Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Ferlinghetti of the Mind, Mr. Brautigan's Salmon Sonnet Extravaganza and Huff & Issa: The Road Movie

Cover by Wayne Hogan

This is the 50th anniversary of the publication of one of the books on the Near Perfect Books of Poetry list: A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. This is one of the very first books of poetry I remember just pulling me in and, somehow, I just knew this was for me. Here, in celebration of the man and his body of work, both as poet and publisher, is a reading in the "Lunch Poems" series at the Morrison Library of the University of California, Berkeley, from 2005:

If you can hang in until the end, there is a very powerful anti-war poem, "The History of the Airplane." At 85, he hasn't lost a step.

Least we forget, there is always the City Lights Bookstore, the premiere independent bookshop in the US. Since lots of folks are beginning to realize the repercussions of the phenomenon and the fall out from some of its recent strong arm tactics with publishers and merchants, both here and abroad, it might be a fine thing if we all make a special effort to continue to support our local independents and national treasures like City Lights. Yeah, you lose the deep discount, but that's all you lose.

That's all you lose.

Here's a poem with Ferlinghetti's signature gentle, insightful touch:

Allen Ginsberg Dying

Allen Ginsburg is dying

It's all in the papers
It's on the evening news
A great poet is dying
But his voice
won't die
His voice is on the land
In Lower Manhattan
in his own bed
he is dying
There is nothing
to do about it
He is dying the death that everyone dies
He is dying the death of a poet
He has a telephone in his hand
and he calls everyone
from his bed in Lower Manhattan
All around the world
late at night
the telephone is ringing
"This is Allen"
The voice says
"Allen Ginsburg calling"
How many times have they heard it
over the long great years
He doesn't have to say Ginsburg
All around the world
in the world of poets
There is only one Allen
"I wanted to tell you" he says
He tells them what's happening
what's coming down
on him
Death the dark lover
going down on him
His voice goes by satellite
over the land
over the Sea of Japan
where he once stood naked
trident in hand
like a young Neptune
a young man with black beard
standing on a stone beach
It is high tide and the seabirds cry
The waves break over him now
and the seabirds cry
on the San Francisco waterfront
There is a high wind
There are great white caps
lashing the Embarcadero
Allen is on the telephone
His voice is on the waves
I am reading Greek poetry
The sea is in it
Horses weep in it
The horses of Achilles
weep in it
here by the sea
in San Francisco
where the waves weep
they make a sibilant sound
a sibylline sound
they whisper

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, April 4, 1997

If you have a chance, check out Anne Stevenson's poem, "Living in America," which was featured this week on The Writer's Almanac. There also is a great little article on departing poet laureate, Charles Simic, one of my favorite contemporary poets.

If you can't make it up to Alaska this weekend, here's a little notice of something of interest that we might think about in passing during the day Sunday:


1pm: 18TH ANNUAL RICHARD BRAUTIGAN & DICK WHITAKER MEMORIAL TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA POETRY SLAM & "SALMON SONNET" CONTEST at The New York Cafe, 207 Stedman St. Sponsored by Soho Coho Gallery, Parnassus Books, and The New York Cafe.

But why just think, let's feel too:

The Sidney Greenstreet Blues

I think something beautiful
and amusing is gained
by remembering Sydney Greentstreet,
but it is a fragile thing.

The hand picks up a glass.
The eye looks at the glass
and then hand, glass and eye
---fall away.
Richard Brautigan

Sometimes, the idea of the Net really pulls things together, other times it just seems like the big mystery that life is. For instance, what's up with blog alerts pinging items posted years ago? I certainly don't know but one thing I can say is that the random chaos of life, and so too the net, is sometimes very lyrical, indeed. I got beeped with this this past week and thought, ah, Huff's last poem. The tone, the feel, is of the old zen masters, composing their deathbed poems. Huff's manages summarizing the main concern of all his work: home, or the lack thereof:

Tired of being loved,
Tired of being left alone.
Tired of being loved,
Tired of being left alone.
Gonna find myself a place
Where all I feel is at home.
Albert Huffstickler

Issa's death poem, too, sums up his own personalized approach, full of humor and sadness

A bath when you're born,
A bath when you die,
how stupid.
Issa translated by Robert Hass

Continuing the project of providing sample poems from back issues and filling in the Back Issue Archive over at the Lilliput homepage, here's some work from issue #101, originally published back in January, 1999:

the circle so large
the curve imperceptible
we think we're moving
straight ahead
Julius Karl Schauer


will protect us
from the darkness
but what will shield
us from the light?
Karl Koweski


The Letter M
The letter M
in green spray paint
on the gnarled bark
of a tall pine tree
its stately boughs
whispering quietly
in the afternoon breeze
is way too long for
a haiku but still
pretty fucking succinct.
Mark Terrill


another midnight
bare bulb illuminating

the back door of a slaughterhouse
M. Kettner


Later this week, I may have news about a contemporary poetry book I actually enjoyed.

Till next time,

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Charles Gramlich said...

Good poetry all, but that piece on Allen Ginsburg was just incredible. Such flow and rhythm. Definitely added to the beauty of the morning.

Jim H. said...

I treasure my very incomplete collection of City Lights anthologies. Thanks for featuring some of the City Lights voices.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Glad you liked the work ... it is amazing how smooth and easy LF makes it seem and we all know how very hard that is. Appropriate that it be for Allen, whose "Kaddish" for his mother is one of his very best works.

Jim, you are welcome.


Greg said...

great poems, especially the M. Kettner haiku, and I agree with Charles -- that Ferlinghetti poem is amazing. i'm gonna re-read that one a few times.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Greg. Glad you particularly liked the Kettner and Ferlinghetti.

I've been rereading Coney Island at work for a posting I'm going to do there about the 50th anniversary and it is amazing how much of it still holds up, very powerful. It certainly deserves to be on the Near Perfect list.


pieplate said...

Whenever I go somewhere that is writing-related, I carry my HOWL tote bag (bought at City Lights, of course) whose reverse side clearly proclaims: starving naked hysterical.

Encountered Ferlinghetti's "I am waiting" in my senior year of high school. As the years went on, I encountered the sources for his allusions, with the astonished pleasure of seeing a childhood friend on another street.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Glad the Ferlinghetti post sparked some memories ... I'm astounded how, in the video, he is still so vital and now at 82.