New Directions & Poetry

Citizen and Poet

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on April 21, 2009

Recently, Lawrence Ferlinghetti celebrated his 90th birthday quietly with the staff at City Lights Bookstore. The documentary on Ferlinghetti will also premiere in San Francisco at the International Film Festival on April 28.

While I knew about the indecency trial over the publication of Howl and had often browsed the stacks of City Lights Bookstore, as well as owning City Lights publications, I didn’t know that Ferlinghetti, as a Navy commander, had been at Nagasaki shortly after the bomb fell there. It was that experience which turned him into a lifelong pacifist and started Ferlinghetti ruminating on politics.

In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Ferlinghetti spoke about the beginnings of his political consciousness:

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: I think Nagasaki did it. I mean, I had grown up as an all-American boy. I had been a Boy Scout in the suburbs, an Eagle Scout, except I got busted for stealing pencils from the five- and ten-cent store the same week I made Eagle Scout. But besides little incidents like that, I was a true blue American boy, and I—

AMY GOODMAN: So they sent you away to—

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: I had no idea—I don’t remember ever even hearing of a conscientious objector on the East Coast during the Second World War. It was only when I came to San Francisco and I started listening to KPFA, which had been founded by conscientious objectors, and—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you know Lou Hill?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Yes, I met Lou Hill. I think I was on the air while he was still around. And I knew Kenneth Rexroth through—you could say I was totally illiterate politically until I ran into these guys. I mean, that’s where I got my political education from, KPFA and from listening to Kenneth Rexroth and his Friday night soirees. And he considered himself a philosophical anarchist. I mean—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Kenneth Rexroth is, especially for young people.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, Rexroth was the leading elder poet in San Francisco in the 1950s when I arrived, and he had a program on KPFA. And he didn’t review just literature. He reviewed every subject—geology, anthropology, astronomy, philosophy—and it seemed as he had this encyclopedic knowledge. And I used to go to his house on his Friday night soirees. I would just sit in the—the first six months I didn’t even dare open my mouth. I was totally out of my depth. I didn’t know what he was talking about most of the time.

New Directions recently reprinted Ferlinghetti’s Poetry as Insurgent Art. Here’s an excerpt:

Glory in the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will.

Don’t blow bubbles of despair.

Poetry is seeds and buds, not twigs. Smoke it to get high.

Generate collective joy in the face of collective gloom.

Secretly liberate any being you see in a cage.

Liberate have-nots and enrage despots.

Sound a barbarous yawp over the roofs of the world.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Ferlinghetti…poet, citizen, bookseller.


Language out of work

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on April 9, 2009

“Poetry is not language at play, but language out of work, deliberately unemployed—thus poetry commits a kind of welfare fraud upon us all.” ~Christian Bok

While I was doing my usual few minutes of Twitter, I ran across this interesting rumination by the poet Christian Bok on his Twitter page. One takes illumination where one can, whether it’s thought-provoking graffiti art, a beautiful little book of architectural projects at Kinokuniya where I was browsing this evening (one tremendous project outlined was a greenhouse made with a structure that allowed the greenhouse to sway gently in the wind, reflecting the movement of plants in the wind), graphic art on blogs, or a tweet by an innovative poet on the nature of language in poetry.

There is a sort of duplicity in the language of poetry, or as I heard Marie Ponsot once say: “Each word in a poem should function on at least three levels.” I loved that “at least” implying the infinity of language.

In a poem, language is unlike language in journalism. It is not a straightforward communication. If language can be thought of as being vertical or horizontal, language in poetry is neither but a meandering, a layering on, a drilling into, an obfuscation, a condensation, a crystallization, a multiplicity…often to convey a truth that cannot be arrived at in a straight manner. Rather than an algebra formula, I think of language in poetry as a Venn diagram with so many circles of meaning intertwining with and colliding into each other.

Here is how Christian Bok handles language in poetry.

Soo Jin