What I quickly want to say about this collection is that I am not sure where or what is my way in. I feel like maybe what Ferlinghetti is doing is elegizing a “gone world” which we see in an unacknowledged Dante sculpture amid a bustling city, almost out of place in a modern world or in a setting of modernity.
In terms of his use of sprawling form, lines unanchored to any margin, but rather, floating in this ether-like white space, perhaps this is meant to express that disjunctiveness between the “gone world” and modernity, i.e. reading Yeats does not make him “think / of Ireland, / but of midsummer New York,” and the Yeats book he found on the El.
For me, really the only memorable poem in this collection is “The world is a beautiful place / to be born into,” because I believe it’s here that he starts to reconcile the encroachment of the modern world into the “gone world.”
PS: As well, what is also memorable about this collection is that it is #1 in the City Lights Books’ Pocket Poets Series. This is some formidable history.
Since I am gearing up for my UCSB talk, and particularly the poetry workshops I will be conducting, I have revisited Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry as Insurgent Art. Why this book? Well, you gotta give it to Ferlinghetti. He doesn’t hold back on his strong opinion on what poetry is, and what poetry does. Even as he claims this book not to be poetry, I actually am starting to believe it is, for his deployment of poetic line, active use of the figurative, and for evidence of duende at work here.
Here is something I have been suspecting, but unsure of how to articulate: why is it there seems to be so much poetry that really is prose broken up into lines? I can’t even call these lines here poetic lines. I read this poetry, this so-called conventional “narrative poetry,” and I am constantly asking myself, “Is this really poetry?” And “Why is this considered poetry?” Simply because it’s broken into lines? And why are they broken how/where they are? And what are the functions of these lines within this body? So this is how revisiting Ferlinghetti is helping me with this.
I have started trying to read Louise Erdrich’s Jacklight, which I came to because I’d recently read Linda Hogan’s The Book of Medicines. I am not sure what I was looking for in Erdrich; I’d just thought it’d be good to read more Native American women poets, particularly to see how oral tradition may figure into the work. Also, I know she is much more well-known as a novelist. Thing about Jacklight is I keep putting it back down. I keep not thinking these are poems, though they contain some poetic moments, some incantatory music. I keep thinking of these writings as notes or blueprints which have become what we find in the conventional prose that is her novels.
So this is where I am today with poetic line versus line, poem versus writing containing poetic moments.
There’s a pretty interesting discussion going on in list serve world regarding small presses, independent presses, and self publishing. This last item really is the sorest point of contention, given the apparent stigma of “vanity publishing.” I don’t know so much what the difference is between “vanity publishing” and doing DIY. IS there a difference? How is each term defined?
One point being discussed is publishing houses and prestige, and under what circumstances is it important to be published by a prestigious publisher. I wonder how prestige is defined or determined, first of all. Still, the part of this discussion that’s most interesting to me is this: if your intent as a poet is to get your work out into the world, to reach your perceived readership, audience, and/or communities, then whether or not your publisher is prestigious should not be so important (in grad school, one of my professors said to me that whether a publisher had an effective distribution system in place was more important). If a major part of your publishing career revolves around university tenure, then landing book contracts with a prestigious publisher is more of a concern. But not all poets operate within that system.