FILE - Author Lawrence Ferlinghetti appears in Oct. 8, 1988. Ferlinghetti, a poet, publisher and bookseller has died in San Francisco at age 101. His son says Ferlinghetti died at home on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Ferlinghetti helped launch and perpetuate the Beat movement. He was known for his City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, an essential meeting place for the Beats and other bohemians in the 1950s and beyond. (AP Photo/Frankie Ziths, File)

Beat poet, publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at 101

Beat poet, publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti dies at 101

SAN FRANCISCO — Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher, bookseller and activist who helped launch the Beat movement in the 1950s and embodied its curious and rebellious spirit well into the 21st century, has died at age 101.

Ferlinghetti, a San Francisco institution, died Monday at his home, his son Lorenzo Ferlinghetti said. A month shy of 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 had received the first dose of the COVID vaccine last week, his son said Tuesday.

Few poets of the past 60 years were so well known, or so influential. His books sold more than 1 million copies worldwide, a fantasy for virtually any 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, a lasting symbol — preaching a nobler and more ecstatic American dream.

“Am I the consciousness of a generation or just some old fool sounding off and trying to escape the dominant materialist avaricious consciousness of America?” he asked in “Little Boy,” a stream of consciousness novel published around the time of his 100th birthday

He made history. Through the City Lights publishing arm, books by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and many others came out and the release of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem “Howl” led to a 1957 obscenity case that broke new ground for freedom of expression.

He also defied history. The Internet, superstore chains and high rents shut down numerous booksellers in the Bay Area and beyond, but City Lights remained a thriving political and cultural outlet, where one section was devoted to books enabling “revolutionary competence,” where employees could get the day off to attend an anti-war protest.

“Generally, people seem to get more conservative as they age, but in my case, I seem to have gotten more radical,” Ferlinghetti told Interview magazine in 2013. “Poetry must be capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this means sounding apocalyptic.”

The store even endured during the coronavirus outbreak, when it was forced to close and required $300,000 to stay in business. A GoFundMe campaign quickly raised $400,000.

Ferlinghetti, tall and bearded, with sharp blue eyes, could be soft-spoken, even introverted and reticent in unfamiliar situations. But he was the most public of poets and his work wasn’t intended for solitary contemplation. It was meant to be recited or chanted out loud, whether in coffee houses, bookstores or at campus gatherings.

His 1958 compilation, “A Coney Island of the Mind,” sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the U.S. alone. Long an outsider from 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 e.e. cummings, was often lyrical and childlike: “Peacocks walked/under the night trees/in the lost moon/light/when I went out/looking for love,” he wrote in “Coney Island.”

Ferlinghetti also was a playwright, novelist, translator and painter and had many admirers among musicians. In 1976, he recited “The Lord’s Prayer” at the Band’s farewell concert, immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz.” The folk-rock band Aztec Two-Step lifted its name from a line in the title poem of Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island” book: “A couple of Papish cats/is doing an Aztec two-step.” Ferlinghetti also published some of the earliest film reviews by Pauline Kael, who with The New Yorker became one of the country’s most influential critics.

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, yet provided much of the creative tension that drove his art. His mother, unable to cope, had a nervous breakdown two years after his father’s death. She eventually disappeared and died in a state hospital.

Ferlinghetti spent years moving among relatives, boarding homes and an orphanage before he was taken in by a wealthy New York family, the Bislands, for whom his mother had worked as a governess. He studied journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, received a master’s in literature from Columbia University, and a doctorate degree from the Sorbonne in Paris. His early influences included Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and Ezra Pound.

Ferlinghetti hated war, because he was in one. In 1945, he was a Navy commander stationed in Japan and remembered visiting Nagasaki a few weeks after the U.S. had dropped an atom bomb. The carnage, he would recall, made him an “instant pacifist.”

In the early 1950s, he settled in San Francisco and married Selden Kirby-Smith, whom he divorced in 1976. (They had two children). Ferlinghetti also became a member of the city’s rising literary movement, the so-called San Francisco Renaissance, and soon helped establish a gathering place. Peter D, Martin, a sociologist, had opened a paperback store in the city’s North Beach section and named it after a recent Charlie Chaplin film, “City Lights.” When Ferlinghetti saw the storefront, in 1953, he suggested he and Martin become partners. Each contributed $500.

Ferlinghetti later told The New York Times: “City Lights became about the only place around where you could go in, sit down, and read books without being pestered to buy something.”

The Beats, who had met in New York in the 1940s, now had a new base. One project was City Lights’ Pocket Poets series, which offered low-cost editions of verse, notably Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Ferlinghetti had heard Ginsberg read a version in 1955 and wrote him: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?” a humorous take on the message sent from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman upon reading “Leaves of Grass.”

Ferlinghetti published “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956, but customs officials seized copies of the book that were being shipped from London, and Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges. After a highly publicized court battle, a judge in 1957 ruled that “Howl” was not obscene, despite its sexual themes, citing the poem’s relevance as a criticism of modern society. A 2010 film about the case, “Howl,” starred James Franco as Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers as Ferlinghetti.

Ferlinghetti would also release Kerouac’s “Book of Dreams,” prison writings by Timothy Leary and Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems.” Ferlinghetti risked prison for “Howl,” but rejected Burrough’s classic “Naked Lunch,” worrying that publication would lead to “sure premeditated legal lunacy.”

Ferlinghetti’s eyesight was poor in recent years, but he continued to write and to keep regular hours at City Lights. The establishment, meanwhile, warmed to him, even if the affection wasn’t always returned. He was named San Francisco’s first poet laureate, in 1998, and City Lights was granted landmark status three years later. He received an honorary prize from the National Book Critics Circle in 2000 and five years later was given a National Book Award medal for “his tireless work on behalf of poets and the entire literary community.”

“The dominant American mercantile culture may globalize the world, but it is not the mainstream culture of our civilization,” Ferlinghetti said upon receiving the award. “The true mainstream is made, not of oil, but of literarians, publishers, bookstores, editors, 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 PEN Club. When he learned the country’s right-wing government was a sponsor, he turned the award down.

___

Italie reported from New York.

Janie Har And Hillel Italie, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Traffic will be delayed on 40th Avenue and 19th Street until the end of February. (Advocate file photo).
Traffic delays expected downtown this weekend

Red Deer drivers will be delayed in the downtown area of the… Continue reading

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read