Ferlinghetti for the ages | www.splicetoday.com
This is not a crash college course in poetry or anything else Poetry for Dummies how to book. In the words of psychobilly rocker Hasil Adkins, “This is not a rock and roll show!” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, like his Beat Generation poets, achieved divine rock star status. He was not an average academic poet. I never knew Ferlinghetti as a close friend, but I felt like he was. Our paths have crossed over the years in strange and wonderful ways. I first heard about him, as most do, through his poetry. His first volume of poems, Images of the vanished world, and its second seminal volume, Coney Island of the Spirit, sealed his fame as a world-class unconventional poet. The title of the book came from a short story, “Into the Night Life,” by Henry Miller, who, like Ferlinghetti, was a native of New York.
In 1953, he founded the City Lights bookstore on Columbus Avenue in North Beach, San Francisco. Named after a Charlie Chaplin film, City Lights is the international landmark for lovers of quirky and real literary literature. The rest is pure gold. He has published the books Pocket Poet Series and New Directions. The once infamous poem, “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, landed them in violation of the law. According to court hearings, his First Amendment defense and obscenity charges left him and many others in hot water as easy targets for FBI surveillance and files that spanned his life. days during the years that followed. What the FBI and the police attempted to do was obscene. It was an inspiration. I loved what he did, how he did it and what he stood for.
In the spring of 2020, City Lights Books was ready to close due to the plague but was saved almost overnight thanks to generous donations. At the time, Ferlinghetti was 100 years old. I don’t know what he thought about it, but I’m sure he was happy to keep moving forward. There was a big party, and it looked like he would live forever. Ferlinghetti believed in beautiful things that conservatives and right-wing evangelicals despise. Unsung heroes and heroines of a nonconformist counterculture tradition that lays bare our common societal hypocrisy and the dilemma of dreaming in America.
Meeting Ferlinghetti on various occasions at poetry readings and parties in the ’80s and’ 90s left me feeling like he was a lonely man. At ease in his skin as a poet and man of letters. Faithful to his feeling, creator of soft-spoken words in the field of high literary activities. Yet altruistic. He embraced the stoic quality of monkish selflessness for mankind. Its success as a force in the publishing world contributes to this concern for the underdog. He gave voice to the oppressed among us like any true poet.
The high price of fame and fortune leaves little to the imagination. Poets are the rarest and lowest of the race. Like any group of high-minded individuals with their fair share of skeptics, vultures, haters and detractors of culture abound, a savage group of mocking bananas and petty purists. Reluctant heirs are apparent at the word. As he humbly put it, “I was the guy who ran the store”. Like a gardener watering his crops. A bunch of poets grew up in the garden of his bookstore.
Academic nobles can roost in Ivy League towers, spreading contempt for the humble poet. Truth and beauty be damned. Let them bang their fists on the podium of intellectual snobbery and poetic privilege. It does not lead anywhere. Let the beatniks and bohemians also sit at the table. We need instigators to stir the pot and break the pompous religious fanatics. Break down the barriers of pretentious political buffoonery.
Remember Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the gifts of poetry, artistic freedom, fantastic literature and paintings he left behind. Take a poet to lunch, it’s not for granted. Long live the poets.