Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg

Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg

A tribute to late Beat generation poet & publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti

PLUS fresh tracks by Deniz Cuylan, Bendik Giske, Fly Pan Am and Claire Rousay.

Deniz Cuylan, “Flaneurs in Hakone,” No Such Thing As Free Will (Hush Hush Records)

“Flaneurs in Hakone” by Deniz Cuylan

It’s funny how things change. Especially the little things: we tend not to notice that something is different until well after its difference has been established — otherwise known in today’s parlance as “the new normal”. I’ll give you a linguistic example.

When I was growing up, people commonly marked the end of a conversation with the phrase “have a nice day.” I was born at the tail-end of the 1970s. Accompanied by a garish yellow happy face, “have a nice day” was literally a t-shirt slogan for my entire generation. Sometimes people might say “have a good day”, or “have a nice one” instead, but have a nice day was the gold standard of suggesting to someone what sort of day to have after you parted ways, amicably or otherwise. 

But recently, I’ve begun to notice that people are more frequently saying “have a great day” — as if good isn’t quite good enough anymore. Great is the new good. It’s insufficient to wish someone a simple good day when there are great days to be had. I see this as part of a broader campaign to paste phony smiley faces upon the masses amidst the craziest 12 months in more than 100 years. I’d be happy with a basic fine day; okay with a decent day; and overjoyed with a regular good day. Before we try to make days great again, let’s just make them good.

Claire Rousay, “Discrete (The Market),” A Softer Focus (American Dreams Records)

“Discrete (The Market)” by Claire Rousay

They say the best revenge is living well. In an act of irrational and ungrateful collective revenge, living well in the west has nearly killed the entire world. In the not-too-distant future, living well might mean living without any remembrance of luxury or desire for anything more or different.

Fly Pan Am, “Scanner,” Frontera (Constellation Records)

“Scanner” by Fly Pan Am

A lot has changed since Fly Pan Am performed their accompanying score to the Animals of Distinction dance troupe’s choreography at Théâtre Maisonneuve in December 2019 (the last time, coincidentally, that I saw a rock band play live). One year ago, the coronavirus crisis paralyzed the entire world, closing international borders in a blitzkrieg security operation not seen since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S. Cultural events and performances of all kinds ceased immediately and are yet to resume in any semblance of before-times normalcy. The globe has been carved up into smaller and smaller zones, neighbourhoods, households from which it is more or less impossible to escape. And yet, the message of this album, indeed this entire piece, is as urgent as ever: if viruses don’t respect borders, why should we? If, as the politicians, health officers and epidemiology experts reiterate ad nauseum, we are all in this together, we might as well start acting like it.

Bendik Giske, “Fantas for Saxophone and Voice,” Fantas Variations (Editions Mego)

“Fantas for Saxophone and Voice” by Bendik Giske

The American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away last month, but not before living 101 thoughtful, creative, defiant and trailblazing years in arguably the best 101 years in human history. Ferlinghetti was primarily a poet, but also did double duty as the publisher of the ground-breaking San Francisco-based City Lights Press. 

City Lights published Allen Ginsberg’s infamous Howl and Other Poems in the fall of 1956. In March of 1957, however, 520 copies of the book were seized en route to Britain by U.S. customs agents who deemed it obscene, and Ferlinghetti was subsequently arrested for publishing the book. No less than nine literary experts testified at the ensuing trial to the poem’s “redeeming social importance.” California State Superior Court Justice Clayton Horn was sufficiently convinced and ruled in Ferlinghetti’s favour. 

The rest is history. Ginsberg went on to be one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and City Lights continued to publish challenging works from the Beat generation and beyond, carrying on its tradition today as one of America’s literary cornerstones.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by sadness, LARPing hysterical rated,

dragging themselves through the gay village at dawn dreaming an angry Facebook post,

No-brained influencers burning for the ancient wi-fi connection

To the starry cloud streaming in the electronic circuitry of night…

The thing is, we won’t know if there will ever be another Ferlinghetti, or Ginsberg, or San Francisco Renaissance somewhere else, just as the Beats had only a vague inkling if anything at all that the Six Gallery reading would be enshrined forevermore in America’s literary lore. It isn’t enough anymore to craft beautiful sentences and read them aloud to rapt audiences. Verse these days needs to be search engine optimized. 

Ferlinghetti was likely the least well-known of the cohort he established — well after Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski. But there wouldn’t have been a Beat generation were it not for Ferlinghetti. And so, the beat goes on in his absence, as I imagine would have been his parting wish. Swing low, sweet streetcar, for another passenger on these winding and steep streets needs one last lift up the hill.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (24 March, 1919 — 22 February, 2021)


Our father whose art’s in heaven

Hollow be thy name

Unless things change

Thy kingdom 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 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

Ah, Man!

— in Blasts Cries Laughter (1988)

This feature was originally published in the March issue of Cult MTL. To see previous editions of Play Recent, please click here.