110. Ferlinghetti is Dead

Ferlinghetti is dead. I had no idea he was still alive. One hundred and one years old, who can feel bad about how long he lived and all that he accomplished?

I, too, owned a copy of A Coney Island of the Mind, his first book of poetry. He was an inspiration for my generation, for young adult minds taking shape during the 1960s. He made contemporary poetry accessible, was the gateway drug. So important was this American icon, that when I was last in San Francisco, in the spring of 2011, I made a pilgrimage to the City Lights Bookstore. This was Ferlinghetti’s bookstore, launched in 1953.

I was there, again, this week. My friend Karen, who lives in San Francisco, had wandered over to the City Lights Bookstore on Tuesday evening, 23rd February, the day after Ferlinghetti died. A small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk to pay tribute with tales and toasts. She held up her phone broadcasting the event live and I was in that phone, next to her, watching and listening at 3:30 Wednesday morning in Cardiff.

Ferlinghetti would also be a publisher of other poets. I had several of Allen Ginsberg’s books in Ferlinghetti’s “Pocket Book Series”, sturdy paperbacks in a squarish format with black and white covers of stark typography. These books were sacrificed when I immigrated to Wales, donated to Classic Books on West Lafayette Street in Trenton, New Jersey, where, maybe, they will provide inspiration for others.

I asked my Welsh friends if they had ever heard of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. None of them had. Steve recognized the name, particularly when I associated it to Allen Ginsberg. He then realized he had seen the obituary in the Guardian.  He also said, “I know the names of more dead poets than living ones.”

Is poetry useful? How can poetry be useful if it isn’t decipherable? I have friends who don’t care for poetry. To them, and sometimes to me, it is arcane esoterica. Some poetry is like Rorschach Tests; to be enjoyed, it depends on what the reader can bring to it. Still, while my Welsh friends don't make a practice of reading poetry, they resort to reciting poetry in the form of song lyrics to express what they are feeling.

This is how I imagine the nascence of poetry, that at the dawn of language, words were first recorded by being put to music. Music mysteriously is a fantastic mnemonic device. It preserved histories and passions in an oral recitation called forth by plucked strings. From its inception, poetry was prose put to music and can still remain so to this day. Perhaps, written language liberated poetry from the need for music, but not from the desire to preserve the association.

Furthermore, it had me thinking, if you have the time to spare, write poetry and embellish existence. Poetry done right catches our attention, compels curiosity, gets carved into memory.

When was the last time I read a poem? It was yesterday. Weeks of chilling rain and bitter dampness gave way to a warm and sunny afternoon. I took a walk down to the bay. My route took me past a poster for Choose Love, an organization trying to raise money to support refugees around the world. In large block letters of white against a pale red background, it read: “If you have more than you need, build a longer table not a higher wall.” I regarded it and thought, good metaphors, concisely expressed.

choose love

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions,
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You can find his several books at www.Bentzman.com. Enshrined Inside Me, his second collection of essays, is now available to purchase.