All We Need is Love

"The Love Nut" is one of several excellent poems in the second half of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Wild Dreams of New Beginnings. Strangely enough I chose this one to discuss because it is probably the only poem in the book that really makes me uncomfortable and unsure whether I agree with its position or not..

The Love Nut

I go into the men’s room Springfield bus station
on the way back to Muhlenberg County
and see this nut in the mirror
Who let in this weirdo Who let in this creep?

He’s the kind writes I LOVE YOU on toilet walls and wants to embrace everybody in the lobby He writes his phone number inside a heart on the wall He’s some kinda pervert Mister Eros the Great Lover

He wants to run up to everybody in the waiting room and kiss them on the spot and say Why aren’t we friends and lovers Can I go home with you You got anything to drink or smoke Let’s you and me get together The time is now or sooner

He wants to take all the stray dogs and cats and people home with him and turn them on to making love all the time wherever

He wants to scatter poems from airplanes across the landscape He’s some kinda poetic nut Like he thinks he’s Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan rolled together with Charlie Chaplin thrown in

He wants to lip-read everybody’s thoughts and feelings and longings He’s a dangerous nut He’s gotta be insane He has no sense of sin

He wants to heat up all the dead-looking people the unhappylooking people in bus stations and airports He wants to heat up their beds He wants to open their bodies and heads

He’s some kinda airhead rolling stone lie don’t wanna be alone He may be queer on men

He’s the kind addresses everybody on buses making them laugh and look away and then look back again

He wants to get everyone to burst out laughing and sighing and crying and singing and dancing and kissing each other including old ladies and policemen

He’s gotta be mad He’s so glad to be alive he’s real strange He’s got the hots for humanity one at a time He wants to kiss your breasts he wants to lie still between them singing in a low voice

He wants everyone to lie down together and roll around together moaning and singing and having visions and orgasms He wants to come in you He wants you to come with him He wants us all to come together One hot world One heartbeat

He wants he wants us all to lie down together in Paradise in the Garden of Love in the Garden of Delights and couple together like a train a chain-reaction a chain-letter-of-love around the world on hot nights

He wants he wants he wants! He’s gotta be crazy Call the cops Take him away!

Though I’m not quite sure why, I like this poem because it makes me feel very uncomfortable. It’s as if it touches some truth about myself that I don’t really want to accept.

Even though Ginsberg’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in this poem, I’m absolutely convinced that the poem is, indeed, about him. Now, I admit I may feel this way because I’ve just immersed myself in his poems for a few days and I haven’t quite figured out why his message doesn’t appeal to me.

However, this description nearly perfectly fits the obituary notice that wood s lot quotes:

Ginsberg’s New York Times obituary, April 6, 1997

…as the narrator in Saul Bellow’s ”Him With His Foot in His Mouth” said of Mr. Ginsberg: ”Under all this self-revealing candor is purity of heart. And the only authentic living representative of American Transcendentalism is that fat-breasted, bald, bearded homosexual in smeared goggles, innocent in his uncleanness.” (…)

Unfortunately, I fit the description of the poem’s narrator a little closer than I would like to. I probably wouldn’t actually call the cops (the guy’s just a harmless nut, after all), but I’m sure I would want someone to "Take him away," if just away from me.

It’s embarassing to consider how much more accepting Ferlinghetti is than I am. I suddenly feel as if I am judging people by the Hemingway Code, or is it the Webster Code? I judge the old man by the same standards I would judge myself by. Since I would never behave this way, I don’t want him to behave this way around me.

Is it because I have so little faith in the power of LOVE? Is it because I think he has confused LOVE with sex? perverted sex, at that?

Sometimes it’s best not to feel too confident in our views or too comfortable with how we feel about others. It takes an excellent poem, though, to make us raise important questions about ourselves that we want to, or need to, answer.

Ferlinghetti ‘s Cat and Dog

The Cat

The cat
licks its paw and
lies down in
the bookshelf nook
She
can lie in a
sphinx position
without moving for so
many hours
and then turn her head
to me and
rise and stretch
and turn
her back to me and
lick her paw again as if
no real time had passed
It hasn’t
and she is the sphinx with
all the time in the world
in the desert of her time
The cat
knows where flies die
sees ghosts in motes of air
and shadows in sunbeams
She hears
the music of the spheres and
the hum in the wires of houses
and the hum of the universe
in interstellar spaces
but
prefers domestic places
and the hum of the heater

Simplicity itself and a pleasant poem for cat lovers who recognize the truth.

There may be some great deep meaning here that I miss, but even if I’ve missed it, I can say the poem succeeds with the images of the cat on the bookshelf in a sphinx position, unmoving. When she rises, turning her back to the writer “no real time has past” the cat knows that and the writer learns that too–emphasize the word real. ”she is the sphinx with all the time in the world in the desert of her time.”

“The cat knows where flies die sees ghosts in motes of air and shadows in sunbeams…” she knows the mysteries of the earth.

Then the point:
she hears…the hum in the wires of house and the hum of the universe…
but prefers domestic places and the hum of the heater.

Perhaps in a way humans have the knowledge of cats if we would admit it–we hear the music of the spheres…the hum of the universe and prefer the hum of the heater. Perhaps humans should learn to be satisfied with that–as satisfied as the cat.

Dog

The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality
Drunks in the doorways
Moons on trees
The dog trots freely thru the street
and the things he sees
are smaller than himself
Fish on newsprint
Ants in holes
Chickens in Chinatown windows
their heads a block away
The dog trots freely in the street
and the things he smells
smell something like himself
The dog trots freely in the street
past puddles and babies
cats and cigars
poolrooms and policemen
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 Unamerican Committee
He’s afraid of Coit’s Tower
but he’s not afraid of Congressman Doyle
although what he hears is very discouraging
very depressing
very absurd
to a sad young dog like himself
to a serious dog like himself
But he has his own free world to live in
His own fleas to eat
He will not be muzzled
Congressman Doyle is just another
fire hydrant
to him
The dog trots freely in the street
and has his own dog’s life to live
and to think about
and to reflect upon
touching and tasting and testing everything
investigating everything
without benefit of perjury
a real realist
with a real tale to tell
and a real tail to tell it with
a real live
barking democratic dog
engaged in real free enterprise
with something to say
about reality
and how to see it
and how to hear it
with his head cocked sideways
at streetcorners
as if he is just about to have
his picture taken
for Victor Records
listening for
His Master’s Voice
and looking
like a living questionmark
into the
great gramophone
of puzzling existence
with its wondrous hollow horn
which always seems
just about to spout forth
some Victorious answer
to everything

Ferlinghetti could have named this poem “Man” and described a human walking the streets, registering the sounds, but then man’s talent for jealousies and judgments would have clouded the senses. How long do you think we are capable of “trotting freely” in our streets without measuring ourselves against others, desiring a change in ourselves or in others? This is all very Zen like to me.

The dog’s perception of his world is purely sensory–just like ours, I add–We see things bigger than ourselves, smaller than ourselves, we smell things like ourselves, we are discouraged, depressed, saddened by leaders who do stupid things. and we fret and stew, analyze and mostly react in ways that are harmful to ourselves. We need to learn to trot free.

Diane McCormick

Ferlinghetti Dreams of a New Beginning

I had never heard of Lawrence Ferlinghetti before my journey to discover the Beats, a movement I somehow missed in earlier literary travels. After reading several Beat poets, though, at times it’s difficult to see why Ferlinghetti is grouped with the Beats at all. In terms of style they seem to have very little in common, though each at times slips into some Whitmanesque lines.

In fact, in a recent interview Ferlinghetti said he didn’t consider himself a Beat poet. He was quoted as saying, “You know he [Ginsberg] used to say, ‘First thought, best thought?’ I’d say, ‘First thought, worse thought.’ We went about writing entirely differently. But he was my friend.”

There are, though, several reasons why he is associated with the Beats. As co-founder of City Lights Press he published the Beats when it was risky to do so. Second, he was clearly a friend of the Beats, and his ideas are often similar. "My poetics are different but my politics are in solidarity," he’s quoted as saying. "The Beats cleared the way for everybody else. Anti-materialist, anti-war, the first articulation of ecological consciousness: All of that was the Beats.”

The poems I’m discussing today come from Wild Dreams of a New Beginning, poems published from 1974-1979. I found a number of poems that I liked in the section of Wild Dreams of a New Beginning called Who Are We Now? My favorite poems, though, are two where he considers the paintings of two famous painters. (If you click on the titles of the poems they will take you to online shots of related paintings.)

Monet’s Lilies Shuddering

Monet never knew
he was painting his ‘Lilies’ for
a lady from the Chicago Art Institute
who went to France and filmed
today’s lilies
by the’Bridge at Giverny’
a leaf afloat among them
the film of which now flickers
at the entrance to his framed visions
with a Debussy piano soundtrack
flooding with a new fluorescence (fleur-essence?)
the rooms and rooms
of waterlilies

Monet caught a Cloud in a Pond
in 1903
and got a first glimpse
of its lilies
and for twenty years returned
again and again to paint them
which now gives us the impression
that he floated thru life on them
and their reflections
which he also didn’t know
we would have occasion
to reflect upon

Anymore than he could know
that John Cage would be playing a
‘Cello with Melody-driven Electronics’
tonight at the University of Chicago
And making those Lilies shudder and shed
black light

There seems little in this poem that needs elucidation, at least not nearly as much as the world “elucidation,” and I like that. However, the idea that Monet “floated thru life on them and their reflections,” suggesting that there is something mystical itself about the source of the art is an appealing idea. How shameful, then, that people exploit these mystical forces, thus demeaning the forces and the artist that first perceived them.

I was perhaps even more inspired by Ferlinghetti’s poem “The ‘Moving Waters’ of Gustav Klimt” because I had never heard of Klimt before, or at least I didn’t remember him. I do, however, like the Art Decco movement, and I enjoyed his paintings once I found them.

The ‘Moving Waters’ of Gustav Klimt

Who are they then
these women in this painting
seen so, deeply long ago
Models he slept with
or lovers or others
he came upon
catching them as they were
back then
dreamt sleepers
on moving waters
eyes wide open
purple hair streaming
over alabaster bodies
in lavender currents
Dark skein of hair blown back
from a darkened face
an arm flung out
a mouth half open
a hand
cupping its own breast
rapt dreamers
or stoned realists
drifting motionless
lost sisters or
women-in-love
with themselves or others
pale bodies wrapt
in the night of women
lapt in light
in ground swells of
dreamt desire
dreamt delight
Still strangers to us
yet not
strangers
in that first night
in which we lose ourselves

And know each other

Again, this poem, like many of Ferlinghetti’s poems, doesn’t seem to need much interpretation, but he is still able to take us beyond the paintings themselves and add another dimension to them. We understand, for a moment, that we, like the subjects of the paintings, are caught up in that moment when we are “Still strangers to us/yet not/ strangers/ in that first night/ in which we lose ourselves/ And know each other.”

Ferlinghetti has the ability to focus the reader’s attention on a subject clearly and precisely, so that the reader sees it more clearly, or for the first time, in a new light.

Ginsberg Rocks the World of Poetry

Although Jack Kerouac is generally considered the founder of the Beats, Allen Ginsberg may well be its most famous member. For better or for worst, Allen Ginsberg seems to me to be the Elvis Presley of modern poetry. Too often while reading Allen Ginsberg: Selected Poems 1947 to 1995, I felt like I was watching VH1’s show “Behind the Rock Stars,” for Ginsberg’s life often seems both meteoric and self destructive.

At its best, this 443 page tome allows you to see all aspects of Ginsberg’s life, the good, the bad, and, certainly, most certainly, the ugly. I’ve tried to pick out some of my favorite poems to discuss here, but, for me, the bad probably outweighs the good.

For awhile, I played with the idea of including some of what I consider Ginsberg’s worst poems here simply to show what you have to wade through to find the nuggets that are just as surely to be found here. In the end, though, I decided not to include those poems in order to avoid the enormous number of Google hits that would inevitably follow such poems, but you can go here
to get a sample of what I mean. I refuse to cite them with the offending words deleted or ***!# substituted because that would deny to Ginsberg one of the greatest virtues of this work: his honesty. But, judging from the number of weird hits I received after discussing Anne Sexton’s poetry, I might get really depressed if I suddenly became very popular simply because I quoted many of Ginsberg’s bad poems unexpurgated.

No matter how you feel about this work, though, you cannot deny its honesty and its portrayal of a complex, and at times tortured, individual seeking personal recognition and redemption, as he readily admits in:

Ego Confession

I want to be known as the most brilliant man in America
Introduced to Gyalwa Karmapa heir of the Whispered Transmission
Crazy Wisdom Practice Lineage
as the secret young wise man who visited him and winked anonymously
decade ago in Gangtok
Prepared the way for Dharma in America without mentioning Dharma–
scribbled laughter
Who saw Blake and abandoned God
To whom the Messianic Fink sent messages darkest hour sleeping on steel
sheets “somewhere in the Federal Prison system” weathermen
got no Moscow Gold
who went backstage to Cecil Taylor serious chat chord structure & Time in
a nightclub
who fucked a rose-lipped rock star in a tiny bedroom slum watched by a
statue of Vajrasattva–

and overthrew the CIA with a silent thought
Old Bohemians many years hence in Viennese beergardens’ll recall
his many young lovers with astonishing faces and iron breasts
gnostic apparatus and magical observation of rainbow-lit spiderwebs
extraordinary cooking, lung stew & Spaghetti a la Vongole and recipe for
salad dressing 3 parts oil one part vinegar much garlic and honey a
spoonful
his extraordinary ego, at service of Dharma and completely empty
unafraid of its own self’s spectre
parroting gossip of gurus and geniuses famous for their reticence
Who sang a blues made rock stars weep and moved an old black guitarist to
laughter in Memphis
I want to be the spectacle of Poesy triumphant over trickery of the world
Omniscient breathing its own breath thru tear gas spy hallucination
whose common sense astonished gaga Gurus and rich Artistes
who called the justice department & threaten’d to Blow the Whistle
Stopt Wars, turned back petrochemical Industries’ Captains to grieve &
groan in bed
Chopped wood, built forest houses & established farms
distributed monies to poor poets & nourished imaginative genius of the
land
Sat silent in jazz roar writing poetry with an ink pen
wasn’t afraid of God or Death after his 48th year
let his brain turn to water under Laughing Gas his gold molar pulled by
futuristic dentists
Seamen knew ocean’s surface a year
carpenter later learned bevel and mattock
son, conversed with elder Pound & treated his father gently
–All empty all for show, all for the sake of Poesy
to set surpassing example of sanity as measure for late generations
Exemplify Muse Power to the young avert future suicide
accepting his own lie & the gaps between lies with equal good humor
Solitary in worlds full of insects & singing birds all solitary
–who had no subject but himself in many disguises
some outside his own body including empty air-filled space forests &
cities
Even climbed mountains to create his mountain, with ice ax & crampons & ropes, over Glaciers

San Francisco, October 1974

Although the humor in this poem, as in much of his poetry, helps to blunt the sheer egotism, there’s no denying, nor need there be, that Ginsberg’s desire for fame is an inextricable part of this volume, as also indicated by the constant name-dropping in the work. Of course, the fact that he is able to drop such names casually does indicate the extent of his fame. He is a poet “star,” though I’m not sure that makes him the “most brilliant man in America,” and I’m positive it doesn’t make him the kind of religious prophet suggested in the line “Prepared the way for Dharma in America,” for he is no St. John the Baptist. He may well have done some of the things suggested in the next few lines, and they may help to account for his fame and popularity, but it is, again, unfortunately, in my opinion, an exaggeration to claim that he “overthrew the CIA with a silent thought.”

I can well believe he sang a blues song that made a black guitarist laugh, but unfortunately Poesy still isn’t “triumphant over trickery of the world.” Nor has it ever managed to stop a war, though “tis often used to celebrate them. Because of his fame, Ginsberg may well “Exemplify Muse Power to the young,” but, on reflection, that may not necessarily be a good thing.

The truest thing about this poem seems to be that Ginsberg does seem to accept “his own lie & the gaps between lies with equal good humor” and his poetry has “no subject but himself in many disguises.”

Another poem I like is “Returning to the Country for a Brief Visit.” It’s an interesting reflection on death, a re-occurring theme in Ginsberg’s later poems.

Returning to the Country for a Brief Visit
Annotations to Amitendranath Tagore’s Sung Poetry

“In later days, remembering this I shall certainly go mad.”

Reading Sung poems, I think of my poems to Neal
dead few years now, Jack underground
invisible–their faces rise in my mind.
Did I write truthfully of them? In later times
I saw them little, not much difference they’re dead.
They live in books and memory, strong as on earth.

“I do not know who is hoarding all this rare work. ”

Old One the dog stretches stiff legged,
soon he’ll be underground. Spring’s first fat bee
buzzes yellow over the new grass and dead leaves.

What’s this little brown insect walking zigzag
across the sunny white page of Su Tung-p’o’s poem?
Fly away, tiny mite, even your life is tender–
I lift the book and blow you into the dazzling void.

“You live apart on rivers and seas. . . ”

You live in apartments by rivers and seas
Spring comes, waters flow murky, the salt wave’s covered with oily dung
Sun rises, smokestacks cover the roofs with black mist
winds blow, city skies arc clear blue all afternoon
but at night the full moon hesitates behind brick.
How will all these millions of people worship the Great Mother?
When all these millions of people die will they recognize the Great Father?

Cherry Valley April 20,1973

Apparently having gained some new kind of insight, Ginsberg now wonders if his earlier ideas on death were “true.” How do we write “truthfully” about people who have just died? Only a powerful insight allows us to see death “truthfully.” Now he believes that, in a literary sense, Neal and Jack are still alive because their memory is strong.

The second section takes an even more objective look at a beloved animal, who’ll soon “be underground.” This image is contrasted with an image of “spring’s first fat bee,” an image of new life, of life reborn after winter. Interestingly enough, in the image of a “tiny mite” the narrator talks about how even it’s life “is tender.” How do we reconcile this with the seemingly indifference to Neal and Jack’s demise in the first section? Perhaps the clue comes from the phrase “the dazzling void.” The combination of “dazzling” and “void” suggests that Ginsberg has some new insight into death that he did not have in earlier epitaphs he has written for Neal Cassady.

But this apparent acceptance of death is contrasted with the image of people alienated from their world, an alienation that suggests that they will also be alienated after death. In this stanza the pollution of the world somehow is extended into the afterlife. If one lacks harmony with life, is there any chance of harmony after death? Ginsberg may feel he is ready for the dazzling void, but he doubts that most people are.

Personally, I found far fewer poems that I liked in the last years of Ginsberg’s writings. It seems that songs became much more important to Ginsberg, and though I don’t read enough music to know what they would sound like if played, I do know that the lyrics leave much to be desired in my mind.

However, I was quite fond of some additional stanzas that Ginsberg wrote for the very traditional song, “New Stanzas for Amazing Grace:”

New Stanzas for Amazing Grace

I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place
Where I was lost alone
Folk looked right through me into space
And passed with eyes of stone

O homeless hand on many a street
Accept this change from me
A friendly smile or word is sweet
As fearless charity

Woe workingman who hears the cry
And cannot spare a dime
Nor look into a homeless eye
Afraid to give the time

So rich or poor no gold to talk
A smile on your face
The homeless ones where you may walk
Receive amazing grace

I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place
Where I was lost alone
Folk looked right through me into space
And passed with eyes of stone

April 2, 1994

The alienation Ginsberg describes here is one that we can all identify with at some point in our life. Who hasn’t been “passed with eyes of stone,” unaware of you or the trials you are going through at that moment. Even a smile on someone else’s face, the mere recognition of you as a fellow human, may allow you to receive “amazing grace,” the amazing grace bestowed by human sympathy.

As you can probably tell if you stuck with this review this far, Ginsberg isn’t my favorite modern poet. There are some excellent poems in this volume, ones I don’t have the time to cover here, but you have to work really hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, and you end up with a lot more chaff than wheat. I suspect that you may well be better off to limiting your reading to anthologies where others have already done the thrashing for you.

However, if, like me, you’ve lived a relatively sheltered life and haven’t met many people like Allen Ginsberg, it is fascinating to explore his complex personality through his poems. It’s nearly impossible not to gain some insight and satisfaction simply from trying to figure out what drives him.

It’s also possible to gain some insights into what the Beats bring to modern poetry that made them so popular. Most obviously, they bring shock value. Ginsberg’s graphic description of homosexual lust was definitely a first for serious poets. Unfortunately, it’s a first I would have preferred to miss. I’ve reconciled myself to the idea that Whitman may well have been gay, but at least he had the good sense not to write about it. I have no desire to read about anyone’s sex life, much less that of a gay man’s sexual life with other men.

Ginsberg certainly pushed the envelope of “confessional” poetry much further than it has been pushed before. There are probably no longer any limits to what can be written about.

On a more positive note, Ginsberg brings a refreshing informality that is often missing in much of modern poetry. For the Beats, poetry seems to be introduced as a part of everyday life, not just reserved for special moments.

Because of their “immediacy,” Beats seldom seem to polish their poetry and retain poems that many poets would discard as rough drafts or failed attempts. This willingness to share poems that are less than perfect may well encourage others to attempt to write their own poetry.

And that’s certainly a good thing.