The State Of The World Calls Out For Poetry

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

I think if there is a great depression there might be some hope.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti  (1919-2021)

 

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words.


Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away Tuesday,  the 200th anniversary of Keats death.  February 23 must be a good day for poets to die or be born.   There are ample biographies written about Ferlinghetti’s life, seek one out. He lived a grand life despite many obstacles along the way.  He was quoted as saying, “I never choose to become a poet….” implying writing was an inevitable outpouring of his being.   Even more important than his own writing, which is remarkable, was his steadfast commitment to books in all forms.   Ferlinghetti founded one of the truly great bookstores in America, City Lights in San Francisco in the 1950’s.  More than a bookstore, also an independent small press, Ferlinghetti stood up to over reaching prosecutors looking to ban books on the basis of perceived obscenity and won an important first amendment case that opened the door to an explosion of underground publishers.  All of us that enjoy the freedom on the internet to access the broad range of artistic expression owe a debt to Ferlinghetti’s courage.   City Lights ability to not only publish but sell materials considered too radical for conservative publishing houses was the start of a revolution of new voices in America.   

Ferlinghetti launched City Lights Publishers with his own Pictures of the Gone World, the first number in the Pocket Poets Series.   This was soon followed by work by Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, and Allen Ginsberg’s landmark book Howl, which would bring national attention to both author and publisher and begin the legal disputes that ultimately Ferlinghetti won.  In addition to Ginsberg, City Lights published classics like True Minds by Marie Ponsot, Here and Now by Denise Levertov, Gasoline by Gregory Corso,  Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara and Revolutionary Letters  by Diane di Prima.  Ferlinghetti was a reader as well as writer and he thrived bringing great poets to a wider audience. 

Ferlinghetti was one of my Mother’s favorite poets, living in the Bay Area for over 20 years, she was a frequent customer of City Lights and took me there on several occasions when I visited in the 1990’s.  I have a number of older copies of Ferlinghetti pocket books of poetry that look more like pamphlets or an old church bulletin, so simple is the printing. 

My favorite book of his poetry is How To Paint Sunlight, a gift from my Mother for my birthday many years ago.   The concept of light played a central role in many of his poems, the idea that words and pictures and poetry all intermingle in many of our minds, and for some of us, words become their own sunlight in the hands of great poets.  Ferlinghetti never lost his capacity for wonder and our world is richer for him sharing his life with us through words. 

How To Paint Sunlight

A Vast Confusion

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

How long I lay in the sands
sounds of trains in the surf
in subways of the sea
And an even greater undersound
of a vast confusion in the universe
a rumbling and a roaring
as of some enormous creature turning
under sea and earth
a billion sotto voices murmuring
a vast muttering
a swelling stuttering
in ocean’s speakers
world’s voice-box heard with ear to sand
a shocked echoing
a shocking shouting
of all life’s voices lost in night
And the tape of it
somehow running backwards now
through the Moog Synthesizer of time
Chaos unscrambled
back to the first
harmonies
And the first light.

She Had Some Horses

horse
Marc Chagall

Don’t Let That Horse

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Don’t let that horse
                              eat that violin
    cried Chagall’s mother
                                     But he
                      kept right on
                                     painting
And became famous
And kept on painting
                              The Horse With Violin In Mouth
And when he finally finished it
he jumped up upon the horse
                                        and rode away
          waving the violin
And then with a low bow gave it
to the first naked nude he ran across
And there were no strings
                                     attached

She Had Some Horses

(Excerpt part 1 of 5)

by Joy Harjo

I. She Had Some Horses

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.

She had some horses.

She had horses with eyes of trains.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.

She had some horses.

She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their
bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet
in stalls of their own making.

She had some horses.

She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made
them afraid of themselves.

She had horses who said they weren’t afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped
bare of their tongues.

She had some horses.

She had horses who called themselves, “horse.”
She had horses who called themselves, “spirit,” and kept
their voices secret and to themselves.

She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.

She had some horses.

She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who
carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.

She had some horses.

She had horses who got down on their knees for any saviour.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her
bed at night and prayed as they raped her.

She had some horses.

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

 

Quiet As The Sun Always Goes

kenneth-rexroth
Kenneth Rexroth (1905 – 1982)

Quietly

by Kenneth Rexroth

Lying here quietly beside you,
My cheek against your firm, quiet thighs,
The calm music of Boccherini
Washing over us in the quiet,
As the sun leaves the housetops and goes
Out over the Pacific, quiet–
So quiet the sun moves beyond us,
So quiet as the sun always goes,
So quiet, our bodies, worn with the
Times and the penances of love, our
Brains curled, quiet in their shells, dormant,
Our hearts slow, quiet, reliable
In their interlocking rhythms, the pulse
In your thigh caressing my cheek. Quiet.


Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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 day
performing entrechats
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
anything
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 charley chaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
of existence.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti from A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems copyright 1958

This Will Be A Sign To You

IMG_1770

Mysteries, Yes

by Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.

Evidence by Mary Oliver.  Copyright Beacon Press 2009.


 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


And Lo

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

And lo a star arose in the east
only it was the sun
and three wise guys or goys
spied it and exclaimed
Behold, Great God Sun
creator of light
creator of all life on earth
without which we would live in darkness
forever and ever
Great God Sun
bringer of the only light we know
and the only god we have visual proof really exits
the only god
who’s not an invention of our desperate imaginations
seeking some way out or up
beyond certain death
Great God Sun
creator of night and day on earth
there are no gods before you
And lo
a babe was born in a manger
by immaculate conception or spontaneous combustion
and there was great rejoicing
out there in the desert
and the babe arose and spake
in a loud voice
Yeah man it’s a fact
I am born of the God the Father great god Sun
and I am his Holy Ghost on earth
which he in his heavenly wisdom
sent to you in the form of light
and I am that light
which is love on earth forever and ever
Amen!

How To Paint Sunlight by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copyright 2001.

 

Merry Christmas……