News & Politics

Lawrence Ferlinghetti Hits the Village


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

October 14, 1959, Vol. IV, No. 51

Love and Death and Ferlinghetti

By Howard Hart

Lawrence Ferlinghetti gave a poetry reading at the Living Theatre last Monday night, October 5. The house was full.

He came energetically onstage in a lumber-jack shirt and corduroys, sat gingerly on a stool, and informally announced that he wanted to read new and unpublished work, but would begin with some things from “A Coney Island of the Mind.”

The world of painting serves as a backdrop for many of Ferlinghetti’s pieces, but his themes seem to be sex and death. It would be wrong to say that he confuses sex and love, for there was very little of love in anything he read. I can’t recall one instance.

He is able to beat home his beauties of sexual orgasm with an ominous (but actual) rhythmic splaying of words. That is to say, the words leave their place, from a language point of view, and are individually enunciated in what seems horribly like baby talk. (When you first catch this baby-talk thing you can hardly believe your ears. As a technique of verse reading it is, of course, an appropriation from Klee in the world of painting. Ferlinghetti is very imbued with painting, and he had more pieces about painters to read the other night than about anything else. I liked the recently written one on Morris Graves best.)

Behind sex there comes the theme of death clanking along like a can tied to a dog’s tail. The writer’s voice itself is somewhat deathlike, and for me there was a second of terror the first time he said “death” because he seemed to croak it from a place underground.

Terror and pity: Ferlinghetti stirs up a pity for his sincere nervousness, or nervous sincerity, in quite confessional work.

And humor: the audience really laughed at his witticisms, which are admirably woven into fabric. Maybe they seem more admirable to me than they would to someone else, since I didn’t respond to them – and I am not trying to be funny in saying this.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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