Lawrence Ferlinghetti

’s Politics Essay, Research Paper

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


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 / as our Name Brand

society / is prey to / with its men of distinction / and its men of extinction /

and its priests / and other patrolmen / and it various segregations / and

congressional investigations / and other constipations / that our fool flesh /

is heir to.

Evidence of criticism of political officials clearly comes from the

phrases ?if you don’t much mind / a few dead minds / in the higher places.?

This is showing a lack of faith of the elected officials holding esteemed

offices. ?Or such other improprieties / as our Name Brand society / is prey to?

expresses Ferlinghetti’s disapproval of the lack of diversity in society. By

coining the public as a ?Name Brand society,? Ferlinghetti shows that the

mainstream will conform to the status quo. His use of capitalization in ?Name

Brand? emphasizes the generic quality bequeathed upon the public. Later

Ferlinghetti mentions that segregation is a problem. Ferlinghetti also mentions

that ?congressional investigations? plague the world. This is a reference to

the House Un-American Activities Committee, which persecuted artists and idols

in the film industry for their actions and words. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s ?The

World Is A Beautiful Place? provides a little more focus on specific issues

which are dishe artening to Ferlinghetti while maintaining a clear anti-

government theme.

Expanding upon his anti-government theme in ?Dog,? Ferlinghetti also

introduces a belief of non-alliance to a conformist government and political

parties (i.e. Democrat/Republican). Also present is the disapproval of the

House Un-American Activities Committee. Various lines of the poem ?Dog? can be

used to prove both of the aforementioned argument.

A real live / barking / democratic dog / engaged in real / free

enterprise / with something to say / about ontology / something to say / about


The dog represents Lawrence Ferlinghetti in society. The dog will not

conform to society’s political notions. The dog is not a Democrat or a

Republican; however, it is at least ?democratic? (Alspaugh 1150). There are

also several slurs directed to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

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 un-American Committee / He’s afraid of

Coit’s Tower / but he’s not afraid of Congressman Doyle / … / He will not be

muzzled / Congressman Doyle is just another / fire hydrant / to him.

The continual references to a ?Congressman Doyle? were referring to the

Congressman Doyle of the House Un-American Activities Committee (Alspaugh 1150).

The dog has respect for several things: the San Francisco Meat Market, Coit’s

Tower, and to an extent the police. Although the dog does not hate the police,

he will stand up to and condemn them should they be wrong. This is evident by

the statement ?He would rather eat a tender cow / than a tough policeman /

though either will do.? The dog does not exhibit any respect for Doyle as

evident by the lines ?Congressman Doyle is just another / fire hydrant / to him.?

Use of the term ?fire hydrant? expresses Ferlinghetti’s theoretical actions

towards Mr. Doyle. Government in general was a ?fire hydrant? to Ferlinghetti.

Ferlinghetti used his poetry to express his opinions, dissent and

dissatisfactions about the United States government. In poems like ?Underwear,?

Ferlinghetti warns the unenlightened to beware of a government which is not what

it seems. With moving verses such as those in ?The World Is A Beautiful Place,?

Lawrence Ferlinghetti named several specific downfalls in twentieth century

society and politics. These included the ignorance of the public with their

willingness to conform, segregation, and government restriction of freedoms. In

vicious attacks such as the ones present in ?Dog,? Ferlinghetti dealt scathing

words on specific ills which plague him and his fellow non-conformists.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti has moved the readers of his poetry and shown that the

idealistic view of America may not be as rose colored as it appears.

Ferlinghetti suggested that the citizens should examine individuals and

institutions rather than automatically granting trust because of their position.

?It should… be realized that a significant amount of his work is social poetry.

…Ferlinghetti sees himself as a prophet, he clearly has a sense of audience

that many other poets do not? (Hopkins 176). Lawrence Ferlinghetti has taken on

the responsibility of informing the public of a lurking evil entity, the

government. Ferlinghetti has shown his readers that ?The world is a beautiful

place… if you don’t mind a touch of hell now and then.?

Works Cited

Alspaugh, John. ?Lawrence Ferlinghetti.? Magill’s Critical Survey of

Poetry. Vol. 3. Ed. Frank H. Magill. Englewood Cliffs: Salem Press,

1992. 1145-1151.

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. Endless Life: Selected Poems. San Francisco:

New Directions, 1981.

Hopkins, Crale D. ?The Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Reconsideration.?

Italian Americana, 1974, 59-76. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism.

Vol. 10. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1979. 174-


?Literary Kicks: ?Lawrence Ferlinghetti.? (Internet Search).

Nasso, Christine. ed. ?Lawrence Ferlinghetti.? Contemporary Authors:

New Revision Series. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1981.

Oppenheimer, Joel. ?Weathered Well.? The New York Times Book Review,

1981, 40-41. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 27. Ed.

Jean C. Stein. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1984. 136-139.

Trosky, Susan M. ed. ?Lawrence Ferlinghetti.? Contemporary Authors: New

Revision Series. Vol. 41. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1994.


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