The Beat Goes On—Stratford Teaches Beat Poetry Writing Workshop
[Palm Beach, FL] On 7 March 2020, poet Meryl Stratford (AQ 12-13, AQ 15-20, AQ 22-27) led a poetry workshop, The Beat Goes On: The Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Diane Di Prima, for the Palm Beach Poetry Festival (PBPF).
Thirty years ago, Stratford studied with Ferlinghetti and Di Prima at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Her challenge was to compress that six-week experience into two hours of class time, starting a variety of projects that participants could follow up on later. These included:
Write a poem about love, an animal, or the sea— an assignment from Ferlinghetti
Write a poem about whatever is trying to get your attention—an assignment from Di Prima
Write a chant, a love letter, a myth, or a manifesto inspired by a selection of Beat poetry.
One experience from Ferlinghetti’s workshop, to the audible disappointment of some the participants, was impossible to recreate—drawing from a nude model. Instead, the participants were invited to write an ekphrastic poem—inspired by one of Picasso’s erotic drawings.
Ferlinghetti’s iconic poem, ‘I Am Waiting’, proved a good warm-up. Michael O’Mara wrote:
‘We’re waiting for your light,
a frosted refrigerator bulb, when we yank you open shouldn’t it come on?
We’re waiting for your syllables,
to spill like rune stones into Autumn color & change, Winter freeze dried remains
waiting for your Carvel birthday cake face
to soften as we risk another imaginary French kiss brain freeze,
waiting for your arms to Venus di Milo
the invisible quarry of our quantum embrace . . .’
According to Stratford, Ferlinghetti was familiar to most participants, but for some, Di Prima was an exciting discovery. One woman said: ‘I love this poet!’