Writer’s tightrope act

Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15) by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I was exposed to this poem in my last year of high school by my inspirational bare-footed English teacher. At first I looked at the free form poem with disdain. Poetry is nice to describe nature. And love. But I never took poetry seriously as an art form outside those two spheres. It could never describe or explain anything else without sounding overwrought (or so I thought).

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, credited as one of the architects of Beat poetry, wrote this poem in ‘classic’ beat style – no noticeable form, rhythmic structure or decorative words.  Its straightforward meaning is conveyed through typographic gymnastics on the page. As with all good poetry, the scaffolding of the poem is pivotal to the meaning it contains.

Ferlinghetti owned the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco which helped catapult many Beat Generation writers into the literature world.

Ferlinghetti owned the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco which catapulted many Beat Generation writers into the literature world.

Ferlinghetti presents insight into the performance of the poet. The poet is likened to an acrobat, teetering on a tight-rope of her own making, juggling perspectives, trying to entertain an audience whilst still trying to hold onto Beauty and Truth. She constantly risks absurdity in trying to convince others of her vocation. The job is a dangerous and public one.  Ferlinghetti speaks about the conflicted position of the poet, but I believe his words resonate with all creators of written word.

When I was still young enough to believe in mystique of the circus, Brian Boswell’s performing troupe pulled up to an empty lot in the small farming town I grew up in. It was widely advertised in my primary school and I nagged my parents until they relented.

My childhood ideas of circus acrobats was a little bit like this image.

My childhood ideas of circus acrobats was a little bit like this image.

The acrobats were my favourite – I was going for gymnastics lessons at the time (and had been for around 3 years) and my mom encouraged me to pursue gymnastics so I could become like one of the wildly swinging women I saw at the circus.

In a way I have.

If you would like to find out which Beat Generation poet you would have been, take this hilarious quiz.

Unearthed truths

Words cut, heal, maim, transform, confuse, enlighten and excite me. The words with the most impetus are those ones, beautifully put together to reveal a forgotten or un-articulated reality.

Writers and readers seek one thing – truth. This commonalty is something I hinted at in my Why I write post. Readers and writers share many other similarities but this is the binding glue making these two roles inseparable. Readers can be writers BUT writers must be readers. The search for a particular truth, honesty and rawness is something I do in my writing and the novels I consider more as friends than lifeless pages of tree pulp are those which have highlighted a truth specific to me.

Toni Morrison encapsulates my view about the relationship between reading and writing perfectly.

Toni Morrison encapsulates my view about the relationship between reading and writing perfectly.

A Literature Comparison
I outright ugly-cried when reading Nervous Conditions in Grade Eleven. I’ve only cried a handful of times in high school. Never over boys, never over exam marks, never over anything really. This book went through the layers of flesh and blood and bone to some part of me that related so strongly and deeply to Tsitsi Dangarembga’s fictionalised Rhodesia.
The same experience was replicated a few years later when I read The Story of an African Farm. I wanted to hide from myself when I read it. I didn’t like looking at mirrors. The novel followed me around, either in my mind or physically and I hated and loved its lingering presence. I couldn’t pin-point why these novels touched me so.
On the surface these two novels mix like oil and water. Olive Schreiner, although liberal and progressive, wrote from a post-Victorian, colonial perspective. Tsitsi Dangarembga wrote from the perspective of a female Zimbabwean intellectual.

Pastiche of home truths
Besides being from completely different eras, they differed entirely from me, too. What would a young Indian girl find insightful from dusty texts written by people entirely unlike herself?

Like Lyndall, I believe in independence. Like Nyasha, I break with cultural norms. Like Waldo, I blindly stumble along my life path. Like all of these characters, I question until I find my truth.

I was and still am a voracious reader of things because I like the duality of knowing something about the creator of the words, as well as the message the words themselves are trying to convey. The authenticity of emotions from the characters can, I believe, only come from a point of reality. These novels speak to each other and to me because what they say is rooted in the tangible reality of the human spectrum of emotions.

C.S Lewis knows what I'm talking about.

C.S Lewis knows what I’m talking about.

I have attached pdf versions of Nervous Conditions and The Story of an African Farm for your reading pleasure 🙂