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Lawrence Ferlinghetti "Constantly Risking Absurdity"

Updated on October 6, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti



Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born March 24, 1919, in Yonkers, New York. His name became associated with the Beat poets because he was the owner of the establishment called City Lights, the bookstore and publishing house that printed the first edition of Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems and the works of other poets who became the core of the Beat movement.

Ferlinghetti was put on trial for obscenity when Ginsberg's Howl was sold to undercover police at City Lights bookstore. The injustice of this situation was remedied by Ferlinghetti's being acquitted, but the guilty party ironically went on to perpetuate his obscenity into a thriving career as a poet.

"Constantly Risking Absurdity"

Ferlinghetti's work is quite distinct from the Beats. A perceptive critic has remarked, "I hope I won't seem 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. Burroughs ... it's nice to read a few poems by a guy who can get excited about a little penny candy store under the El or a pretty woman letting a stocking drop to the floor."

The philosophy of writing dramatized in Ferlinghetti's "Constantly Risking Absurdity" demonstrates this man's genuineness that is sorely lacking in a Ginsberg or most other Beats. This poem splashes across the page in a manner that imitates its subject.

The speaker is metaphorically comparing the antics of a tight-rope walker and a poet: the tight-rope walker risks "absurdity / and death / whenever he performs / above the heads / of his audience" and so does the poet, who "climbs on rime / to a high wire of his own making."

Approach to truth

The poem zigzags back and forth down the page mimicking the tight-rope walker who constantly shifts his feet and appears to rock back and forth, as he balances on the wire. The poet like the rope-walker "must perforce perceive / taut truth."

The poet is attempting to approach "toward that still higher perch / where Beauty stands and waits / with gravity." Of course, the tight-rope walker has to make his own approach to the truth of gravity as he attempts to reach the other side of the rope extension.

The poet is like a "little charleychaplin man / who may or may not catch / her fair eternal form / spreadeagled in the empty air / of existence." The "empty air of existence" could spell death to the rope-walker who loses his balance, as the poet could lose all credibility with his audience if he loses his sense of propriety with his listeners and readers.

Final Comment

Vis-a-vis the Beats and numerous postmodern poetasters, the ilk of Robert Bly, Marvin Bell, Barbara Guest, et al, the irony of this poem is thick. Such scoundrels do not even attempt to walk the rope but merely pretend the floor is suspended above the heads of their gullible audience.

Reading of Ferlinghettig's "Constantly Risking Absurdity"

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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