Mon, Mar

California’s Ferlinghetti: America’s Conscience


GUEST WORDS--A belated 98th birthday to California’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti, indefatigable poet, bookseller, anti-Fascist, First Amendment activist, environmentalist, publisher, painter, creator of community, patron saint of the Beat artists, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, living monument to the arts, "old-ass anarchist" and dazzlingly prescient speaker of truth whose City Lights bookstore has served as a beacon of enlightenment, creativity and resistance since the 1950s.

Ferlinghetti inspired the 2009 documentary "A Rebirth of Wonder," he titled his 2013 collection of poems "Time of Useful Consciousness" for the vital moment a pilot is aware of coming disaster and can still act, and he is working on a stream-of-consciousness memoir he likes to call "Portrait of the Artist As An Old Red."

In a riff on Gahlil Kibran's "Pity the Nation," Ferlinghetti wrote his own searing version ten years ago; it could be today. Likewise prophetically, he began his 2007 prose book, "Poetry as Insurgent Art," with, "I am signaling you through the flames." They continue to rise. May he, too.

Pity the Nation

“Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.”

― Lawrence Ferlinghetti

(Abby Zimet has edited CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, thinning the carrots, hauling too much water, experiencing true if ragged community, and writing. This perspective was posted originally at Common Dreams.