Monday, August 31, 2015

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI 'S WRITING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE, travel journals that read like a surreal novel

WRITING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE travel journals 1960-2010 by LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI, edited by Giada Diano and Matthew Gleeson, is published by Liveright Publishing as a Memoir (September).



Ferlinghetti is a Beat icon, poet and author of the legendary Coney Island of the Mind and a founder of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers in San Francisco. In these journals through the decades, places (Latin America, Seattle, Tijuana, Cuba, Paris, Rome, Greece, Berlin, Belize, Russia, Australia) and people (Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda), he captures the truth of a moment, how it feels and what it says politically about a society--often within a Zen context of eternity. There are also drawings, such as "her tragic side" 8/01, that are revelations.

In addition, this book provides entertaining literary experience. Who but Ferlinghetti would consider reversing Conrad's Heart of Darkness to begin in New York City (as the heart of the beast) and discover the great Light, The Heart of Lightness?  I found this book so rich, so well edited, you could flip through it and find meaningful paragraphs on any page.  Here are a few chance selections..

The Sixties--Salton Sea
"When Do the Gas Stations Open Up Around Here?" I hear the cowboy shouting....That's life in the American West, 1961. Let me out, I'm way down here at the bottom of the well, below the Sea...I'm the cowboy and I paid eight dollars for this fancy resort beach house and I want some action along with it, even some Beauty, I want my money's worth, I'll take a lot of showers, use up all the soap and towels, drink out of both sterilized water glasses, turn on the air-conditioning, the refrigerator, the heater, flush the toilet a lot. I'll go swimming in the Pool even if I freeze to death doing it..."

Santa Rita Journal--1968
Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center. What are we doing here in this dank tank? Probing the limits of political dissent in this unenlightened country?  Nonviolent gesture of blocking the entrance to war at Oakland Army Induction Center hereby judged beyond that limit. Rehabilitate us, please...First rough impressions of anybody's first time in jail, suddenly realizing what "incarcerated" really means. Paranoid fear of the unknown, fear of not knowing what's going to happen to your body, fear of getting thrown in the Hole...Routine of being booked, fingerprinted, mugged, shunted from bullpen to bullpen itself a shock for any "first offender"...Naive vestigal illusions about the inherent goodness of man fly out the barred windows...

1990's--Pompei
Pompei's supreme hallucination as in one of those films where the hero is walking into the sun and the heat is rising and his eyes take on a glazed look and the sky and the whole landscape start to whirl around him as in a kaleidoscope, perhaps the way it was before Vesuvius erupted. In Berlin they are running a marathon around the thirty miles of the ruined Wall. The morning newspaper in Napoli shows the huge crowd, thousands of runners passing through the Brandenburg Gate. Some have their arms outstretched, presumably in joy, or as if they were about to fly like Icarus straight into the sun. Turn the photo sideways and they look like the stone figures still gesturing in the rootless ruins of Pompei, the arms outstretched against the rain of lava. They have a comic aspect, un aspetto comico.

Journals are often interior confessionals and travel books are exterior observations. WRITING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE is a poet's hybrid, confessions that offer glimpses of the world, ourselves and the future.

S.W.