26 Feb In Memoriam — Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 – 2021)
“… Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! Too soon!”
— Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from “A Coney Island of the Mind”
Lawrence Ferlinghetti died Monday at the age of 101. He was a household name for poetry lovers and all those who grew up in and out of the cultural revolutions that took place in the 20th century. His memory lives on not only in his writing, but also in the intellectual and artistic hub of San Francisco’s North Beach district and the City Lights Bookstore.
Ferlinghetti settled in San Francisco in 1951 and immersed himself in the culture. Partnering with Peter Martin, Ferlinghetti founded City Lights bookstore in 1953 and established a publishing house under the same name. Under the Pocket Poets Series, Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems.
The first 520 copies of Howl were printed in 1957. Upon arriving at the docks from the London-based printer the copies were seized, based on the grounds that the book was obscene. “You wouldn’t want your children to come across it!” Ferlinghetti and the bookstore’s cashier were both arrested.
The obscenity trial lasted two months and resulted with the U.S. Attorney’s office declining to prosecute. The charges were dropped, Ferlinghetti was acquitted, and the copies of Howl were released. Now, Ferlinghetti’s only problem was getting copies printed fast enough. Since it’s initial publication, more than one million copies of Howl have sold.
Ferlinghetti was a political iconoclast, establishing the idea of “poetry as insurgent art” — examples of such can be found in poems like “Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower.”
Tentative Description of a Dinner Given to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower
San Francisco, CA: Golden Mountain Press, 1958
PS3511 E557 T4 1958
The controversies surrounding the publication of Howl and Ferlinghetti’s most successful collection, A Coney Island State of Mind (1958) encouraged rather than stifled his success.
A Coney Island of the Mind
San Francisco, CA: Arion Press, 2005
Z232.5 A7 F47 2005
Ferlinghetti’s own bibliography runs to dozens of books.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, drawing by Jutta Werner
London: Fire Publication, 1968
PS3511 E557 F83 1968
Love is No Stone on the Moon
Berkeley, CA: ARIF Press, 1971
PS3511 E557 L6 1971
A Trip to Italy and France
New York: Published for J. Laughlin by New Directions, 1981
PS3511 E557 T7 1981
Since Man Began to Eat Himself
Mont. Horeb, WI: Perishable Press, 1986
PS536.2 S475 1986
The Canticle of Jack Kerouac
Lowell, MA: Spotlight Press, 1987
PS3511 E557 C25 1987
Spirit of the Crusades
London: Published by Bernard Stone and Raymond Danowsky, the Turret Bookshop, 1991
PS3511 E557 S65 1991
A Buddha in the Woodpile
Santa Cruz, CA: Atelier Puccini, 1993
PS3511 E557 B8 1993
The Street’s Kiss
Boise, ID: Limberlost Press, 1998
PS3511 E557 S86 1998
Back Road’s to Far Places After Basho
Nara, Japan: Tokugenji Press, 2003
PS3511 E557 B3 2003
From the early years of City Lights, Ferlinghetti was the recipient of several awards and the focus of documentaries and biographies. When Ferlinghetti turned 100 on March 24, 2019, San Francisco officially declared that day as “Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day.” An inspiration to all, Ferlinghetti challenged the definition of art and, in turn, the artist’s role in society, urging poets to “come out of your closets, open your windows, open your doors.” May he always be remembered.
I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.
If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words….
— Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from “Poetry as Insurgent Art”