Happy 100th birthday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti! Here are some quotes from his writing.
“If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.”
―from Poetry as Insurgent Art
“We have seen the best minds of our generation destroyed by boredom at poetry readings.”
Pity the Nation
(After Khalil Gibran)
Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!
Challenges to Young Poets
Invent a new language anyone can understand.
Climb the Statue of Liberty.
Reach for the unattainable.
Kiss the mirror and write what you see and hear.
Dance with wolves and count the stars,
including the unseen.
Be naive, innocent, non-cynical, as if you had
just landed on earth (as indeed you have, as
indeed we all have), astonished by what you
have fallen upon.
Write living newspapers. Be a reporter
from outer space, filing dispatches to some
supreme managing editor who believes in full
disclosure and has a low tolerance level for hot air.
Write an endless poem about your life on
earth or elsewhere.
Read between the lines of human discourse.
Avoid the provincial, go for the universal.
Think subjectively, write objectively.
Think long thoughts in short sentences.
Don’t attend poetry workshops, but if you do,
don’t go to learn ‘how to” but to learn
“what” (What’s important to write about).
Don’t bow down to critics who have not
themselves written great masterpieces.
Resist much, obey less.
Secretly liberate any being you see in a cage.
Write short poems in the voice of birds.
Make your lyrics truly lyrical. Birdsong is not
made by machines. Give your poems wings
to fly to the treetops.
The much-quoted dictum from William Carlos
Williams, “No ideas but in things,” is OK for
prose, but it lays a dead hand on lyricism,
since “things” are dead.
Don’t contemplate your navel in poetry and
think the rest of the world is going to think
Remember everything, forget nothing.
Work on a frontier, if you can find one.
Go to sea, or work near water, and paddle
your own boat.
Associate with thinking poets. They’re hard
Cultivate dissidence and critical thinking.
“First thought, best thought” may not make
for the greatest poetry. First thought may be
What’s on your mind? What do you have
in mind? Open your mouth and stop mumbling.
Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall
Question everything and everyone. Be subversive,
constantly questioning reality and
the status quo.
Be a poet, not a huckster. Don’t cater, don’t
pander, especially not to possible audiences,
readers, editors, or publishers.
Come out of your closet. It’s dark in there.
Raise the blinds, throw open your shuttered
windows, raise the roof, unscrew the locks
from the doors, but don’t throw away the
Be committed to something outside yourself.
Be militant about it. Or ecstatic.
To be a poet at sixteen is to be sixteen, to be
a poet at 40 is to be a poet. Be both.
Wake up and pee, the world’s on fire.
Have a nice day.
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.