Lawrence Ferlinghetti Essay - Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (Vol. 2)

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (Vol. 2)

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence 1919(?)–

An American Beat poet and playwright, Ferlinghetti owns the City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco and is the founder and publisher of City Lights Books. His best-known work is A Coney Island of the Mind. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's novel Her, as well as a number of his poems and plays, is permeated by one dominant precept: that love is the prime value that gives meaning to human existence. The paramount concern for the central character of Her is the recognition and the attainment of love. He fails in both endeavors and, consequently, in finding any meaning in life. His beliefs prevent him from reconciling the experience of love with his expectations. No reconciliation of experience and expectation is possible for Andy Raffine because his views are not derived from experience but are anticipations of experience; they are absolute rather than relative in the sense that he chooses to adhere to them even though experience consistently negates them. The novel could be called a tragedy of absolute values in a relativistic world. The tragic potential of modern life in this respect engrosses Ferlinghetti in much of his other work, making his work in general a view of life based on the philosophical implications of the theory of relativity….

Not all of Ferlinghetti's poems suggest that a plane of life that transcends sensory experience is a Pied Piper's Cave. One poem in which Ferlinghetti flirts with the notion that essence precedes being is a lengthy piece entitled "Hidden Door." Throughout most of the poem it is asserted that the mysterious quality of life is both universal and appalling. The format is to juxtapose a number of images culled from reality with the term "hidden door." Reality, it is proposed, is obscured rather than revealed by the world as one sees it…. This poem, however, is not satisfying in respect to what insight is gained that constitutes a deeper truth about reality. It ends with only a brief statement that the speaker has arrived at the Inca ruins. The reader cannot avoid the feeling that the grasp of things has eluded the seeker. If this is the grasping of essence, the search seems as much a failure as it was for the central character of Ferlinghetti's novel.

L. A. Ianni, "Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Fourth Person Singular and the Theory of Relativity," in Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature (© 1967 by the Regents of the University of Wisconsin), Vol. 8, No. 3, Summer, 1967, pp. 392-406.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a poet for whom I have considerable respect. But as a playwright [in "Three by Ferlinghetti"] he does not, so far, even begin to make dramatic sense or theatrical logic. His themes are vast and gusty, and they talk—at least I think this is what they are talking about—about the decay and dissolution of our civilization. They are windy allegories set on some far horizon of poetic sensibility.

It may be that Mr. Ferlinghetti has failed to see the difference between the private declaration, that is a poem (even a poem read in public maintains its private face) and the public declaration that is a play.

Clive Barnes, in The New York Times (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 13, 1970.

These reminiscences were provoked by an evening of poet's one-acters, "Three by Ferlinghetti," a title that is at least two-thirds right. The playlets are indeed by the "beat" poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. You might consider them as one viscous mass enlivened by two intermissions, or as zero, or as minus three. They are symbolic affairs: either fairly obvious, as in The Alligation; or flirting with opacity, as in Three Thousand Ants; or smilingly impenetrable, as in The Victims of Amnesia. There is a mildly poetic, markedly absurdist, satirical but arcane atmosphere in all of them; but here, even more than in his poetry, Ferlinghetti tends to be unfocused, diffuse (quite an achievement, considering the brevity of the pieces), bereft of a genuine dramatic impulse and pulsation, which even absurdists should not sneeze at. Above all, he likes to have his little private jokes.

John Simon, in New York Magazine (© 1970 by NYM Corp.; reprinted by the permission of New York Magazine and John Simon), October 5, 1970.

Ferlinghetti's plays are brief sardonic comments on our contemporary life-style. But brevity is not always the soul of wit, and for all their brevity, Ferlinghetti's plays manage to be diffuse. His own view of the seven plays of Unfair Arguments with Existence is that they are "variations on similar themes, meant to be played together, moving progressively from the representational toward a purely non-objective theatre—with still a long way to go." The themes may perhaps be resolved into a single theme—the unfairness of industrial, consumer-oriented, establishment-dominated existence—and the plays are arguments against submission to such existence.

Ruby Cohn, "Lawrence Ferlinghetti," in her Dialogue in American Drama, Indiana University Press, 1971, pp. 307-10.