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‘Where the great new vision,
The great world-view,
The high prophetic song
Of the immense earth
And all that sings in it
And our relation to it-
Poets, descend to the street of the world once more’
(from ‘Populist Manifesto #1’, 1976)
Speaks the voice on my left shoulder whose lucid lingo of drawing divinity from something within, something all has in their depths – an everything and anything called poetry.
When I started reading works of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, like many as a irrelevant feeling undergraduate, it held me close. I felt the tight manifestos of repetition, the scull/skull wordplay, the references without references and the open gaps of a form that had no sense but that of the author. The freewheeling Americana writing against culture and with culture. The shy bookstore publisher in his adopted San Francisco for decades has been a discovered voice for the irrelevant that haunt the university and libraries in the hollowed English-speaking modernity that he laments.
There was something about the exploding of perception, of authority – a focus on a liberation and revolution of the self to rise as divine. Individual but not materialistic, uprooted without erasing the memory of those seeds that were planted. Collective in a spirit. Writing against this claim of a rational superiority, Ferlinghetti elasticated ‘truth’. From his own biographical details to his dog being named as ‘publicity and public relations officer’ at City Light Books, the bookshop and publishing house that is his brick-and-mortar legacy. In his ‘Populist Manifesto #1’ – he takes a right hook to the ostentatious elitism of arty cultures, calling for the poets to emerge from the corners and creeks of cities and towns. To emerge from our inner selves as prophets in communities that have lost their sight in material formalities of a 9 to 5 dream.
I thank Ferlinghetti for this sense of liberation in malaise that I took from him, that he inspired in me – that bucking of structure for an infinite ideal to be somewhat a whole self, an inner reach poet of the populist manifesto. Ferlinghetti, in his own discomfort is most tied to those beats, but as a poet his play between frontier expansion and English language tradition is very much that of Whiteman, of Yeats. Whilst this liberation voice of an internal eternal revolution is what he is being eulogized for, for me, his words have also always sat on my left shoulder, the shoulder of sin.
The Ferlinghetti on my left shoulder will always be there, his work and words is a constant return for when I need my thoughts re-jigged and re-orientated. But finding the prophet of modernity in your inner self has been at constant odds with my lineage and love for Islam, the true right path – which is, I am told clear and pure. No room for inner prophets and maybe even inner poets. I curse Ferlinghetti for bringing an inspiration to bending this path, flexing it like everything else of ‘truth’ in the world. For giving that English language intoxication inner revolution. I think I curse him – but he does not leave that shoulder, nor do I stop finding a comfort in his literary life. If he is the poet on my left side, maybe his fellow 20th century poet on my right side is our great Muhammad Iqbal – showing the might of that straight path, that it will not flex to this notion of modernity, but modernity will flex to the forever rise of an inner and outer Islam.
With Lawrence Ferlinghetti leaving this world (إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ)* – I thank him dearly, albeit on my left shoulder. I think he would prefer to be there to be honest.
*Verily we belong to Allah, and verily to Allah do we return.