Cover image for How to paint sunlight : lyric poems & others (1997-2000)
How to paint sunlight : lyric poems & others (1997-2000)
Ferlinghetti, Lawrence.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New Directions, [2001]

Physical Description:
ix, 94 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3511.E557 H6 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A new collection of poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a poet who writes to illuminate the everyday and the unusual, making him "one of our ageless radicals and true bards".--"Booklist".

Author Notes

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was born Lawrence Monsanto Ferling in Yonkers, New York on March 24, 1919. He received a B. A. from the University of North Carolina, a M. A. from Columbia University, and a Ph.D from the Sorbonne. During World War II, he served in the U. S. Naval Reserve and was sent to Nagasaki shortly after it was bombed.

In 1953, he and Peter Martin began to publish City Lights magazine. They also opened the City Lights Books Shop in San Francisco to help support the magazine. In 1955, they launched City Light Publishing, which became known as the heart of the "Beat" movement. Ferlinghetti is the author of more than thirty books of poetry including Time of Useful Consciousness, Poetry as Insurgent Art, How to Paint Sunlight, A Far Rockaway of the Heart, Over All the Obscene Boundaries: European Poems and Transitions, Who Are We Now?, The Secret Meaning of Things, and A Coney Island of the Mind. He is also the author of more than eight plays and of the novels Love in the Days of Rage and Her. He has translated the work of a number of poets including Nicanor Parra, Jacques Prevert, and Pier Paolo Pasolini.

He received the lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critics Circle in 2000, the Frost Medal in 2003, and the Literarian Award in 2005, presented for "outstanding service to the American literary community." He was named the first poet laureate of San Francisco in 1998. He writes a weekly column for the San Francisco Chronicle.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

"All I ever wanted was to paint light on the walls of life," Ferlinghetti writes in a foreword "these poems are another attempt to do it." A late-career miscellany divided into four sections, this eighth collection draws some of life's great polarities light and dark, tragedy and comedy, ecstasy and despair into the quotidian whorl of this beloved West Coast-transplant poet. In the eponymous first section, Ferlinghetti combines a familiar blend of direct talk and belief in poetic enlightenment to give voice to the "Big Sur Light" ("The moon/ After much reflection says/ Sun is God") and "White Dreams," and to give "Instructions to Painters and Poets": "stand back astonished." The "New York, New York" section features a "Manhattan Mama" and "Overheard Conversations," and makes stops in Europe and China before heading "Into the Interior," the last and best section. There, a series of three poems dealing with Allen Ginsberg's death takes us from the deflectively wry news of his imminent departure ("Death the dark lover/ is going down on him") to a bedside visitation by the poet's released spirit and beyond: "Allen died 49 nights ago, and in Bixby Canyon now the white misshapen moon sailed listing through the sky...." The intentionally over-simple rhymes ("What is light What is air What is life so passing fair?"), puns (as when he addresses his work to "the good burghers eating burgers") and long-winded poetic preaching of the earlier sections may not quite come off, but loss of youth and life and their attendant nostalgias come through, "made of love and light and dung/ some great immortal song." (Apr.) Forecast: Fans of A Coney Island of the Mind and A Far Rockaway of the Heart will find this book repetitive and diffuse, but Ferlinghetti has earned it. And since he does not overpublish, fans old and new will pick it up if it is placed in a demographically strategic spot. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One     Instructions to Painters & Poets I asked a hundred painters and a hundred poets how to paint sunlight on the face of life Their answers were ambiguous and ingenuous as if they were all guarding trade secrets Whereas it seems to me all you have to do is conceive of the whole world and all humanity as a kind of art work a site-specific art work an art project of the god of light the whole earth and all that's in it to be painted with light And the first thing you have to do is paint out postmodern painting And the next thing is to paint yourself in your true colors in primary colors as you see them (without whitewash) paint yourself as you see yourself without make-up without masks Then paint your favorite people and animals with your brush loaded with light And be sure you get the perspective right and don't fake it because one false line leads to another And then paint the high hills when the sun first strikes them on an autumn morning With your palette knife lay it on the cadmium yellow leaves the ochre leaves the vermillion leaves of a New England autumn And paint the ghost light of summer nights and the light of the midnight sun which is moon light And don't paint out the shadows made by light for without chiaroscuro you'll have shallow pictures So paint all the dark corners too everywhere in the world all the hidden places and minds and hearts which light never reaches all the caves of ignorance and fear the pits of despair the sloughs of despond and write plain upon them "Abandon all despair, ye who enter here" And don't forget to paint all those who lived their lives as bearers of light Paint their eyes and the eyes of every animal and the eyes of beautiful women known best for the perfection of their breasts and the eyes of men and women known only for the light of their minds Paint the light of their eyes the light of sunlit laughter the song of eyes the song of birds in flight And remember that the light is within if it is anywhere and you must paint from the inside Start with purity with pure white the pure white of gesso the pure white of cadmium white the pure white of flake white the pure virgin canvas the pure life we all begin with Turner painted sunlight with egg tempera (which proved unstable) and Van Gogh did it with madness and the blood of his ear (also unstable) and the Impressionists did it by never using black and the Abstract Expressionists did it with white house paint But you can do it with the pure pigment (if you can figure out the formula) of your own true light But before you strike the first blow on the virgin canvas remember its fragility life's extreme fragility and remember its innocence its original innocence before you strike the first blow Or perhaps never strike it And let the light come through the inner light of the canvas the inner light of the models posed in the life study the inner light of everyone Let it all come through like a pentimento the light that's been painted over the life that's been painted over so many times Let it all surge to the surface the painted-over image of primal life on earth And when you've finished your painting stand back astonished stand back and observe the life on earth that you've created the lighted life on earth that you've created a new brave world     The Chancing Light The changing light at San Francisco               is none of your East Coast light                         none of your                                     pearly light of Paris The light of San Francisco                            is a sea light                                         an island light And the light of fog                      blanketing the hills              drifting in at night                         through the Golden Gate                                    to lie on the city at dawn And then the halcyon late mornings           after the fog burns off               and the sun paints white houses                                 with the sea light of Greece                  with sharp clean shadows                      making the town look like                            it had just been painted But the wind comes up at four o'clock                                       sweeping the hills And then the veil of light of early evening And then another scrim                  when the new night fog                                        floats in And in that vale of light                          the city drifts                                         anchorless upon the ocean     Yachts in Sun The yachts the white yachts     with their white sails in sunlight                     catching the wind and                                          heeling over All together racing now                         for the white buoy              to tack about                     to come about beyond it And then come running in          before the spanking wind                white spinnakers billowing                     off Fort Mason San Francisco Where once drowned down            an Alcatraz con escaping               whose bones today are sand                                     fifty fathoms down                    still imprisoned now                                    in the glass of the sea As the so skillful yachts                           freely pass over     White Dreams A dream of white a dream of light                          a white-out of darkness a dream of a white stallion                           in a dark landscape        of a naked woman                        riding it    a dream of a girl-woman              in a long white dress                      and a picture hat                         crossing Gatsby's lawn and a dream       of a white horse           running in an open field                     her white mane streaming                        across the autumn landscape           that some painter has painted                                with cadmium ochre light and a dream of bales of hay in a barn                       they too painted light ochre                            where a white mare feeds                               on ochre grain and a dream of early morning again            when the white light reminds us                                we are all immortal     all of us creatures in a field                        while eternal time trembles                                in first light But what of Van Gogh's sun               as it howling turns round                                  in the twisted firmament And what of that terrible sun                  and its terrible light                                  shining through Dante's night And what is that light that never was                                       on land and sea? What is light What is air What is life so passing fair? Let some angel answer                       in a skidrow bar room     Big Sur Light 1. What is that sound that fills the air distantly-- Is that a singing still a far singing under the hill a descant a threnody arising echoing away-- the happiness of animals on earth forefeet pawing or prancing or lying still in thickets And couples dancing to flute and small drum the happiness of animals on earth-- or their unhappiness-- their loneliness perhaps (for are the cries of birds cries of ecstasy or cries of despair?) Ah but the earth is still so passing fair in the heart of all our days 2. The trees in their eternal silence     follow the dawn                    out of the night And all is not lost     when a tree can still                 in first light         spread its autumn branches              and let go its ochre leaves                                  in pure delight 3. How lovely the earth and all the creatures in it Shining in eternity in dearth and death of night as the sun        the sun           shakes out its shining hair                                 of streaming light 4. The birds slept in this morning Not a word out of them until sun up Usually they're out there just before light tuning up chirring away to themselves about the nature of light for which they're always yearning or about the earth and why it never stops turning-- Big questions for birds to settle and tell us in single syllables before breakfast 5. Thrushes in the underbrush Shy birds never let themselves be seen Modesty in their little birdcalls And always the same notes (and the same message?) over and over: Hello again! hello again! hello? 6. Clouds sailing over-- Ah there's Magritte's lips faded out in the rosy dawn! No time to kiss as the wind blows them away And the earth turns away and turns away 7. The moon stayed full last month-- Every night looking in my window the moon was still full And the night itself seemed endless but went on like the moon sailing through its dark seas a lighted ship at sea Once in a while a plane winged by soundless flashing its human signal in the night of the sky And the moon sailed on listing a bit to starboard looking almost as if it might capsize overloaded as it always was with the reflected imagined love of the world And then at the final end of night the sea turned white as the too-full moon still beat seaward through its white night too loaded to land anywhere with its precious perishable cargo 8. The moon after much reflection says Sun is God * The sky full of leaves & pollen in the high wind sows trees! * The tree believes its panoply of leaves will save it from acid rain (Think again) * Will the rains ever end? Basho claps together His muddy clogs * Will the world ever end? Dawn and the sun runs its fingers over the land * Phallus in vulva And a divine spasm Shakes the universe

Table of Contents

A Wordp. ix
How to Paint Sunlightp. 1
Instructions to Painters and Poetsp. 3
The Changing Lightp. 8
Yachts in Sunp. 9
White Dreamsp. 10
Big Sur Lightp. 12
Dictionaries of Lightp. 18
Surreal Migrationsp. 19
New York, New Yorkp. 31
The Light of Birdsp. 33
Journal Notes Turning into a Poemp. 34
Manhattan Mamap. 38
Library Scene, Manhattanp. 40
Natural Historyp. 42
Spring about to Happenp. 44
Dirty Tonguep. 45
Blood of the Big Ladyp. 47
The Scream Heard around the Worldp. 48
First, the Newsp. 50
Are There Not Still Firefliesp. 54
Into the Interiorp. 57
Don't Cry for Me Indianap. 59
Between Two Citiesp. 62
The Freightsp. 63
Appearances of the Angel in Ohiop. 66
Overheard Conversationsp. 70
Mooredp. 71
Drinking French Wine in Middle Americap. 72
Apollinaire in Americap. 74
Into the Interiorp. 75
Allen Ginsberg Dyingp. 76
Allen This Instantp. 79
Allen Stillp. 81
Blind Poetp. 82
Mouthp. 85
A Tourist of Revolutionsp. 88
And Lop. 90
Index of titles and first linesp. 93