Friday, March 5, 2021

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti died on February 22nd, in San Francisco.  He was 101.

In addition to his poetry (which includes the widely-known book A Coney Island of the Mind, published in 1958 by New Directions),  Mr. Ferlinghetti was the co-founder, in 1953, of San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore.  In 1955 he founded the publishing company City Lights Books, housed in the same building as the bookstore. 

In 1956, Mr. Ferlinghetti and City Lights made literary history by publishing the poem "Howl," by Allen Ginsberg (in Mr. Ginsberg's book, Howl and Other Poems).  Mr. Ferlinghetti was later arrested, on an obscenity charge, for publishing the poem.  He was acquitted at trial; the judge in the case ruled that the poem  had "redeeming social importance."  The manager of City Lights Bookstore, Shigeyoshi Murao, was also arrested--for selling the book, to an undercover police officer.  He too was acquitted.

In an obituary about Mr. Ferlinghetti in The Washington Post, there was a quote from him that I was struck by, about the publishing of poetry; the quote is eloquent, and, yes, poetic. 

The Post's Emma Brown wrote:

Mr. Ferlinghetti was clear-eyed about the fate 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.’’