Feb 18, 2010

Constantly Risking Absurdity by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Which bird is the poet?

(reminder: you can enlarge any photo on Banjo52 by clicking on it)

Constantly Risking Absurdity by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

On the Valentine's Day visitor comments here, Paula spoke apologetically about reading Ferlinghetti; in fact, she was so ashamed that she's changed her icon to a duck. So I'm offering a Ferlinghetti poem that deserves our respect (except for the superfluous, grandiose last two words).

I've mentioned a couple of times a similarity I see between poets and stand-up comics, so why not Charlie Chaplin too? For some reason, "a little charliechaplin man" teetering high on a rope has stuck with me as one of the perfect images for almost every kind of performer, from symphony, jazz, and bluegrass musicians to stand-up comics to acrobats, looking to catch Beauty as their world understands it.

And this month, why not see Olympic athletes like Shaun White in the same light, in the "empty air," spread-eagled for an audience that might secretly be as thrilled about a dramatic fall as they are for the successful execution of a trick.

"Copy that, Danno" for race car drivers and their audiences?

I also like Ferlinghetti's implication, as I hear it in "a little charleychaplin man," that if the poet fails, if he falls or lets Beauty drop, embarrassment will be as awful as injury or death. You can't be a bumbler; you've imposed upon yourself various "sleight-of-foot" requirements so that you look good as you take each step toward "taut truth" and Beauty. After all, any peasant could catch her in a big basket. That's not a performance; that's not art and deserves no audience. That's just staying alive, eating potatoes, paying the rent. We all do that for awhile.

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PJ said...

I like this poem - and maybe earlier I was just projecting. I'm still kind of hung up on Karin's post and ee cumming's poem to say much more except that it's a great essay - and it has a duck butt. Which is pretty kewl.

Anonymous said...

I like the duck butt better than the poem. I can't stand poets who take up my time telling me how special they are.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Is the 'speaker' trying to impress us with his skills? Or is this what every 'performer' thinks when doing their act - even Shaun White? The poet seems to be seeking approval just to stroke his own ego.

Banjo52 said...

OK, it's real clear that Brenda and A.Hiker are copying each other's work, no doubt because at least one of them is writing the answer on her hand.

Also, how many women does it take to love a duck butt?

There's probably some self-celebration in the poem (is that cardinal or venal in Sinworld?), but I wonder if Ferlinghetti is also injecting some lightness into the whole tradition of worshiping the artist and his lofty pursuit of Truth and Beauty--here, it's literally elevated.

Maybe I'm making too much of "little charleychaplin man," but that alone whispers to me that Ferlinghetti wants Shakespeare and company off that pedestal. Instead, let's see him/them as a carny act, for that's what we audiences try to make them. "Step right up, folks, and see the freak we call a Poet."

Maybe that means I think the whole poem is a satire on artists--the perceived loftiness of artists--AND what their audiences make of them, expect from them.

As usual, I have only a thimble of interest in what Ferlinghetti himself would say; if he honestly thinks this is a straightforward portrait of the artist, then I agree, he needs to get off his high horse. Yet I've watched audiences elevate "their" writers in just such foolish ways; when I was younger, I did it myself. I hope I don't do it anymore.

So I suspect F. is trying, by exaggeration and distortion, to make fun of the situation at the same time he's paying at least some serious homage to the ambitiousness of the artist's task.

Or maybe he meant to title it "Ode on a Duck Butt."

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