Mar. 24, 2004

Yachts in the Sun

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poems: "Yachts in Sun," by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from San Francisco Poems (City Lights Foundation).

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

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in Memphis in 1958, Elvis Presley arrived with his parents at the draft board on South Main Street to be inducted into the army. He became U.S. Army Private 53310761, and his income dropped from 400,000 dollars a year to 78 dollars a month.

On this day in 1955, Tennessee Williams's play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened at the Morosco Theater in New York.

It's the birthday of Dario Fo, born in San Giano, Lombardy, Italy (1926). He writes satires about people lost in the gears of bureaucracy. In Archangels Don't Play Pinball (1959), a man discovers that his identity papers show he is registered as a hunting dog. He can only unravel the confusion by entering a kennel and trying to behave as much like a dog as he can. Fo won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997, and the Roman Catholic Church said it couldn't understand how the Committee could have given the award to someone who had written such "questionable works."

It's the birthday of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born in Yonkers, New York (1919). He wrote A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), the best-selling book of poetry in the country during the sixties and seventies. He also started one of the great independent bookstores in America, San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore. He spent World War II in the U.S. Navy, took part in the Normandy invasion, and arrived in Nagasaki six weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped. He later said that was when he became a pacifist. He got a Ph.D. at the Sorbonne on the G.I. Bill, then went to San Francisco, where he met the poet Kenneth Rexroth, and started a venture to publish small, inexpensive volumes of poetry. The fourth volume in the series was a long poem by Allen Ginsberg called Howl (1956). A Customs agent seized the book and arrested Ferlinghetti, and he became the focus of one of the biggest obscenity trials in the country. The book was ruled not obscene, a landmark victory for freedom of speech.

Ferlinghetti said, "Like a bowl of roses, a poem should not have to be explained."

It's the birthday of John Wesley Powell, born in Mount Morris, New York (1834). He studied botany and geology, lost his right arm at the Battle of Shiloh, then led nine men on an expedition down the Green River and into the Grand Canyon.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show