Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, why I first fell in love with unreality
Constantly risking absurdity
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
and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
and all without mistaking
for what it may not be
For he's the super realist
who must perforce perceive
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
to start her death-defying leap
a little charleychaplin man
who may or may not catch
her fair eternal form
spreadeagled in the empty air
- L. Ferlinghetti
"I'm sorry for the interruption, but this is a revolution."
Lawrence Ferlinghetti informed the theater that Ferdinand Marcos had said that, but it sounded beautiful coming out of that old bard's mouth.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti knocked his clunky brown oxfords against the podium as he spoke at the 92 street Y on Monday night. He read from A Coney Island of the Mind and some of his unpublished and newer works.
"I love reading these old chestnuts," he declared, turning the page, after finishing one of the poems from A Coney Island of the Mind.
Another time, he was humbly self critical.
"Rather pathetic imagery there about breasts," he said after reading poem #20 in which a woman's breasts were "breathless in the little room."
He ended with a poem about a dog in the White House.
After the poetry reading, I waited to have him sign Unfair Arguments With Existence, a book of his plays. I never do it, but I wasn't sure when I would ever see Lawrence Ferlinghetti again.
He looked at the title page and looked at me.
"Well, this is an old one," he said. "This has been out of print for years!"
I was honestly not expecting conversation and, taken aback, I think I said something about an oldie but a goody.
"I designed this image," he said.
"It's beautiful," I said, looking at the title page with him.
He told me that he had taken the image from a poster he found in Cuba. He said the flower in the gentleman's hand had been a gun and he replaced it with a flower.
I asked him if the poster had had anything to do with Fidel. He said he was almost a hundred percent sure that it had been Cuba.
I told him he was one of my biggest influences.
He smiled and nodded at me.
After I left, I realized I should have asked him what he thought about what was happening to Coney Island, and how he felt about his plays, and how he would rival Rilke with advice. Now, I have to see him again.
Walking out of the auditorium, the rain had paused, so my companion and I decided to walk a little further on to the subway. Avoiding puddles, with sleight-of- foot tricks, we reflected on the homage they had payed to Kurt Vonnegut at the top of the program.
They played a piece of an old interview. His voice, deep and clear and full of mirth, announced with no reservation his opinion on the role of art:
"The goal of art, is to make us like life better than we do right now."
I thank both of them.