Saturday, May 1, 2021
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Lawrence Ferlinghetti thought about things he liked and even more about things that bothered him, that bothered millions. He was a worldly man, and he was the man who lived in the upstairs apartment, who owned the shop on the corner, he was a citizen poet waiting for and working toward the Better Day. His persona was a sublimely self-effacing Everyman, less grandiose and bombastic than Whitman, wittier than others by far, the man in a government waiting his turn at the DMV, for jury duty, and while he waits, he muses about what else he and the rest of us are waiting for besides for our numbers to be called.
I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
--“I Am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (from Coney Island of the Mind, 1958).
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the greatest Public poet America has in the second half of the 20th century. Poet, novelist, playwright, travel writer, bookseller, and publisher of the revered City Lights Books press, Ferlinghetti wasn’t a dry academic composing intangible lines of the verse about impossible metaphysics. His feet were on the ground along with those of his fellow citizens, trudging and grunting along that road, a man with an an unshakeable belief that the world can be made better even although a “perfect one” seems beyond our reach. He wrote to his reader’s ear, seeming less to intone from the deadness of the page and more to speak to you directly. “In Goya’s Greatest Scenes”, one of his best-known poems from his landmark 1958 poetry collection A Coney Island of the Mind we hear the unique voice again, leaning over to our ear and remarking sotto voce:
In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see
the people of the world
exactly at the moment when
they first attained the title of
They writhe upon the page
in a veritable rage
groaning with babies and bayonets
under cement skies
in an abstract landscape of blasted trees
bent statues bats wings and beaks
cadavers and carnivorous cocks
and all the final hollering monsters
‘imagination of disaster’
they are so bloody real
it is as if they really still existed
And they do
Only the landscape is changed…
This works as a mast
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is in that tradition of the public poet, no less than Vachel Lindsay or the wonderfully expansive Whitman; less a man to complain about how the world doesn't fit comfortably around the skin he was born in, or muse long and serially on fragments of memory and half recalled cliches that never crystallize as a perception. His poems a force of personality that eschews introspection and opts instead to verbalize, extol, berate, rant, and rave in a lyric vein at once lyric, cranky, ecstatic, lustful, and very much in love with the senses that bring him the full force of the beauty and ugliness that is life. Ferlinghetti was not a ruminator, a worrier, an introvert, a sad soul contemplating many shades of despair. He didn’t decorate the walls of his inner life with gloom. There is no melancholic wallpaper in the world the poet finds himself in, there is no metaphysics of gloom and regret. We need to recall that one of his poetry collections was titled How to Paint Sunlight. Not that Ferlinghetti's poems are bluster or weakly transpired musings on a beauty obscured urban density; his lines are confident, sure, idiom matching rhythm, not lapsing into a self-parody of hip argot except when he deigned to do so. His images are fresh and electric, encompassing emotions and the consequence of things are done to seek truth, beauty, a reason to celebrate the fragile miracle that is life.
These poems are jazzy, a crafted idiom that rings with the swinging chain of associations that cut through reams of rhetoric and regulation and get to the pulsing heart of the matter, birth, sex, death, joy, sorrow, glee, calamity. It all hurts, it all bring sensations we don't want, but this is a man who rolls with the punches know when to duck, writes as though he's astounded that he's still drawing a breath and walking still without a crutch or cane, that he has a voice to speak words of yet new seductions to come or already underway. It's worth noting that there was a selected poems edition of his work published in the 80s called Endless Life, which included a section of newer works, including a long piece that served as the collection's title.
What interests me isn't so much the quality of the poem but the concern it expresses, to stay engaged with the doings of citizens he shares the planet with, to keep doing what a poet should be doing at all times when they choose to poke their muse and write in those irregular line breaks that is most people's idea of what poetry is; even as he ages and friends die and institutions and personalized traditions come to an end, the world goes on with things to do, people to know, controversies to become a part of. The conversation doesn't end until the tongue can no longer flutter about, the eyes cannot see and the mind cannot parse.
From Poetry as Insurgent Art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
The first time I saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti was during a pilgrimage to San Francisco with two other writer friends of mine in the mid-1970s. The three of us( Steve Esmedina, David Zielinski, and this guy)-- were eager to garner some literary authenticity by visiting the places where famous scribes read. City Lights in North Beach was our first stop, and it was something of a surprise when we walked into the crowded shop, to see the Ferlinghetti behind the front counter chatting with customers, answering the phone and ringing up sales. The last time I saw the poet was at D.G. Wills Books in La Jolla, 2005, where I was working. Ferlinghetti had just published a new book, Americus Book 1, something of a continuous, epic-length poem, which he described as
"part documentary, part public pillow-talk, part personal epic--a descant, a canto unsung, a banal history, a true fiction, lyric and political," combining "universal texts, snatches of song, words or phrases, murmuring of love or hate . . . that haunt our nocturnal imagination."
Whatever this turns out to be, it was an inspired summing up of the spiritual state of affairs of America, a bittersweet and often comic recollection of the poet’s long journey and long life on the front lines of culture and politics. He was the featured poet at the 2005 Border Voices Poetry Fair at San Diego State University, an event organized by poet and journalist Jack Webb. D.G.Wills Books previously hosted Beat poets Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, and Ted Joans, and Wills had the idea that having Ferlinghetti read at the bookstore would be a fitting and important addition to the roster of poets and writers who had read in the past. Wills contacted Webb and arranged, with Ferlinghetti’s assent, to have the Maestro read at D.G.Wills Books following his appearance at San Diego State.
To be expected, it was a wild and crowded scene, every seat in the bookstore filled with, poets, fans, the merely curious. The front and side doors of the shop were open, an outdoor PA was mounted, and chairs were set up for attendees unable to sit inside. It was a crowd nearing three hundred. It was a cramped situation where everything that could go wrong didn’t. Except for one thing, to be sure, there’s always one thing that goes askew. In the flurry of overseeing the setup and directing the volunteer staff, Wills forgot to disconnect the business phone. Twenty or so minutes into the reading, Ferlinghetti is reading an especially lush passage from Americus, the audience is leaning toward him to heart, there is a pause, an intake of breath, Ferlinghetti begins to read again. Then the phone rings. Wills was at the end of the store’s front counter and pounced on the phone before it could peal again. Ferlinghetti didn’t miss a beat.
“Is this Manny’s Bar and Pool Hall?” he asked. The accent was East Coast, New York perhaps, American. The audience inside and out gave a nice laugh. Lawrence Ferlinghetti grinned and continued to read, a man who will continue to be read in bars, pool halls, bus stops, libraries, quoted in academic papers, and by busboys and waitresses.
Sunday, March 21, 2021
"History" didn't end, as Francis Fukuyama said it would in his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man; his thesis was that with the end of fall of Communism, history as a record of war, strife, and struggle, would end, and as relations between nations relaxed, the world would transcend ideologies and other divisions and create a more harmonies planet motivated by cooperation. The complete triumph of the free market. That never happened, and the world is arguably more problematic than it's ever been. History is still with us, and the concept of genres will remain with us as well. I don't think musicians are thinking about "post-genre" ideas when they make music, as creation is a psychological process as much as a physical one. In such the act of creation, the artist (all kinds of artists) are thinking, I believe, less about what rules they can ignore or what boundaries they can transgress. More about what they can make use of, whatever it may happen to me, however unlike, dissimilar, glaringly awkward the styles, the parts of the creation, may seem to be.
Their goal is to bring things together, whatever influences them and strikes their fancy. The appropriate it, twist it, change it, synthesize to something new, a work of art is a representation that hadn't existed before. But whatever the result, critically praised or damned, the object remains connected to history and the genres from which it attempted to abandon. This new work gets identified, described, classified, cataloged, it gets a name, it becomes a genre whose particulars are known and yet malleable within each piece the artist creates. It's an old story; in music, musicians have been genre-jumping for decades. One of my first albums was EAST/WEST by the Butterfield Blues Band, in which an inter-racial blues band took on Indian-raga/Modal jazz improvisational methods. The achievement was influenced by another transgressive innovator John Coltrane, who stepped out of his bop lineage to change how jazz was performed. The examples are endless. "Post genre," ironically, seems to be a genre itself.
As long as musicians continue to, by choice, write and record songs that fall into specific categories and subcategories--blues rock, metal, rap-rock, fusion, reggae, ska, country-rock, the whole shooting match. Genres, as we've always understood, are not dead. An obsession filters through the academic and critical universe that likes to announce that some particular form or medium is mortal because times have gotten so strange. Technology is now so pervasive that genre distinctions no longer apply and that we are now free to mix and match our tastes at will. This implies we have been liberated from some horrible tyranny; these kinds of global pronouncements have little to do with what's happening in the trenches, as it seems consumers like their genres --with the implication that there are many genres they happen to enjoy for their differences from other forms of music they happen to like-- and artists, young and otherwise, strive to maintain the various traditions meaningfully and moving while at the same time perverting the stylistic limits of the respective song forms by tweaking it with musical ideas from other areas. This, of course, creates new genres that will have cool names to describe their distinction. Nothing has died. However well specific approaches fare in the marketplace, it's not accurate to maintain we are in some area that has transcended genres. They are, in fact, thriving.
Friday, March 19, 2021
Special Edition -Jack DeJohnette (ECM)
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Well, Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman for her composition "The Hill We Climb" is preparing a collection of her writing for publication with a major publisher with a tour to follow; she's garnered a deal to work as a fashion model. How is she as a poet? Honestly, it is at least as good as the best work of an advanced poetry writing class. It would be a solid B if the grading criteria were based solely on my admittedly dreadful preferences when it comes to poets. It's okay, merely okay, held back by its many flights of high and hopeful rhetoric that start to chafe as the piece progresses to the end. Yes, it sounds like a graduation speech given by the High School Creative Writing Club president.
On another matter entirely, some aged experimentalists have the idea that the Avant guard they grew on and within is where History of all manner ought to have ended. In the meantime, events, and tastes, as anyone can claim to understand them, have evolved, or at least moved on, if in circles, and there remains the idea of the Public Poet and The Poem of the Moment.
Social constructions, perhaps, but people seem to need them and believe in them and find some reason to make the make coffee in the morning because of them and dozen another reassuring albeit banal comforts. "The Hill We Climb" is a Poem of the Moment, not to my liking entirely, and Gorman is a Public Poet by any definition you care to give the term. I suspect she will transcend the Poet appellation and evolve into a (C.Wright) Millsian power player in the guise of Pure Celebrity, an influencer. Or maybe she'll become a decent writer of finely considered prose. We'll see if time allows.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
So this sudden mess concerning the estrangement of Harry and Meghan from the Royal Family, as revealed to our National Confessor Oprah? The needless distraction of the moment, and it's likely this will find the dustbin of history by the coming weekend. It's hard to worry about the personal sanity and happiness of exquisitely well people no matter the issues at hand--racism, sexism, tastes in music and high sugar power drinks--when the rest of the world has to go to work in the morning and fret in our off moments about rent, groceries, credit card balances. I have cared nothing about the Royal Family, a state supported assemblage of symbolically useless humanity who serve no useful or humane purpose, though it seems both millions of British subjects love these lavished upon wastrels and the UK Press needs them to keep their Fleet Street gossip rags and websites abuzz. Something fouler here , buried perhaps not so deep in the population psyche, an element far more odious and evil than the simple excuse that national obsession is simply a way for citizens to celebrate an institution uniquely British. The Royals at the end of any day they live through, are a symbol of what was the British Empire, a long running foulness that had racism, xenophobia and genocide at the base of any high-minded philosophy that was used to justify the centuries old practice of subjugating non white populations. It isn't just a puppet show they're putting on here, it's closer to Civil War reenactment, were the issue of racism was close to the surface, in front of the mind, a wish deferred for the time being. That this democracy allows this institution to thrive in full knowledge that it represents the worst sins of the Empire to this day is flabbergasting. Was anyone really outraged, really shocked that the family was stressed as to how dark the forthcoming Archie's skin tone might be?
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Live at the Bee Hive - Clifford Brown and Max Roach (Columbia)
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Draw The Line -Peter Alsop (Flying Fish)
(Originally in The UCSD Daily Guardian)
Monday, January 18, 2021
The victim internalizes the blame infers that she deserved to be punched. Yes, Spector didn't write the song and a more exacting examination is due Spector, guns and violence against women as a matter of course, but it's interesting that his production of a song that makes hitting women a natural consequence of a woman betraying the needs of a male for which the female can only blame herself. Let's remember that this is a pathology and that Spector, along with Goffin and King , perpetuated it, a product toxic to its essentials intended to be sold to an audience that one presumes thinks it's expectable to commit violence as a means of expressing how one feels.