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Remembering Lawrence Ferlinghetti Through His Poetry

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti died this week. He was 101 and one of the founders of the Beats, those poets who put the beat of streets, the wings of birds and the pulse of jazz into poetry. When Ferlinghetti was 80 years old, he wrote a long string of verses called "What Is Poetry?" so he would never have to address the question again. Here are some of his answers.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEO ALEXANDER SONG, "RE; WAITING")

SIMON: (Reading) Poetry is news from the frontiers of consciousness. Poetry is what we would cry out upon awakening in a dark wood in the middle of the journey of our life. Poetry is white knights and mouths of desire. Poetry is the street talk of angels and devils.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEO ALEXANDER SONG, "RE; WAITING")

SIMON: (Reading) Poetry is the anarchy of the senses making sense. Poetry is all things born with wings that sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEO ALEXANDER SONG, "RE; WAITING")

SIMON: (Reading) A poem should rise to ecstasy somewhere between speech and song. Poetry is a voice of dissent against the waste of words and the mad plethora of print. Poetry is what exists between the lines. Poetry is made with the syllables of dreams. Poetry is far, far cries upon a beach at nightfall. Poetry is a lighthouse moving its megaphone over the sea. Poetry is a picture of mom in her Woolworth bra looking out a window into a secret garden. A poem can be made of common household ingredients. It fits on a single page, yet it can fill a world and fits in the pocket of a heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEO ALEXANDER SONG, "RE; WAITING")

SIMON: (Reading) A poet is a street singer who rescues the alley cats of love. Poetry is the real canary in a coal mine, and we know why the caged bird sings. Poetry is the shadow cast by our streetlight imaginations. The poet should be a dark barker before the tents of existence. Poetry is the real subject of great prose. Like a bowl of roses, a poem should not have to be explained. Poetry should still be an insurgent knock on the door of the unknown.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEO ALEXANDER SONG, "RE; WAITING")

SIMON: The words of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEO ALEXANDER SONG, "RE; WAITING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.