Thursday, 17 July 2014

POET OF THE MONTH #18: 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
        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


 A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)

The Poet:  Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York on 24 March 1919.  His French-born Jewish mother was committed to an insane asylum shortly after his birth, while his Italian father died when he was barely six months old.  Ferlinghetti spent his early childhood in the French city of Strasbourg, where he was raised by his maternal aunt Emily, who later brought him back to New York where he was placed in an orphanage until she found work as a governess, caring for the only daughter of the wealthy Bisland family.  Her nephew was left in the care of the Bislands after 1926 and attended local schools in Bronxville, New York before graduating with a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina in 1941.

Ferlinghetti enlisted in the US Navy following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and served in both the European and Pacific theaters of war.  (He also visited the Japanese city of Nagasaki six weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped on it –– an experience which turned him into a committed lifelong pacifist or, as he describes it, 'a philosophical anarchist.')  He enrolled at Columbia University after the war and lived in Paris between 1947 and 1951, where he earned his PhD at the Sorbonne.  Following his return to America, he married and moved to San Francisco, where he taught French and wrote art criticism while working on translations of poems by the French surrealist writer Jacques Prévert.  Many of these were later published in the magazine City Lights owned by Peter D Martin.  In 1953, he and Martin joined forces to open the City Lights Bookstore –– the first all-paperback bookstore in the USA and a place that would loom large in the mythos of the emerging Beat movement which included (but did not necessarily define) writers like Jack Kerouac, William S Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso.  

Ferlinghetti went on to found City Lights Publishing, which published the work of many of these 'new' poets and writers in its groundbreaking 'Pocket Poets' series.  Allen Ginsberg's Howl –– the fourth book in the series –– was seized by officers of the San Francisco Police Department in 1956 on the grounds that it was an obscene publication.  Ferlinghetti was arrested for selling an obscene book to a police officer and stood trial for this alleged offence in municipal court, only to be acquitted by the presiding judge in October 1957 in what became a landmark decision in the fight to uphold every American citizen's constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech.  The poet remained highly active in the fight for social justice and the anti-war movement during the 1960s and remains, at ninety-five, an outspoken critic of US foreign policy.  The author of over thirty books, Ferlinghetti is also a well-respected painter who held a one-man exhibition, titled 60 Years of Painting, in the Italian cities of Rome and Reggio in 2010.

Click HERE to read more poetry by LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI at  

You might also enjoy:
POET OF THE MONTH #12: Clementine von Radics
POET OF THE MONTH #5: François Villon       


  1. Hi BR - I don't usually play the awards game, but in this case it felt appropriate. I've nominated you for the

    Very Inspiring Blogger Award

    Thank you for your ongoing inspiration!

  2. Thank you so much for thinking enough of my blog to nominate me for this award, L&P. This is undoubtedly the kindest thing anyone has done for me since I first started publishing online 3 years ago. I'm in the midst of a difficult (non-blog) writing project at the moment, so may not have time to respond in the suggested manner for a while. But rest assured that I sincerely appreciate the efforts you've made on my behalf. I'll definitely make a point of visiting every blog you recommend. Your own blog is one I thoroughly enjoy & I look forward to reading what you have to say about books (especially those by JB Priestley!) & life in rural Canada for many years to come.