1964. An
Eye on the World: Selected Poems
MacGibbon & Kee, 1967. The
Secret Meaning of Things
New Directions, 1969. Tyrannus Nix?
New Directions, 1969. The Mexican Night
New Directions, 1970.
Back Roads to Far Places
New Directions, 1971. Open Eye
Bound with Open Head by Allen Ginsberg
Sun Books, 1972. Open
Eye, Open Heart
New Directions, 1973. Who Are We Now?
New Directions, 1976. Northwest Ecolog
City Lights, 1978.
Landscapes of Living and Dying
New Directions, 1979. Literary
San Francisco: A Pictoral History from its Beginnings
to the Present Day With Nancy Joyce Peters
and Row, 1980. A Trip to Italy and France
1980. Endless Life: Selected Poems
New Directions, 1981.
Over All the Obscene Boundaries: European Poems and Transitions
New Directions, 1984. Seven Days in Nicaragua Libre City
Lights Books, 1984. When I Look at Pictures
Books, 1990. A Far Rockaway of the Heart
(1997) and How
to Paint Sunlight
(2001), published by New Directions.
Here is one of his most recently published poems:
And a vast paranoia sweeps across the land
And America turns the attack on its Twin Towers
Into the beginning of the Third World War
The war with the Third World
And the terrorists in Washington
Are shipping out the young men
To the killing fields again
And no one speaks
And they are rousting out
All the ones with turbans
And they are flushing out
All the strange immigrants
And they are shipping all the young men
To the killing fields again
And no one speaks
And when they come to round up
All the great writers and poets and painters
The National Endowment of the Arts of Complacency
Will not speak
While all the young men
Will be killing all the young men
In the killing fields again
So now is the time for you to speak
All you lovers of liberty
All you lovers of the pursuit of happiness
All you lovers and sleepers
Deep in your private dream
Now is the time for you to speak
O silent majority
Before they come for you!
one thing that poetry does, and this is its majesty, it isolates
you from all of that, it quiets you from all of that, it shows you
where you fit in all of that, And it tunnels up a flashlight that,
shows you to your seat, or shows you to the door. Poetry makes
you choose something, everything.
Today, I hought to write about Bill Clinton and the (Presidential-
Seal-Of-Approval) dress,or about Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden,
or the coming Bear market, or the draught in Oklahoma, or the reinstatement
of Mike Barnacle, while Smith watches, or the balloonist on his
way, again, or about Mick in Moscow, or the revolution in the Caribbean,
or about why vacationing in Canada right now is so great, or about
the strip clubs in New York, or about the brothel in Morris Township,
New Jersey, or something about the coming PGA Championship, but
easily chose Ferlinghetti. Just goes to show you. Some choices are
easier than others. See you next time.