Friday, March 27, 2009

Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Bard for Our Time

It seems that the American poet and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti celebrated his 90th birthday this week. Ferlinghetti is someone I would most definitely nominate as a modern-day bard, a Bright Lord of Wisdom.

I met Ferlinghetti once, an accident of his marriage to a member of the Kirby-Smith family of Jacksonville. He was in Gainesville, giving a talk at the University of Florida, and then gave a poetry reading at the Center for Modern Art in Micanopy. I bravely approached him after the reading, and asked him to sign my copy of A Coney Island of the Mind. Ferlinghetti glowered at me, didn't speak, but signed my book; I still have it.

In observance of his birthday, the San Francisco Chronicle (another one of our endangered daily newspapers) published an interview with the poet; you may read it at:

Here's one of my favorites from this bard, from his book These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems 1955-1993 (New Directions, 1993, pp. 211-212):

"Reading Apollinaire by the Rogue River"

Reading Apollinaire here
sitting crosslegged
on sleepingbag & poncho
in the shadow of a huge hill
before the sun clears it
Woke up early on the shore
and heard the river shushing
(like the sound a snake might make
sliding over riprap
if you magnified the sound)
My head still down upon the ground
one eye without perspective
sees the stream sliding by
through the sand
as in a desert landscape
Like a huge green watersnake
with white water markings
the river slithers by
and where the canyon turns
and the river drops from sight
seems like a snake about to disappear
down a deep hole
Indians made their myths
of this great watersnake
slid down the mountains far away
And I see the Rogue for real
as the Indians saw him
the Rogue all wild white water
a cold-blooded creature
drowning and dousing
the Rogue ruler of the land
transforming it at will
with a will of its own
a creature to be feared and respected
pillaging its way to the sea
still ruled by that gravity
which still rules all
so that we might almost say
Gravity is God
manifesting Himself
as Great God Sun
who will one day make Himself
into a black hole in space
who will one day implode Himself
into Nothing
All of which the slithering Rogue
knows nothing of
in its headlong
blind rush to the sea
And though its head
is already being eaten
by that most cruel and churning
monster Ocean
the tail of the snake
knows it not
and continues turning & turning
toward its final hole
and toward that final black hole
into which all some day
will be sucked burning

As I sit reading a French poet
  whose most famous poem is about
    the river that runs through the city
      taking time & life & lovers with it
        And none returning
                           none returning

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