Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Poet: Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Born: 24 March 1919, New York, USA

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a poet, playwright and activist. In his 100th year Ferlinghetti’s career helped spark a literary renaissance in the 1950s and the Beat movement that believed that art was for all people not just the high educated elite. He has challenged the status quo; enchanted his readers and defied popular politics and movements. Ferlinghetti was essential to the establishment of the Beat movement. The City Lights bookstore was a gathering place for the talents of the San Francisco literary renaissance, and the Pock Poets publications offered a forum for poets such as Ginsberg, Corso and Patchen.

Born Lawrence Monsanto Ferling, the family name having been shortened upon arrival in America, Ferlinghetti discovered the longer name and took it as his own as an adult. He had a turbulent youth, spending time in France, a New York state orphanage and in the mansion of the Bisland family in Bronxville, New York. He endeared himself to the Bislands and when his aunt, their governess, disappeared he was permitted to stay with the family. His formal education included the elite Riverdale Country Day School, a preparatory academy in Massachusetts and the University of north Carolina where he majored in journalism and worked with the student staff of the daily Tarheel. After graduating, he joined the US Navy. When he was discharged from the navy, he used the GI Bill to continue his education and received his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1948. He completed his doctoral degree in 1951 at the University of Paris.

Leaving Paris in 1951 Ferlinghetti moved to San Francisco and in 1953 with Peter D martin published the magazine ‘City Lights’. Martin and Ferlinghetti opened the City Lights Pocket Book Shop to subsidize the magazine. The book shop was a popular gathering place for the city’s avant-garde writers, poets and painters. In addition to his career as an entrepreneur Ferlinghetti was creating his own poetry, and he launched the City Lights Pocket Poets series with a slim volume of his own work, Pictures of the Gone World. By 1955 Ferlinghetti counted Allen Ginsberg among his friends and it was at a poetry reading at which Ginsberg unveiled his poem ‘Howl’ that Ferlinghetti recognised it as a classic and offered to publish it in the ‘Pocket Poets’. The 1956 first addition sold quickly. The second edition was seized by US customs, then released, which brought about the infamous ‘Howl’ trial when SFPD arrested Ferlinghetti on charges of printing and selling lewd and indecent material. Engaging the American Civil Liberties Union for his defence he welcomed the court case as a test of freedom of speech. He won the case and benefited from the surrounding publicity.

Ferlinghetti’s collections ‘Endless Life’ and ‘These Are My Rivers’ provide an insight into the writer’s developing overarching style and thematic approach. In ‘Endless Life’ he addressed such issues as the anti-war and anti-nuclear movements.

Drama and fiction provided a fertile ground for Ferlinghetti. He carried his political ideals and social criticisms into experimental short and surrealistic plays. In 1960 he published his first novel ‘Her’, and experimental and autobiographical work focused on the narrator’s pursuit of women to minimal acclaim. His later novel ‘Love in the days of Rage’, a chronicle of a love affair between an American artist and a Parisian banker set in 1968 Paris during the student revolution received widespread acclaim.

Ferlinghetti continues to operate the City Lights bookstore and has travelled to give poetry readings. His paintings and drawings have been exhibited in san Francisco galleries; his plays performed by theatres and he continues to publish new poetry.

People Getting Divorced by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

People getting divorced
riding around with their clothes in the car
and wondering what happened
to everyone and everything
including their other
pair of shoes
And if you spy one
then who knows what happened
to the other
with tongue alack
and years later not even knowing
if the other ever
found a mate
without splitting the seams
or remained intact
and the sole
ah the soul
a curious conception
hanging on somehow
to walk again
in the free air
once the heel
has been replaced

©JG Farmer 2019

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