English then Spanish then French, followed by a discussion of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s political poetry.
As simple as music
It was a crisis.
Many people did not have enough money to buy anything.
So anything was not being bought.
So the wealthy saw their assets declining and became desperate.
So it was decided that some additional money should be relegated to the many
To “prime the pump.”
And thus, as previous crises had been ended, this one was ended.
And the wealthy could go back to figuring out how to pay other people less,
This being one of the ways the wealthy enjoy spending their lives.
Tan simple como la música
Era una crisis.
Mucha gente no tenía suficiente dinero para comprar nada.
Así que nada no se compraban.
Así que los ricos vieron que sus activos declinaban y se desesperaron.
Así que se decidió que un poco de dinero adicional debería ser relegado a los otros
Para “cebar la bomba”.
Y así, como las crisis anteriores habían terminado, ésta se terminó.
Y los ricos podrían volver a averiguar cómo pagar los otros menos,
Una actividad que los ricos por menudo disfrutan.
Aussi simple que la musique
C’était une crise.
Beaucoup de gens n’avaient pas assez d’argent pour acheter quoi que ce soit.
Quoi que ce soit n’était donc pas acheté.
Ainsi, les riches ont vu leurs actifs décliner et sont devenus désespérés.
Il a donc été décidé qu’un peu d’argent supplémentaire devrait être reléguée aux autres
Pour stimuler la demande du marché.
Et ainsi, comme les crises précédentes avaient pris fin, celle-ci a pris fin.
Et les riches pourraient se remettre à chercher comment payer les autres moins –
L’une des activités principales dont les riches aiment passer leur vie.
A brief discussion of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s political poetry
In Christopher Felver’s documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder it is proposed that Lawrence F. made a distinction between political poetry and lyric poetry and insisted that his own work was lyric poetry. An idea was that lyric poetry touches on large or fundamental, enduring themes, while political poetry is just of the moment. I take this opportunity to disagree.
Did Ferlinghetti write some excellent lyric poetry? Yes, certainly: The world is a beautiful place! Many of Ferlinghetti’s best poems, however, tend to be political, and this is what gives them their power and has led them to last as long as they have (and as long as they will!).
Cut down cut down cut down
Cut down the grassroots
Cut down those too wild weeds
in our great agri-fields and golf courses
Cut down cut down those wild sprouts
Cut down cut down those rank weeds . . .
Cut down the crazy introverts
Tongue-tied lovers of the subjective
Cut down cut down the wild ones the wild spirits
The desert rats and monkey wrenchers
— from ”Coda,” full text in City Lights’ offering of New Poems
There is an idea in fiction writing—with Faulkner often used as an example—that by being as local as possible, and perhaps only in this way, a writer’s work may become universal. And similarly, by writing about the “politics” (in a large sense of that word) of a specific time, a poet, or other kind of writer, may speak more generally, more lastingly. An example from near the opening of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl comes to mind:
I saw the best minds of my generation . . .
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for
Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads
every day for the next decade,
This is a specific description of a small group of people at a specific moment in American history, and perhaps thanks to that it has long remained in my head—speaking not so much about people in the 1950s (when I was an infant) as about a more general phenomenon of intellectual and spiritual life.
As regards Ferlinghetti, I can imagine that when the United States are no more, or when, as a result of political, technological or environmental change, the people here develop quite different patterns of living and thinking—I can imagine that at such a time Ferlinghetti’s work will seem dated. But until then it continues to speak—and, yes, lyrically!—in a specific and enduring way about our “politics”: about those social relations in the United States that involve authority or power (and which do not?).
I recently met a young French literature student, and, as part of urging her to read Ferlinghetti, I sent her the poem copied below (poem 6 in A Coney Island of the Mind, with the spacing below approximate and liable to be distorted when the poem is forwarded electronically). In my e-mail to the woman I noted that this poem spoke about something fundamental and enduring in the perception and role of artists in US culture. Re-reading the poem now, I note that it includes a now-well-known San Francisco kind of public ecstasy—in the young woman’s naked singing and her bird’s nest—and there’s a less often identified, yet inescapable sadness in her isolation and downcast eyes.
They were putting up the statue
of Saint Francis
in front of the church
of Saint Francis
in the city of San Francisco
in a little side street
just off the Avenue
where no birds sang
and the sun was coming up on time
in its usual fashion
and just beginning to shine
on the statue of Saint Francis
where no birds sang
And a lot of old Italians
were standing all around
in the little side street
just off the Avenue
watching the wily workers
who were hoisting up the statue
with a chain and a crane
and other implements
And a lot of young reporters
in button-down clothes
were taking down the words
of one young priest
who was propping up the statue
with all his arguments
And all the while
while no birds sang
any Saint Francis Passion
and while the lookers kept looking
up at Saint Francis
with his arms outstretched
to the birds who weren’t there
a very tall and very purely naked
with very long and very straight
and wearing only a very small
in a very existential place
kept passing thru the crowd
all the while
and up and down the steps
in front of Saint Francis
her eyes downcast all the while
and singing to herself
Please note that the lines from Howl also appear in one of my essays on being an artist in the United States—Guston Schapiro Rosenberg, . . . Dialogue (Zeteo, July 2016)—and this essay also appears in my collection Art, Sex, Politics (Serving House Books, 2017). The broad definition of “politics” touched on above—“social relations involving authority or power”—comes from an old Webster’s Unabridged.
[…] oops, after this piece was published, I realized that I had already used this drawing to decorate a previous poem, in 2019. Worse things have happened to nicer people, as we […]