Doing Poetic Battle with the United States of Amnesia

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Time of Useful Consciousness*
(Americus, Book II)
New Directions, 2012

This is Larry’s next installment of  pastiche… of his own work, as he continues the Americus odyssey through U.S. history. I  wonder what LF  makes of Oliver Stone’s interpretation of U.S. history. 

Herein, he includes fragments of previous poems, several  of which I recognized from the 1970s & 80s, like “Jack of Hearts” & “Tall Tale of the Tall Cowboy”[from Harper’s magazine] & “Home Home Home.”  His street scenes in San Francisco remind me of how I arrange similar Palestine moments but in an easier format to follow, namely, chapter (or unit) titles with numbers to remind the reader of themes and recurrences (as I learned chez Galeano).

LF once made a reference to Ginsberg’s “pack rat mind” and here he is showcasing his own graph of American consciousness, swirling with Gatsby, Vegas, Elvis, and scores more.

Here are a few passages that naturally caught my attention…

Even as Babette Deutsch tells her class at Columbia
“How can we write the great Russian novel
While life goes on so unterribly?”  11

With other immigrants creating caustic critiques
Of the American Way of Life
Like Noam Chomsky
With a father from the Ukraine
And a mother from Belarus
Or Howard Zinn rewriting history and herstory
With a father from Austria-Hungary
And a mother from Siberia 12

The river exists for coal
The river made of coal…
Carrying dirty coal
From the great coal basket of America  35

The river towns all dying
All the way down
(Home-towns boarded up
All over America
Stamped out by shopping malls
On nearby Interstates)  36

The Vietnam colonel holds his pistol
To the peasant’s head
It explodes in full color

And Bob Dylan singing “Masters of War” on KPFA 66

The aristocracy of corporations
Versus the People  83

[He ends it with an address to Whitman:]
You who contained multitudes
You who heard America singing
You who sounded your barbaric yawp
Over the roofs of the world…
Whereaway now, dear poet, dear lover, eternal yea-sayer?


*“Time of Useful Consciousness” = an aeronautical term denoting the time between when one loses oxygen and when one passes out, the brief time in which some lifesaving action is possible. [p. 89]

—Monday 24 December 2012

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