By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, renowned poet and godfather of Beat writers, has died. Ferlinghetti was also a publisher and the owner of the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Learning about poetry can improve our writing in any genre.
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers owner and prolific poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti has died, reaching the age of 101 before passing. Ferlinghetti mentored and published many Beat Generation poets, most famously including Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” which led to Ferlinghetti’s arrest and eventual acquittal.
Aside from being the center of this legendary First Amendment trial, he also wrote poetry that defied simple classification. His work at once lamented and embraced the changing world around him, resulting in sometimes bizarre and often beautiful and profound stanzas.
Studying poetry like Ferlinghetti’s can help improve our writing skills in any genre or format, whether poetry, prose, correspondence, or otherwise.
Poetry: Why Bother?
In her video series Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write about Anything, Dr. Dorsey Armstrong, Associate Professor of English and Medieval Literature at Purdue University, offered an explanation of poetry and why it should be studied. She cited scholar Terry Eagleton’s definition of literature as something that “transforms and intensifies ordinary language.”
“Eagleton’s definition of literature also helps to get us closer to a definition of what poetry is,” Dr. Armstrong said. “Poetry plays with words and images in unexpected ways, no matter what else it does.”
So why bother studying poetry, especially if we don’t plan on being poets? According to Dr. Armstrong, by studying particularly clever treatments of language, we can see how words on a page become more than just the sum of their parts. In her words, “The study of poetry can teach us how both following the rules and breaking them can produce really dramatic and engaging effects.”
“Engaging a poem can be a wonderful exercise in analysis—and we can get even more pleasure from doing this once we understand some of the basic conventions of this style of writing.”
Never Fully Dressed without a Simile
“Quite often, people get metaphor and simile confused, and that’s very understandable because they’re alike in many ways, but here’s a quick way, a quick definition, so you can distinguish between the two,” Dr. Armstrong said. “A simile makes a comparison between two things by using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’ A metaphor would be if you got rid of the ‘like’ or ‘as.'”
For example, Dr. Armstrong said, if a writer said, “Her eyes were like the ocean” or “Her eyes were as blue as the ocean,” those would be similes. If that same writer said, “Her eyes were the ocean,” it would be a metaphor.
“Metaphor and simile can be effective devices for engaging a reader’s attention—as can devices like ‘synecdoche,’ when you use a word describing a part to mean the whole,” Dr. Armstrong said. “For example, the classic line: ‘All hands on deck.’ A close relative of this device is ‘metonymy,’ when a word that describes something associated with an idea is used in place of the usual, logical, practical word.”
To explain metonymy, Dr. Armstrong gave the examples “The White House said today” and “Wall Street reacted strongly.” Obviously these locations themselves are not speaking; they stand in for things like the president and his advisors or key players in the stock market.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti used literary devices like these to add flair to his poetry for most of his life. Sadly, at the age of 101, one city light has gone out.