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 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.
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.