I have been reading Lawrence Ferlinghetti for twelve years.
I know it's not cool to still like the beats, but they were the poets that made me know it was OK to be what I was. I was a poet. It was scary being a kid who wrote poetry. At thirteen, I knew I was a weirdo, and the beats made me feel like that was cool.
But I never saw Lawrence Ferlinghetti read. I met him a couple of times serendipitously, while I haunted his bookstore in North Beach. In Germany, I dreamed of going back to meet him once more before it was too late. I fantasized about giving him a chapbook, which he would love. I wanted to wear a fez to my readings like he used to. You get the point. I liked him.
Tonight he was at Moe's in Berkeley. He read from his new book, Poetry as Insurgent Art. Some of it is a reprinting of things like What is Poetry?, but I liked it very much. It was great, after so many years, to finally see him read. At eighty-eight, I would say that he was phenomenal. He brings back memories of my grandfather. If your grandparents are still alive, by the way, you should call them; when they're gone, it will be too late.
There are many things that bother me about the beat poets nowadays. They deride contemporary poetry as if they are protecting something sacred. The same thing, mind you, that they used to claim needed tearing down. They are the establishment in a lot of ways now. They make fun of poets who are not beat poets. I find this a bit lame.
They also seem so intensely invested in politics. I don't think that poetry or any art form is supposed to be that closely tied to politics.
They bring audiences who pat themselves on their backs for loving poetry, "see I go to readings." The audiences are the worst. They don't want poetry, they want nostalgia. They want what I want, but less. I really like a lot of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poetry even if it's only for nostalgia, but most of the audience is there only for the love of the beat poets, or the myths surrounding them, rather. They don't go to poetry readings. They aren't into poetry.
I know I should be applauding anyone taking any kind of interest in poetry, but I just get a tiny bit bothered, a little annoyed with the fact that they aren't supporting current poetry. What are they going to do when Lawrence is dead? Are they going to abandon poetry completely? Do they even know about the events in poetry that surround them?
I have to say it was a great reading, though.