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 /