R.I.P., Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The poet and his public. | Photo: City Lights

Ah, man, they keep shoving off. Not the first Beat, but the last bohemian, Lawrence Ferlinghetti went west on Monday. He was 101.

A World War II vet and a graduate of the Sorbonne, Ferlinghetti was a writer, the proprietor of San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore, and a First Amendment champion who got arrested for publishing Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” … and beat the rap.

Like many a voracious reader, I made a pilgrimage to City Lights when I visited the city for the first time. Didn’t have the opportunity to meet Himself, alas. He was probably busy writing, or just “minding the store,” which is what he said he was doing rather than founding and directing an artistic subculture.

“When I arrived in San Francisco in 1951 I was wearing a beret,” he once told the Guardian. “If anything I was the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats.”

• From the City Lights website: “He continued to write and publish new work up until he was 100 years old, and his work has earned him a place in the American canon. We intend to build on Ferlinghetti’s vision and honor his memory by sustaining City Lights into the future as a center for open intellectual inquiry and commitment to literary culture and progressive politics.”

• The Poetry Foundation remembers Ferlinghetti. Here’s their bio and a collection of his works, which include the poem titled (wait for it) “Dog.”

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14 Responses to “R.I.P., Lawrence Ferlinghetti”

  1. katholoch Says:

    Dang. I’m sitting here looking at my City Lights bookmark I keep on my desk. It says: Paper May Burn But Words Will Escape

  2. SAO' Says:

    Also a veteran pacifist.

    We can always use a few more like that.

    Post Script: Some weird vuja de juju going on, things happening in pairs. I was just doing our weekly library run, and I checked out Kevin Kling’s The Dog Says How, and the exact next thing, I’m reading your link to Dog. Gotta be the fifth time today. Feels like I’m living the SNL/Walken Trivial Psychic skit.

  3. SAO' Says:

    Berets are under-rated headgear.

    That is all.

  4. SAO' Says:

    I spent about a year and a half working for FEMA Region IX, so I was sent off to their monthly meetings, which rotated among Oakland, the Presidio, and San Francisco. But that’s a town I never quite figured out. For starters, Uncle Sugar wasn’t going to pay the going rate for a decent downtown hotel, so we were always in the boonies. And it seemed like every time I went, I needed to be back home for something else, so I never quite maximized my free time so I could explore the city.

    Two things I wanted to do there were hit up City Lights and visit the Ansel Adams exhibit at SFMoMA. Never made either happen. Closest thing to a honest-to-god SF experience I managed to pull off was getting stuck for two hours on the Golden Gate Bridge.

    Lots of things I want to do when we get the COVID all-clear, and the top ten or twenty are all family-centric. But somewhere on the list is to just hang out at Old Firehouse Books for a few hours. Been trying to throw them as much business as I can, getting gift cards for our teachers, using their in-town delivery option for online orders, and the like. They were in a real tight spot this fall, and it’s still not a certainty that they’ll make it to the summer.

    Wolverine Farm LetterPress and Publishing is another great place that is struggling to make it to the finish line. If they make it, it’s because of community support and not anything our last administration did to help small businesses.

    Just thinking about either place going under makes me want to punch a certain 300 lb Oompa Loompa. Like I need another reason.

    One final indie bookstore note … stumbled upon this old interview with David Bowie. Of course he loved the Tattered Cover. Of course he did.

    • Pat O’Brien Says:

      I used to run into that problem on TDY trips. Been to the Pentagon and Ft. Meade many times, but I have never been to the Smithsonian. But, during a 2 week management course in Aurora, CO, I did manage a weekend trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park, and an evening trip to the Denver location of the Tattered Cover for a couple hours of browsing and the, I think, dinner.

      • SAO' Says:

        Chicago and San Francisco were the two big busts that I kept repeating. Never could catch a break. Wanted to see that Seurat at the AIC, never could get out in that direction. If I had the car keys, then we wound up working too late. Every time we got done early, I was just a passenger and everyone else voted for deep dish pizza or some hot dog joint.

        The wins outweighed the losses, but the losses still sting.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I used to have that problem when I still covered bike races and trade shows. I’d want to race a master’s category or ride some cool new bikes, but I always felt like doing the job took precedence. I wasn’t getting paid to play, though in truth the work was not a lot like work. But still.

  5. Ray Says:

    Thought you would like to listen to Mr. Ferlinghetti and raise a glass. Salud!

  6. Dale Says:

    I read every one of Kerouac’s books after I read “On the Road”. Read Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg. Tried to read William Burroughs “Naked Lunch” and couldn’t do it. But I am glad that Ferlinghetti gave them a voice. May we all dance to 101.

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