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 xist.

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 ublishing 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, he 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 “… romising 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 ociety / 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 hich 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. . 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 he 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 t 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. “

Leave a Comment