Poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at age 101
SAN FRANCISCO – Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher, bookseller and activist who helped start the Beat movement in the 1950s and embodied his inquisitive and rebellious spirit into the 21st century, has died at the age of 101.
Ferlinghetti, a San Francisco institution, died at his home on Monday, his son Lorenzo Ferlinghetti said. A month before his 102nd birthday, Ferlinghetti died “in his own room,” holding the hands of his son and his son’s girlfriend, “as he took his last breath. The cause of death was lung disease. Ferlinghetti received the first dose of the COVID vaccine last week, his son said on Tuesday.
Few of the poets of the past 60 years were so well known or so influential. His books have sold over a million copies worldwide, a fantasy to virtually all of his peers, and he ran one of the world’s most famous and distinctive bookstores, City Lights. Although he never considered himself one of the Beats, he was a patron and soul mate and, for many, an enduring symbol – preaching a nobler and more ecstatic American dream.
“Am I the conscience of a generation or just some old ringing fool trying to escape America’s dominant materialistic miserly conscience?” he asked in “Little Boy”, a stream of consciousness novel published around the time of his 100th birthday.
He made history. Thanks to the City Lights publishing branch, books by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and many others came out and the release of Allen Ginsberg’s flagship poem “Howl” led to an obscenity affair in 1957. which opened new avenues for freedom of expression.
He also defied history. The internet, supermarket chains, and high rents shut down many booksellers in the Bay Area and beyond, but City Lights remained a thriving political and cultural outlet, where a section was devoted to books enabling a “revolutionary skill.” Where employees could take time off. attend an anti-war demonstration.
“Usually people seem to get more conservative as they get older, but in my case it seems like I’ve become more radical,” Ferlinghetti told Interview magazine in 2013. “Poetry has to be able to meet the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if that means sounding apocalyptic.
The store even endured during the coronavirus outbreak, when it was forced to close and it took $ 300,000 to stay in business. A GoFundMe campaign quickly raised $ 400,000.
Ferlinghetti, tall and bearded, with piercing blue eyes, could be soft-spoken, even introverted and reluctant in unfamiliar situations. But he was the most public of poets, and his work was not intended for solitary contemplation. It was meant to be recited or chanted aloud, whether in cafes, bookstores, or at gatherings on campus.
His 1958 compilation, “A Coney Island of the Mind,” has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the United States alone. Long a stranger to the poetry community, Ferlinghetti once joked that he had “committed the sin of too much clarity.” He called his style ‘wide open’ and his work, influenced in part by ee cummings, was often lyrical and childish: ”he wrote in“ Coney Island ”.
Ferlinghetti was also a playwright, novelist, translator and painter and had many admirers among musicians. In 1976, he recited “The Lord’s Prayer” during the group’s farewell concert, immortalized in “The Last Waltz” by Martin Scorsese. The folk-rock group Aztec Two-Step takes its name from a line of the title poem of the book “Coney Island” by Ferlinghetti: “A couple of Papish cats / is doing a Aztec two-step”. Ferlinghetti also published some of the first film reviews of Pauline Kael, who along with The New Yorker became one of the most influential critics in the country.
He lived long and well despite a traumatic childhood. His father died five months before Lawrence was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1919, leaving behind a sense of loss that haunted him, while providing much of the creative tension that animated his art. Her mother, unable to cope, suffered a nervous breakdown two years after her father died. She eventually disappeared and died in a public hospital.
Ferlinghetti spent years moving among relatives, boarding houses and an orphanage before being taken into the care of a wealthy New York family, the Bislands, for whom his mother had worked as a housekeeper. He studied journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received a master’s degree in literature from Columbia University and a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris. His early influences included Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and Ezra Pound.
Ferlinghetti hated war because he was part of it. In 1945 he was a naval commander stationed in Japan and recalled visiting Nagasaki a few weeks after the United States dropped an atomic bomb. The carnage, he recalls, made him a “pacifist moment.”
In the early 1950s, he moved to San Francisco and married Selden Kirby-Smith, whom he divorced in 1976 (they have two children). Ferlinghetti also became a member of the city’s nascent literary movement, the so-called San Francisco Renaissance, and quickly helped establish a place of gathering. Peter D, Martin, a sociologist, had opened a paperback store in the North Beach section of town and named it after a recent Charlie Chaplin movie, “City Lights”. When Ferlinghetti saw the storefront in 1953, he suggested that he and Martin become partners. Each contributed $ 500.
Ferlinghetti later told the New York Times: “City Lights became pretty much the only place you could walk in, sit and read books without being hassled to buy something. “
The Beats, who met in New York in the 1940s, now had a new base. One of the projects was City Lights’ Pocket Poets series, which featured low-cost editions of worms, including Ginsberg’s “Howl”. Ferlinghetti had heard Ginsberg read a version in 1955 and wrote to him: “I salute you at the start of a great career. When do I receive the manuscript? a humorous version of the message Ralph Waldo Emerson sent to Walt Whitman while reading “Leaves of Grass”.
Ferlinghetti published “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956, but customs officers seized copies of the book that were being shipped from London, and Ferlinghetti was arrested for obscenity. After a high-profile court battle, a judge ruled in 1957 that “Howl” was not obscene, despite its sexual themes, citing the poem’s relevance as a critic of modern society. A 2010 film on the case, “Howl,” starred James Franco as Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers as Ferlinghetti.
Ferlinghetti will also publish Kerouac’s “Dream Book”, the prison writings of Timothy Leary and Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems”. Ferlinghetti risked jail time for “Howl,” but rejected Burrough’s classic “Naked Lunch”, fearing its publication would lead to “premeditated legal madness.” “
Ferlinghetti’s eyesight had been poor in recent years, but he continued to write and keep regular hours at City Lights. The establishment, meanwhile, warmed up to him, even if the affection was not always returned. He was named San Francisco’s first Poet Laureate in 1998, and City Lights was granted Historic Landmark status three years later. He received an honorary award from the National Book Critics Circle in 2000 and five years later a National Book Award medal for “his tireless work on behalf of poets and the entire literary community”.
“The dominant American business culture can globalize the world, but it is not the dominant culture of our civilization,” Ferlinghetti said upon receiving the award. “The real mainstream is not oil, but literati, publishers, bookstores, publishers, libraries, writers and readers, universities and all the institutions that support them.
In 2012, Ferlinghetti won the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize from the Hungarian Club PEN. When he learned that the country’s right-wing government was a sponsor, he turned down the award.
Italy reported from New York.