Constantly risking absurdity a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (b. 1919) Critiqued by: Sarah Maguire
What is a poem? ―It is not meters, but a meter-making argument, that makes a poem—a thought so passionate and alive that, like the spirit of a plant or animal, it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing‖ - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thus, the greatness of Ferlinghetti’s―Constantly risking absurdity‖ will beevaluated on the following criteria: Not its meter, but its ―meter making argument‖ Its passion and liveliness The originality of its architecture If it ―adorns nature with a new thing‖
Constantly risking absurdity Constantly risking absurdity and death whenever he performs above the heads of his audience the poet like an acrobat climbs on rime to a high wire of his own making and balancing on eyebeams above a sea of faces paces his way to the other side of the day performing entrachats and sleight-of-foot tricks and other high theatrics and all without mistaking any thing for what it may not be
Originality Unconventional meter Unconventional structure No rhyme Yet, appropriate for the poem’s message
Acrobat imagery Subject of poem ―performs/above the heads/of his audience‖ (3-5) How appropriate that poem is structured:whenever he performs above the heads of his audience The word ―he‖ is literally above the word ―heads,‖ which is literally above ―audience‖ – as a real acrobat would literally perform above the heads of his audience the poet risk writing ―above the heads/of his audience‖ – they might not understand his message(4-5).
The unique indentation and choppy spacing on the poem contributes to Ferlinghetti’s attempt to convey that, like an acrobat, the poet is, ―balancing on eyebeams/above a sea of faces‖ (9-10). As an audience follows the ―entrechats/and sleight-of-foot tricks/and other high theatrics‖ of an acrobat, the poem’s reader’s eyes follow its staggered phrases unconventionally spaced across the page and his written ―sleight-of-foot tricks‖ (14-16).
The structure of the poem mimics the climbing action of an acrobat in the way the phrase is broken up into lines and spaced strategically:the poet like an acrobat climbs on rime to a high wire of his own making
The structure also mimics his taking of steps:before the taking of each stance or step in his supposed advance toward that still higher perch The way in which the poet uses emjambment, cutting lines off mid-phrase, reflects his climbing ―toward that still higher perch,‖ as ideas are cut off into sections and the structure resembles an various levels, like perches (24).
A transition occurs midway through the poem on line 19: For he’s the super realist as ―For‖ is the first word to be capitalized since the first word of the poem, signaling a transition or development to a new idea (19).
It is noted that he ―must perforce perceive/taut truth‖ to advance, ―toward that still higher perch/where Beauty stands and waits‖ (20-1, 24-5). However, though Beauty will ―start her death-defying leap,‖ he ―may or may not catch/her fair eternal form/spreadeagled in the empty air/of existence‖ (27, 30-3). o He is trying to attain beauty o He may or may not attain or ―catch‖ her
Yes, ―Constantly risking absurdity‖ isa great poem No conventional structure or meter, but present structure and meter best emphasize poem’s point Passion and liveliness in the thrill of risky theatrics and death-defying stunts Ideas and ―architecture‖ of poem are truly different, original, and suiting to its idea Throws out new idea:
To think about… Taking the ―next step‖ can be risky, but such risks are often necessary to get to ―that still higher perch‖ One ―may or may not catch‖ the ―fair eternal form‖ of who or what one seeks – so to risk so much for the change of failure can seem absurd But, one can choose an existence of always trying to reach that perch, and thus ―Constantly risking absurdity‖ in the process