Lawrence Ferlinghetti, literary citadel of San Francisco, dies at 101


The trigger was interstitial lung illness, mentioned his son, Lorenzo.

Intensely personal and fiercely political, Mr. Ferlinghetti grew to become a family title within the Fifties when he stood trial on obscenity expenses for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s hallucinatory anti-establishment manifesto “Howl.”

The trial introduced consideration from world wide for Ginsberg, his ecstatically irreverent poem and, by extension, the complete Beat Generation — a roving band of hipsters, poets and artists who rebelled in opposition to the nation’s conservatism, experimenting with literary varieties in addition to with medication, intercourse and spirituality.

The “Howl” episode additionally solid Mr. Ferlinghetti as a heroic defender of free speech and a stalwart good friend of the artistic fringe. In the ensuing glare, City Lights grew to become one of San Francisco’s most enduring establishments — at as soon as a supply for edge-of-mainstream books, a gathering place for the town’s wandering artists and a pilgrimage web site for anarchists, radicals and liberal activists.

When not tending store, Mr. Ferlinghetti retreated to the attic of an previous Victorian home, the place he had a typewriter and an expansive view of the town. He wrote dozens of books, together with one of the best-selling poetry volumes in American historical past: “A Coney Island of the Mind” (1958), a plain-spoken, usually wry critique of American tradition.

Written to be carried out aloud with a jazz accompaniment, “Coney Island” helped yank poetry out of the academy into the streets.

“Christ climbed down/from His bare tree/this year,” reads one poem, “and ran away to where/no intrepid Bible salesmen/covered the territory/in two-tone Cadillacs.”

His personal writing apart, Mr. Ferlinghetti was extra extensively often known as a fixture at the middle of the whirling counterculture that helped form the nation’s social panorama because the Fifties. He was the bearded guru of San Francisco’s artwork scene, as carefully recognized with the town as summer season fog and the Golden Gate.

He arrived in California in 1951 as a World War II veteran and a beret-sporting graduate of the Sorbonne. Within two years, he had helped open City Lights, a tiny store that specialised in promoting and publishing paperbacks and little-known poetry.

Located in San Francisco’s Italian-influenced North Beach neighborhood, City Lights rapidly grew to become the hangout of alternative for the town’s radical intelligentsia, significantly Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and the remainder of the Beats. The doorways stayed open till midnight weekdays and a pair of a.m. weekends, and even then it was arduous to shut on time. From its earliest years, it stocked homosexual and lesbian publications.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane di Prima and Herb Gold look again on San Francisco within the 1950’s and ’60’s, when the town was residence to the Beat literary motion. (Erin Patrick O’Connor, Dani Player/The Washington Post)

“City Lights became about the only place around where you could go in, sit down and read books without being pestered to buy something,” he instructed the New York Times in 1968. “I had this idea that a bookstore should be a center of intellectual activity, and I knew it was a natural for a publishing company, too.’’

Mr. Ferlinghetti inaugurated the publishing arm of City Lights with the paperback Pocket Poet series in 1955. Its first volume was his own “Pictures of the Gone World.”

Over the years, he sought outsiders and underground voices, and his little press gave early publicity to writers who would come to outline a technology: Norman Mailer, Denise Levertov and, particularly, the freewheeling Beats.

Mr. Ferlinghetti was clear-eyed in regards to the destiny of most avant-garde work. “Publishing a book of poetry is still like dropping it off a bridge somewhere and waiting for a splash,’’ he once said. “Usually you don’t hear anything.’’

The reaction was much louder when he published “Howl,” a poem that enthralled him when he heard Ginsberg first carry out it in 1955 at the Six Gallery, a transformed auto restore store in San Francisco.

“I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” Mr. Ferlinghetti wrote in a telegram he despatched to Ginsberg later that evening, echoing the phrases as soon as written by Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman. “When do I get the manuscript?”

The poem’s profanity and frank language about homosexual intercourse instantly drew censure when it was printed in 1956. After its second printing, in 1957, Mr. Ferlinghetti and City Lights supervisor Shigeyoshi Murao had been arrested on obscenity expenses.

Anticipating bother, Mr. Ferlinghetti had alerted the American Civil Liberties Union earlier than “Howl” ever went to press.

Mr. Ferlinghetti didn’t testify at the trial however he courted public opinion within the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I consider ‘Howl’ to be the most significant single long poem published in this country since World War II,” he wrote. “If it is also a condemnation of our official culture, if it is also an unseemly voice of dissent, perhaps this is really why officials object to it.”

Ultimately, Municipal Court Judge Clayton W. Horn acquitted Mr. Ferlinghetti, ruling that the poem had “redeeming social importance” and thus couldn’t be judged obscene.

That precedent was later used to defend books corresponding to “Naked Lunch,” by William S. Burroughs, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” by D.H. Lawrence, and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Capricorn” in opposition to obscenity expenses.

The trial helped create an enduring impression that Mr. Ferlinghetti was one of the Beats, a notion he all the time shrugged off. He was older, he mentioned, and extra serious about custom and approach — “the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats.”

Lawrence Monsanto (*101*) was born in Yonkers, N.Y., on March 24, 1919. He was the youngest of 5 sons of an Italian immigrant who shortened his surname upon arriving within the United States. (Lawrence would later reclaim the complete title as an grownup.)

The elder Ferlinghetti died of a coronary heart assault earlier than Lawrence was born. His mom, struggling to pay payments and disabled by grief, was institutionalized when he was a toddler. Lawrence bounced amongst an uncle in Manhattan, an aunt in France and an orphanage in Chappaqua, N.Y. At one level, he was so malnourished that he developed rickets.

He was at as soon as an overachiever and a delinquent, arrested for shoplifting the identical month he made Eagle Scout. Eventually he went to reside in a New York suburb with a rich couple who despatched him to a personal boys faculty, the place his roommate launched him to Thomas Wolfe’s autobiographical novel, “Look Homeward, Angel.”

Enthralled, Mr. Ferlinghetti selected to attend Wolfe’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He graduated in 1941 with a level in journalism.

During World War II, Mr. Ferlinghetti served within the Navy and arrived in Nagasaki simply weeks after it was hit with an Allied atomic bomb. The scenes he witnessed had been the basis of his lifelong opposition to warfare and nuclear weapons.

“You’d see hands sticking up out of the mud,” he wrote, “hair sticking out of the road — a quagmire — people don’t realize how total the destruction was.”

With G.I. Bill advantages, he acquired a grasp’s diploma from Columbia University after which lit out for Paris.

There, Mr. Ferlinghetti lived on the Left Bank, dwelled in cafes and wrote an unpublished novel and the dissertation for his doctorate in trendy poetry. He additionally met his future spouse, Selden Kirby-Smith, with whom he had two kids earlier than they divorced in 1976.

Besides his son, of San Francisco, survivors embrace a daughter, Julie Sasser of Nashville; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Ferlinghetti moved to San Francisco simply as a bohemian arts renaissance led by the poet Kenneth Rexroth was starting to attract discover on the East Coast.

“I used to make up all these literary reasons why I came out here,” he instructed his biographer, Barry Silesky. “But I realize it was really because it sounded like a European place to come. There was wine, and it just seemed more interesting in New York.”

He fell in with Rexroth, a pacifist who referred to as himself a “philosophical anarchist” and who held weekly underground salons that sparked Mr. Ferlinghetti’s political awakening.

Much of his best-known work — such because the Cold War-era poem “Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower” — was infused with political argument.

He additionally protested in opposition to warfare and environmental destruction. He had no persistence for poets who disengaged from the world as a way to write.

“When guns are roaring,” Mr. Ferlinghetti as soon as wrote, “the Muses have no right /to be silent!”



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