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Essay/Term paper: Lawrence ferlinghetti's politics

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History Essays

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Politics


I hope I won't seem too politically incorrect for saying this but after
immersing myself in the writings of the guilt-obsessed asexual Jack Kerouac, the
ridiculously horny Allen Ginsberg and the just plain sordid William S.
Boroughs... it's nice to read a few poems by a guy who can get excited about a
little candy store under the El or a pretty woman letting a stocking drop to the
floor ("Literary Kicks").
For casual reading, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poetry is cheerful and
humorous. At best it is a welcome break for the mainstream of the "beat
generation." Inside his poetry, deep rooted criticisms of the United States
exist. Ferlinghetti has had an anti-government attitude since the 1950's. His
beliefs strengthened when he was put on trial for publishing a highly
controversial collection of poems written by Allen Ginsberg. Lawrence
Ferlinghetti has chosen to express his political views through his poetry.
Additionally, Ferlinghetti became more vocal with the use of protests and
further publication of controversial and/or anti-government materials through
his publishing house, New Directions. By using poetry, Ferlinghetti was able to
reach a vast audience including those whom he was criticizing. Through his
poetry, Lawrence Ferlinghetti blatantly and subtly criticized the American
democratic system and politicians.
In 1957, Ferlinghetti received his first national attention.
Ferlinghetti was arrested and brought to trial as the publisher of a collection
of obscene poetry, Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (Alspaugh 1148).
Eventually he was cleared of the charges of "publishing and sale of obscene
writings." Since his involvement in the obscenity trial, Ferlinghetti became
quite cynical of the government. After the trial ended, Lawrence Ferlinghetti
canceled all government grants coming to him and to any writers under his
publishing house. Currently he still disallows the acceptance of government
grants to any of his writers (Alspaugh 1146). Economically speaking,
Ferlinghetti did benefit from the trial. The publicity created by the trial
attracted new names to New Directions Publishing. The publicity also was great
enough to propel Lawrence Ferlinghetti's image to the degree where he could
successfully release his second collection of poetry, A Coney Island of the Mind.
In most of Ferlinghetti's work, he has shown a concern with political issues. "
His poetry often addresses political subjects..." (Nasso 196). The Kennedy
Assassination, McCarthyism and the Vietnam conflict were all topics in several
Ferlinghetti poems (Oppenheimer 136). Lawrence Ferlinghetti's past incidents
involving the government influenced his poetry and consequentially he has little
respect for government. "Ferlinghetti's... poetry offered blatant tirades
against the destructive tendencies of America's political leadership" (Trosky
136).
Politics are themes in virtually all of Ferlinghetti's works. A
Ferlinghetti poem cannot be appreciated without examining the entire poem and
finding all of the subtle and open criticisms of the government. For example,
the poem "Underwear" is a light-hearted, comedic poem... or so it appears.
Ferlinghetti begins with the comedic approach mocking a typical underwear
advertisement as he says:
You have seen the three color pictures / with crotches encircled / to
show the areas of extra strength / and three way stretch
Further through the passage, his word choice becomes conspicuous. "
Don't be deceived / It's all based on the two party system / which doesn't allow
much freedom of choice." The phrase where Ferlinghetti's word choice begins to
hint a theme other than a parody of an underwear advertisement is "...promising
full freedom of action." Specifically, the choice of the word "freedom" as
opposed to "elasticity" or "range" is ambiguous. In the lines which follow,
Ferlinghetti makes it clear that he is criticizing the government. The reader
is blatantly warned not to "...be deceived / It's all based on the two-party
system / which doesn't allow much freedom of choice." In this passage, Lawrence
Ferlinghetti is clearly stating what is wrong with the political system in the
United states. He is saying how the suppression of freedoms by the government
is deteriorating our government.
Ferlinghetti expressed his opinion about the Government in "The World Is
A Beautiful Place" by making a blunt statement of his beliefs. Not only did
Ferlinghetti attack government (specifically his target in this poem was the
House Un-American Activities Committee), but he attacked segregation, high
ranking officials, and the lack of diversity in society. The following excerpt
contains examples of each.
Oh the world is a beautiful place / to be born into / if you don't much
mind / a few dead minds / in the higher places / or a bomb or two / now and then
/ in your upturned faces / or such other improprieties / as our Name Brand
society / is prey to / with its men of distinction / and its men of extinction /
and its priests / and other patrolmen / and it various segregations / and
congressional investigations / and other constipations / that our fool flesh /
is heir to.
Evidence of criticism of political officials clearly comes from the
phrases "if you don't much mind / a few dead minds / in the higher places."
This is showing a lack of faith of the elected officials holding esteemed
offices. "Or such other improprieties / as our Name Brand society / is prey to"
expresses Ferlinghetti's disapproval of the lack of diversity in society. By
coining the public as a "Name Brand society," Ferlinghetti shows that the
mainstream will conform to the status quo. His use of capitalization in "Name
Brand" emphasizes the generic quality bequeathed upon the public. Later
Ferlinghetti mentions that segregation is a problem. Ferlinghetti also mentions
that "congressional investigations" plague the world. This is a reference to
the House Un-American Activities Committee, which persecuted artists and idols
in the film industry for their actions and words. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "The
World Is A Beautiful Place" provides a little more focus on specific issues
which are dishe artening to Ferlinghetti while maintaining a clear anti-
government theme.
Expanding upon his anti-government theme in "Dog," Ferlinghetti also
introduces a belief of non-alliance to a conformist government and political
parties (i.e. Democrat/Republican). Also present is the disapproval of the
House Un-American Activities Committee. Various lines of the poem "Dog" can be
used to prove both of the aforementioned argument.
A real live / barking / democratic dog / engaged in real / free
enterprise / with something to say / about ontology / something to say / about
reality.
The dog represents Lawrence Ferlinghetti in society. The dog will not
conform to society's political notions. The dog is not a Democrat or a
Republican; however, it is at least "democratic" (Alspaugh 1150). There are
also several slurs directed to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
He doesn't hate cops / He merely has no use for them / and he goes past
them / and past the dead cows hung up whole / in front of the San Francisco Meat
Market / He would rather eat a tender cow / than a tough policeman / though
either might do / And he goes past the Romeo Ravioli Factory / and past Coit's
Tower / and past Congressman Doyle of the un-American Committee / He's afraid of
Coit's Tower / but he's not afraid of Congressman Doyle / ... / He will not be
muzzled / Congressman Doyle is just another / fire hydrant / to him.
The continual references to a "Congressman Doyle" were referring to the
Congressman Doyle of the House Un-American Activities Committee (Alspaugh 1150).
The dog has respect for several things: the San Francisco Meat Market, Coit's
Tower, and to an extent the police. Although the dog does not hate the police,
he will stand up to and condemn them should they be wrong. This is evident by
the statement "He would rather eat a tender cow / than a tough policeman /
though either will do." The dog does not exhibit any respect for Doyle as
evident by the lines "Congressman Doyle is just another / fire hydrant / to him."
Use of the term "fire hydrant" expresses Ferlinghetti's theoretical actions
towards Mr. Doyle. Government in general was a "fire hydrant" to Ferlinghetti.
Ferlinghetti used his poetry to express his opinions, dissent and
dissatisfactions about the United States government. In poems like "Underwear,"
Ferlinghetti warns the unenlightened to beware of a government which is not what
it seems. With moving verses such as those in "The World Is A Beautiful Place,"
Lawrence Ferlinghetti named several specific downfalls in twentieth century
society and politics. These included the ignorance of the public with their
willingness to conform, segregation, and government restriction of freedoms. In
vicious attacks such as the ones present in "Dog," Ferlinghetti dealt scathing
words on specific ills which plague him and his fellow non-conformists.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti has moved the readers of his poetry and shown that the
idealistic view of America may not be as rose colored as it appears.
Ferlinghetti suggested that the citizens should examine individuals and
institutions rather than automatically granting trust because of their position.
"It should... be realized that a significant amount of his work is social poetry.
...Ferlinghetti sees himself as a prophet, he clearly has a sense of audience
that many other poets do not" (Hopkins 176). Lawrence Ferlinghetti has taken on
the responsibility of informing the public of a lurking evil entity, the
government. Ferlinghetti has shown his readers that "The world is a beautiful
place... if you don't mind a touch of hell now and then."

Works Cited

Alspaugh, John. "Lawrence Ferlinghetti." Magill's Critical Survey of
Poetry. Vol. 3. Ed. Frank H. Magill. Englewood Cliffs: Salem Press,
1992. 1145-1151.

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. Endless Life: Selected Poems. San Francisco:
New Directions, 1981.

Hopkins, Crale D. "The Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Reconsideration."
Italian Americana, 1974, 59-76. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism.
Vol. 10. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1979. 174-
178.

"Literary Kicks: "Lawrence Ferlinghetti." (Internet Search).
http://www.charm.net/~brooklyn/people/lawrenceferlinghetti.html.

Nasso, Christine. ed. "Lawrence Ferlinghetti." Contemporary Authors:
New Revision Series. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1981.

Oppenheimer, Joel. "Weathered Well." The New York Times Book Review,
1981, 40-41. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 27. Ed.
Jean C. Stein. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1984. 136-139.

Trosky, Susan M. ed. "Lawrence Ferlinghetti." Contemporary Authors: New
Revision Series. Vol. 41. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1994.

 

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