Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Recognized as one of the most influential and important poets of the Beat movement, Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York on March 24, 1919. Shortly after his birth, Ferlinghetti’s mother was committed to an asylum for the insane and the young boy was sent to France to be raised by a female relative.

It wasn’t until his return to America, at the age of five, that this future poet learned to speak English. Ferlinghetti also began writing poetry during his years at boarding school in the late 1920’s.

During his adolescence, Lawrence not only became an Eagle Scout, an extremely prestigious feat in itself, but joined a street gang known as the “Parkway Road Pirates”. It was his association with the latter group that led to an arrest for petty theft. Soon after, a woman by the name of Sally Bisland handed the troubled young man a copy of Baudelair poems and inspired within him a love for literature.

After his graduation from high school, Ferlinghetti attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he enjoyed works by Hemingway, Faulkner, Dos Passos and Wolfe. He even began writing a novel inspired by Look Homeword, Angel.

Many of his early years were spent living the life of the “Beat”. On one occassion, Ferlinghetti and a couple of friends hitchhiked and hopped freight trains to Mexico while reading many of the popular poets of the period.

Ferlinghetti then joined the Navy where he became a Lieutenant Commander. Six weeks after the dropping of the atomic bomb, Ferlinghetti was dischared and spent some time in Portland. The G.I. Bill, along with his interest in writers, had him furthering his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In 1952, Ferlinghetti became acquainted with Kenneth Rexroth. Rexroth had already established himself as a notable West Coast writer, artist and political activist. After meeting Peter Martin, the publisher of City Lights magazine, the two planned to open a bookshop by the same name.

The City Lights bookstore of San Francisco soon became a mecca for writers and artists, many of them well established in the field of contemporary literaure. The movement was catapulted by readings from writers such as Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder and became known as the “Beat” period.

Perhaps one of the most volatile and creative times in post-modern literature, the Beat sub-culture today is looked back upon as a very glorious period. Ferlinghetti remains one of the most notable writers from those times and his writings are still widely read and appreciated today.

Constantly Risking Absurdity

Constantly risking absurdity
and death
whenever he performs
above the heads
of his audience
the poet like an acrobat
climbs on rime
to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
above a sea of faces
paces his way
to the other side of the day
performing entrachats
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
any thing
for what it may not be
For he’s the super realist
who must perforce perceive
taut truth
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
with gravity
to start her death-defying leap
And he
a little charleychaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
of existence

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning

There’s a breathless hush on the freeway tonight
Beyond the ledges of concrete
restaurants fall into dreams
with candlelight couples
Lost Alexandria still burns
in a billion lightbulbs
Lives cross lives
idling at stoplights
Beyond the cloverleaf turnoffs
‘Souls eat souls in the general emptiness’
A piano concerto comes out a kitchen window
A yogi speaks at Ojai
‘It’s all taking pace in one mind’
On the lawn among the trees
lovers are listening
for the master to tell them they are one
with the universe
Eyes smell flowers and become them
There’s a deathless hush
on the freeway tonight
as a Pacific tidal wave a mile high
sweeps in
Los Angeles breathes its last gas
and sinks into the sea like the Titanic all lights lit
Nine minutes later Willa Cather’s Nebraska
sinks with it
The sea comes over in Utah
Mormon tabernacles washed away like barnacles
Coyotes are confounded & swim nowhere
An orchestra onstage in Omaha
keeps on playing Handel’s Water Music
Horns fill with water
ans bass players float away on their instruments
clutching them like lovers horizontal
Chicago’s Loop becomes a rollercoaster
Skyscrapers filled like water glasses
Great Lakes mixed with Buddhist brine
Great Books watered down in Evanston
Milwaukee beer topped with sea foam
Beau Fleuve of Buffalo suddenly become salt
Manhatten Island swept clean in sixteen seconds
buried masts of Amsterdam arise
as the great wave sweeps on Eastward
to wash away over-age Camembert Europe
manhatta steaming in sea-vines
the washed land awakes again to wilderness
the only sound a vast thrumming of crickets
a cry of seabirds high over
in empty eternity
as the Hudson retakes its thickets
and Indians reclaim their canoes

Comments are closed.