The versatile American artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a literary legend. For his hundredth birthday last year, Faber & Faber published a beautiful hardback edition of his latest work, a memoir in verse titled Little Boy. The cover and the first few pages lured me in at the bookshop; I couldn’t wait to take it home.
Unfortunately, after the enticing lyrical beginning, the book descends into a mostly opaque and often unpalatable dissection of the writer’s life, his troubled home country, and human experience as a whole that would need months of research to be properly understood. An enterprise that is contrary to Ferlinghetti’s self-proclaimed desire for accessibility, and I suspect that the attempt would feel like a waste of time in the end. Which is a great pity, because there are passage in the book that testify to the possibilities of Ferlinghetti’s talent and vision: “And looking back over the lost terrain the great / misrememberer with myopic vision sees only himself / in the shorn landscape of half-overturned vehicles / of desire and misread signs at country crossroads / pointing different directions …”.
If only such lines could have been rescued from the rest of the book. It might be Ferlinghetti’s last, but Little Boy will not diminish his significant contribution to all the arts he made his own. Gems like these will continue to shine: “it is the time of final reckoning of the / never-ending end of night to get real after a / lifetime of illusion and evasion …”.
Faber & Faber, 2019
Review first published in the Cape Times on 24 January 2020.