Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A micro-interview with Narlan Matos

The Brazilian poet, translator and critic Narlan Matos is the author of Senhoras e Senhores: o amanhecer (Jorge Amado Award for Brazilian poetry) and No Acampamento das Sombras (XEROX Award for Brazilian poetry). He is currently working on a PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and on a Portuguese translation of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Poetry as an Insurgent Art.

In December 2008, after almost 4 years of correspondence, I finally met Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the legendary Café Trieste in San Francisco, close to City Lights Bookstore. After some wine, we talked about topics ranging from the Beat Generation to Latin America, and contemporary society and culture. What was supposed to be a short meeting led to a long afternoon. Here is a little of the conversation.

NM – You and Allen Ginsberg were in Latin America a long time ago. Were you in Peru? What was the goal of that trip?

LF - We attended an international literary conference in Concepcion, Chile, in 1959. We had been invited by the Chilean poet and novelist Fernando Allegria who was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. It was our first trip abroad as poets. After the conference we went to Santiago and then to Lima. After that, Allen Ginsberg went to Tierra del Fuego. My wife Kirby and I went to Laz Paz, Bolivia, and then to Cuzco and Machu Picchu., At Machu Picchu , I wrote “Hidden Door,” a long poem influenced by Pablo Neruda’s ”Las Alturas di Machu Picchu.”

NM - I first met you at the legendary Café Trieste in San Francisco some time ago. I’ve been quite impressed since then by your incredible strength. At the age of 90 years old you demonstrated the energy and the enthusiasm most 18 years old boys lack today... What’s the secret of that?

LF - Amore, pan e vino.

NM – What’s your message to the young generations of poets?

LF - Wake up, the world’s on fire!

NM – How do you see President Barak Obama’s administration so far?

LF - His administration is far from being a revolutionary regime. President Obama is a part of the black bourgeoisie. And he seems at present to be moving further to the right. The status quo has nothing to fear from him, unless he starts following writers like Eduardo Galeano, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn.

NM – You are a lifelomg pacifist. Do you think mankind will ever give peace a chance?

LF - It seems that man is too stupid and too greedy to save himself from ecological annihilation. In such catastrophe, whether there is “peace” or not won’t make any difference.

NM – Do you have any message for the Brazilian people?

LF - Save the Amazon and save the world!