Lead us not into temptation too often on weekdays

The one who constantly risks absurdities and wins

The one who constantly risks absurdities and wins

Today is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 90th birthday. That feat, in and of itself, deserves some recognition. But for Lawrence Ferlinghetti to have reached his 90th birthday is especially awe-inspiring to me. First of all, Ferlinghetti’s contributions to the outspoken creative culture of San Francisco can’t be underestimated. While Ferlinghetti himself never self-identified as a Beat poet, his friendships and working collaborations with several artists of that movement helped to cement his adopted city as a haven for non-conventional ideas. He co-founded City Lights Bookstore, still firmly housed in the North Beach area of the city, as well as City Lights Publishing, which has published writers such as Gregory Corso, Diane diPrima, and a little-known poem called “Howl” by some madman named Allen Ginsberg.

Then there is the matter of Ferlinghetti’s poems themselves. I find it nearly impossible to describe why some people’s writing has such an intense effect on my own style and standards of preserving words for posterity. You would think the explanation is just like when I prattle on about why I think a certain song is awesome or a band sounds really good. But it’s different. You can hear, at least after a couple listens, what a song is doing and why it would stand out in one way or another. But writing takes longer to sink in, and even after it has, it’s harder to articulate why one bit of poetry tastes alarmingly like treacle and another should be called art. You can merely know you’re in love with someone’s writing just as surely as you know when you’ve had one too many whiskey and ginger ales. When I read Ferlinghetti’s “Constantly Risking Absurdity” in an anthology when I was 13 or 14, something about the following lines filled me with certainty that I had to keep writing:

For he’s the super realist
who must perforce perceive
taut truth
before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
with gravity

Come to think of it, every time I find myself drunk on self-pity for claiming that I want to be a writer without actually, you know, writing, I should keep a copy of this poem around as a mental (possibly even physical) smack in the face. There’s little unnecessary adornment in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry. Even in his most descriptive language, there’s a level of concrete realism that makes his work feel universal and comfortable to digest. This is probably what Ferlinghetti intended with his efforts to make the study and practice of poetry less of an academic exercise enjoyed by a stuffy elite and more of a populist activity. And how more “of the people” can poetry be when combined with rock music? In the seminal concert film, The Last Waltz, somewhere in between each set by one legendary performer after another, The Band invited Ferlinghetti to read a playful adaptation of the Lord’s Prayer to the crowd. His affable take on the traditional blessing exhibits Ferlinghetti’s gift for making something accessible out of a work that tries to invoke the incomprehensible. If he could do this for another near-decade more, I’ll stay motivated to write for just as long. But I suppose I owe it to one of my favorite authors (not to mention myself) to keep at it anyway. The words below come courtesy of Jeff with the Syntax of Things blog.

Loud Prayer

Our father whose art’s in heaven
hollow be thy name
unless things change
Thy wigdom come and gone
thy will will be undone
on earth as it isn’t heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
at least three times a day
and forgive us our trespasses
as we would forgive those lovelies
whom we wish would trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
too often on weekdays
but deliver us from evil
whose presence remains unexplained
in thy kingdom of power and glory
oh man

Loud Prayer


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