Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born in 1919. On March 24, 2018 he turned 99 years old. Jack’s next two shows are a celebration of Ferlinghetti’s career and of his new book from New Directions, Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems, edited by Nancy J. Peters. The back cover reads, “In 1953 Lawrence Ferlinghetti cofounded City Lights, the first paperback bookstore in the United States, a Mecca for millions. His Coney Island of the Mind is one of the best-selling volumes of poetry by any living American poet. Born in Yonkers, New York, in 1919, Ferlinghetti has received the Robert Frost Memorial Medal and the first Literarian Award of the National Book Foundation.” It has blurbs from Bob Dylan (“A brave man and a brave poet”) and Francis Ford Coppola (“Lawrence gets you laughing then hits you with the truth”).
The next two shows are a rebroadcast of an interview Jack Foley did with Lawrence Ferlinghetti on January 3, 1990. The interview took place at City Lights and in it Ferlinghetti candidly discusses his entire career. Though the interview is twenty-eight years old, we think you will find it as fresh today as the day it was recorded. Carl Landauer writes, “I can’t say enough how good the interview was.”
This is Ferlinghetti’s famous ars poetica, “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” from A Coney Island of the Mind (1958):
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 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
And this is a poem in tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti by Jack Foley, from Sketches Poetical, a collaborative book by Foley (text) and artist Helen Breger:
My name was Lawrence Ferling.
There are more allusions in my poetry
than there are in The Waste Land.
I am a painter and a publisher and a book
store owner. After
I came to San Francisco.
I published one of the greatest dirty poems of the twentieth century.
I took the phrase “a coney island of the mind”
from Henry Miller and made it
the title of my marvelous, hugely popular book of poems.
Like Jack Kerouac, I spoke French to my mother
except (but I didn’t know) she was my aunt.
I had an incredibly complex, confusing childhood
but was nonetheless a child of privilege.
I wrote painterly poems and “oral messages.”
I embraced the downtrodden, the lost, the outcast.
I denounced the government and “autogeddon”
(a word I took from Heathcote Williams)
but was a successful and eventually rich
My bookstore became a national monument.
I am a street in the city of San Francisco.
Vorrei ringraziare tutti—e anche i miei genitori immigranti.
I am Lawrence
I never knew my father.
PART ONE OF TWO