Still Sticking It to the Man

There are few sacred cows more deserving of tribute than Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In 1953, he gave us the first all-paperback bookstore in the country; a few short years later, he published Allen Ginsberg's Howl as part of City Lights' Pocket Poet Series. The consequent obscenity trial became a landmark First Amendment case that greased the presses for controversial literary works at a time when roughly one out of every five employees in the United States was required to pass a loyalty review. Always fiercely outspoken against totalitarianism, Ferlinghetti helped redefine the role of the poet in society by speaking publicly against political injustice at every opportunity. His 1976 Populist Manifesto #1 begins: "Poets, come out of your closets/Open your windows, open your doors/You have been holed up too long in your closed worlds."

At the age of 88, Ferlinghetti probably hoped the American landscape would appear less familiar, but civil liberties are flagging under the weight of security and artistic dissent is often artfully commodified. Poetry as Insurgent Art is Ferlinghetti's personal response. It is a work-in-progress which includes Populist Manifesto #1 and #2 in their entirety, but is mostly comprised of unpublished single-line musings on the nature of poetry: "A true poem can create a divine stillness in the world" and the duties of the emerging poet: "Whatever a poet says about his work is an apology he shouldn't make." Occasionally the current Commandeur of the French Academy of Arts and Letters falls flat — "It is a picture of Ma in her Woolworth bra looking out a window into a secret garden" — but one must remember that A Coney Island of the Mind remains the number one best-selling volume of poetry by any living author. This is a man who knows a few things about poetry.
Wed., Oct. 24, 7 p.m., 2007

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