Poetry As Insurgent Art

Got to see Lawrence Ferlinghetti read at City Lights tonight from his new book. Barb and I thought we would beat the crowd and get their almost an hour early but it didn’t quite work out that way as their was already a crowd by the door when we arrive and as we make it inside the man by the door says, “Two more and then no one else gets in.”

Inside the first floor of City Lights is completely packed as we all wait for Ferlinghetti to read and at 7 on the dot the man walks in to spontaneous applause. No intro needed, indeed.

Ferlinghetti’s reading was straight and to the point as he read passages from Poetry As Insurgent Art which, he states early on, is not a book of poetry but more a book about poetry.

From the book’s press release: “After a lifetime, this (r)evolutionary little book is still a work-in-progress, the poet’s ars poetica, to which at 88 he is constantly adding.”

It’s a great thing to see a poet of such distinction readily admitting that poetry is still a mystery that he hasn’t quite figured out. It’s certainly more refreshing than the inverse statement.

Some lines I jotted down during the reading:

What times are these? Silence and horrors.
Create works for apocalyptic times.
Write living newspapers.
The lisp of leaves.
A lyric poet must rise above sounds found in the alphabet soup of language poetry.
Do you have the mad sound?
Compose on the tongue.
A poem should not have to be explained.
Imagine Shelley at a workshop?
Catch its song.

After the reading, Ferlinghetti opened it up to Q&A, which he set off by remarking on his reading at Berkeley the week before and where he was surprised by the lack of questioning he received from (his word) intellectuals who never even asked his what “insurgent art” was. I’m not sure the questions from the City Lights audience were anymore probing. On one hand, I applaud Ferlinghetti’s openness and how he invited the audience to really take his work to task but on the flip side, who is really going to take him to task? And in City Lights? C’mon now.

I did get a chance to ask him about this line he read, ”paper may burn but words will escape.” Which had me wondering if the future of poetry as insurgent art rests in live readings as opposed to in the pages of books. Ferlinghetti believed it did reside in the spoken word (the actual act, not the much maligned term) and spreading out into the open the “oral message.”

And then maybe three questions later, when asked about taking critical advice, Ferlinghetti referred to his taking cues by “reading great writers.” A contradiction to the previous message about oral messages? Not for me, as I believe that the orature should inform the literature and vice-versa.

And if one can find that balance between literature and orature then one might avoid Ferlinghetti’s critique, “Contemporary poetry is prose in the topography of poetry.”

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  1. I just “borrowed” this book from a corporate book monster today.
    I have no bad words for it.

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