Lawrence Ferlinghetti (b. 1919)
Contributing Editor: Helen Barolini
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Ferlinghetti's work is immediately accessible and appealing, and these qualities should be emphasized. He uses everyday language to articulate his themes. A problem could be his critique of social problems in America; conservative students may find him too sharply satiric about their image of this country. You might note that although Ferlinghetti articulates the "outsider" view of society, he also espouses hope for the future; for instance, poems like "Popular Manifest" (not in this anthology) give a sense of vision and expectation.
Tape recordings of Ferlinghetti reading can be effective.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Ferlinghetti is a political activist and his poetical career spans and reflects thirty years of U.S. political history.
His personal voice brings poetry back to the people. He has done this not only as a poet, but as a publisher, editor, translator, and discoverer of new talent.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Ferlinghetti has been prominently identified with the beat movement of the 1950s. It is important to consider the beat movement as an ongoing part of American bohemianism, and to contrast it, for example, with the expatriate movement of post-World War I.
The hip vocabulary can well be examined, and the beat experience of alienation can be connected with other marginals in the society.
The work of Ferlinghetti can be placed in the specific social context of the beat movement in the fifties-- beats were the anarchists in a time of general post-war conformism.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Ferlinghetti can certainly be compared with his fellow beats, like Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, and contrasted with other poets of the time--for instance, the more mannered Wallace Stevens. There is also much to compare, stylistically, with E. E. Cummings.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
1. With this particular poet, the most effective approach is to plunge right into the work. He elicits the questions.
2. Discuss the San Francisco Renaissance, which centered around Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore.
3. What is the counterculture in America?
Charters, Samuel. Some Poems/Poets: Studies in American Underground Poetry since 1945. Oyez, 1971.
The Postmoderns: The New American Poetry Revised. New York: Grove, 1982.
Cherkovski, Neeli. Ferlinghetti: A Biography. New York: Doubleday, 1979.
Hopkins, Crale D. "The Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Reconsideration." Italian Americana 1, no. 1 (Autumn 1974): 59-76.
Kherdian, David. Six Poets of the San Francisco Renaissance. Fresno: Giligia Press, 1967.
Silesky, Barry. Ferlinghetti, the Artist in his Time. New York: Warner Books, 1990.
Skau, Michael. "Constantly Risking Absurdity": Essays on The Writings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Troy, NY: Whitson Publishing, 1989.
Smith, Larry. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet-at-Large. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.
Vestere, Richard. "Ferlinghetti: Rebirth of a Beat Poet." Identity Magazine (March 1977): 42-44.