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‘Poetry god’ pontificates at Minnesota Poetry Festival

Nothing but lyric poetry tonight,” promised legendary Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti to a crowd of 500 Saturday night at Ted Mann Concert Hall during the first Minnesota Poetry Festival.

Not one to disappoint, the 84-year-old Ferlinghetti read from his poetry collection that spans nearly six decades. His dry wit and grave voice mesmerized the audience.

“Ferlinghetti is a poetry god,” said David Meyer, a College of Liberal Arts freshman. “For a man his age, he keeps his wit about him as well as possible. His poetry, meter and vocalization are phenomenal.”

Beth Gusenius, an ensemble coordinator in the University’s music department, was equally impressed.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s great to hear it out loud – it’s what poetry is meant for.”

Ferlinghetti has written 40 books of poems and prose since the 1950s and is also an established painter. He is best known as an influential Beat poet, although he insists he was the last of the bohemian movement.

Earlier Saturday, the festival put on a question-and-answer session with Ferlinghetti.

Nearly 150 people attended, and questions focused on the current state of U.S. politics and Ferlinghetti’s discontent with the government.

“I think right now, since 9/11, the whole nation is suffering from a self-induced paranoia, fostered by (President George W. Bush) and administration,” Ferlinghetti said.

He also talked about the unique culture in San Francisco during the late 1950s and said that the Beat poets there “were all New York carpetbaggers.”

Ferlinghetti hailed rap poetry, saying that it works to “bring rhyme back to the scene, back to the roots of poetry.”

Although readings from one of his famous books of poetry, “A Coney Island of the Mind,” have been put to jazz music, Ferlinghetti vocalized his distaste for the technique at the session.

“Poems weren’t written for jazz,” he said. “It disrupts the rhythm of the poem. It can’t help but clash with the musician.”

There was no musical accompaniment at the evening reading while Ferlinghetti spoke frankly about sex, politics and love.

Emily Schmidt, a graduate student at the University of St. Thomas, said she was “Speechless. To be in the presence of a living poet who is so well known feels like an honor.”

Providence College English professor Forrest Gander and Pura Lopez-Colome, both contemporary poets, also read at the festival, which took place Friday and Saturday.

This year’s poetry festival was the first and was sponsored by the University, which aims to make it an annual event.

A little shaky but showing his age only slightly, Ferlinghetti ended the show by saying, “It’s getting late, folks. I’m on Lutheran time – I’ve got to stop at the right time.”

Kari Petrie welcomes comments at [email protected]
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