Ferlinghetti, Lawrence (Mendes-Monsanto)

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FERLINGHETTI, Lawrence (Mendes-Monsanto)


Nationality: American. Born: Yonkers, New York, 24 March 1919; lived in France, 1920–24. Education: Attended Riverdale Country School, 1927–28, and Bronxville Public School, 1929–33, both New York; Mount Hermon School, Greenfield, Massachusetts, 1933–37; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, B.A. in journalism 1941; Columbia University, New York, 1947–48, M.A. 1948; Sorbonne, Paris, 1948–50, Doctorat de l'Université 1950. Military Service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1941–45: lieutenant commander. Family: Married Selden Kirby-Smith in 1951 (divorced 1976); one daughter and one son. Career: Worked for Time magazine, New York, 1945–46; French teacher, San Francisco, 1951–53; cofounder, 1953, with Peter D. Martin, and since 1955 owner, City Lights Bookstore, and editor in chief, City Lights Books, San Francisco. Delegate, Pan American Cultural Conference, Concepción, Chile, 1960; participant in international literary festivals in Italy, France, England, Spain, Australia, and elsewhere. Also a painter: individual shows include Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 1993. Awards: Etna-Taormina prize (Italy), 1968; Camaiori prize (Italy), 1998; Ostia prize (Italy), 1998; Flaiano prize (Italy), 1998. Address: City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, California 94133, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

Pictures of the Gone World. San Francisco, City Lights, 1955.

A Coney Island of the Mind. New York, New Directions, 1958.

Tentative Description of a Dinner Given to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower. San Francisco, Golden Mountain Press, 1958.

One Thousand Fearful Words for Fidel Castro. San Francisco, City Lights, 1961.

Berlin. San Francisco, Golden Mountain Press, 1961.

Starting from San Francisco. New York, New Directions, 1961; revised edition, 1967.

Penguin Modern Poets 5, with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. London, Penguin, 1963.

Where Is Vietnam? San Francisco, City Lights, 1965.

To Fuck Is to Love Again; Kyrie Eleison Kerista; or, The Situation in the West; Followed by a Holy Proposal. New York, Fuck You Press, 1965.

Christ Climbed Down. Syracuse, New York, Syracuse University Press, 1965.

An Eye on the World: Selected Poems. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1967.

After the Cries of the Birds. San Francisco, Dave Haselwood, 1967.

Moscow in the Wilderness, Segovia in the Snow. San Francisco, Beach, 1967.

Repeat after Me. Boston, Impressions Workshop, 1967.

Reverie Smoking Grass. Milan, East 128, 1968.

The Secret Meaning of Things. New York, New Directions, 1968.

Fuclock. London, Fire, 1968.

Tyrannus Nix? New York, New Directions, 1969; revised edition, 1973.

Back Roads to Far Towns after Basho. Privately printed, 1970.

Sometime during Eternity. Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, Poster Prints, 1970.

The World Is a Beautiful Place. Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, Poster Prints, 1970.

The Illustrated Wilfred Funk. San Francisco, City Lights, 1971.

A World Awash with Fascism and Fear. San Francisco, Cranium Press, 1971.

Back Roads to Far Places. New York, New Directions, 1971.

Love Is No Stone on the Moon: Automatic Poem. Berkeley, California, Arif Press, 1971.

Open Eye, with Open Head, by Allen Ginsberg. Melbourne, Sun, 1972; published separately, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pomegranate Press, 1973.

Constantly Risking Absurdity. Brockport, New York, State University College, 1973.

Open Eye, Open Heart. New York, New Directions, 1973.

Populist Manifesto. San Francisco, Cranium Press, 1975; revised edition, San Francisco, City Lights, n.d.

Soon It Will Be Night. Privately printed, 1975.

The Jack of Hearts. San Francisco, City Lights, 1975.

Director of Alienation. San Francisco, City Lights, 1975.

The Old Italians Dying. San Francisco City Lights, 1976.

Who Are We Now? New York, New Directions, 1976.

White on White. San Francisco, City Lights, 1977.

Adieu à Charlot. San Francisco, City Lights, 1978.

Northwest Ecolog. San Francisco, City Lights, 1978.

The Sea and Ourselves at Cape Ann. Madison, Wisconsin, Red Ozier Press, 1979.

Landscapes of Living and Dying. New York, New Directions, 1979.

The Love Nut. Lincoln, Massachusetts, Penmaen Press, 1979.

Mule Mountain Dreams. Bisbee, Arizona, Bisbee Press Collective, 1980.

A Trip to Italy and France. New York, New Directions, 1981.

The Populist Manifestos, Plus an Interview with Jean-Jacques Lebel. San Francisco, Grey Fox Press, 1981.

Endless Life: The Selected Poems. New York, New Directions, 1981.

Over All the Obscene Boundaries: European Poems and Transitions. New York, New Directions, 1984.

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning. New York, New Directions, 1988.

These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems 1955–1993. New York, New Directions, 1993.

Pictures of the Gone World. San Francisco, City Lights, 1995.

A Far Rockaway of the Heart. New York, New Directions, 1998.

Recordings: Poetry Readings in "The Cellar," with Kenneth Rexroth, Fantasy, 1958; Tentative Description of a Dinner to Impeach President Eisenhower and Other Poems, Fantasy, 1959; TyrannusNix? and Assassination Raga, Fantasy, 1971; The World's Greatest Poets 1, with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, CMS, 1971; Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Everett-Edwards, 1972; Into the Deeper Pools …, Watershed, 1984.

Plays

The Alligation (produced San Francisco, 1962; New York, 1970; London, 1989). Included in Unfair Arguments with Existence, 1963.

Unfair Arguments with Existence: Seven Plays for a New Theatre (includes The Soldiers of No Country, Three Thousand Red Ants, The Alligation, The Victims of Amnesia, Motherlode, The Customs Collector in Baggy Pants, The Nose of Sisyphus). New York, New Directions, 1963.

The Customs Collector in Baggy Pants (produced New York, 1964). Included in Unfair Arguments with Existence, 1963.

The Soldiers of No Country (produced London, 1969). Included in Unfair Arguments with Existence, 1963.

3 by Ferlinghetti: Three Thousand Red Ants, The Alligation, The Victims of Amnesia (produced New York, 1970). Included in Unfair Arguments with Existence, 1963.

Routines (includes thirteen short pieces). New York, New Directions, 1964.

The Victims of Amnesia (produced London, 1989). Included in Unfair Arguments with Existence, 1963.

Novels

Her. New York, New Directions, 1960; London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1967.

Love in the Days of Rage. New York, Dutton, and London, Bodley Head, 1988.

Other

Dear Ferlinghetti/Dear Jack: The Spicer-Ferlinghetti Correspondence. San Francisco, White Rabbit Press, 1962.

The Mexican Night: Travel Journal. New York, New Directions, 1970.

A Political Pamphlet. San Francisco, Anarchist Resistance Press, 1975.

Literary San Francisco: A Pictorial History from Its Beginnings to the Present Day, with Nancy J. Peters. San Francisco, City Lights, 1980.

An Artist's Diatribe. San Diego, Atticus Press, 1983.

Leaves of Life: Fifty Drawings from the Model. San Francisco, City Lights, 1983.

Seven Days in Nicaragua Libre, photographs by Chris Felver. San Francisco, City Lights, 1984.

Editor, Beatitude Anthology. San Francisco, City Lights, 1960.

Editor, with Michael McClure and David Meltzer, Journal for the Protection of All Beings 1 and 3. San Francisco, City Lights, 2 vols., 1961–69.

Editor, City Lights Journal. San Francisco, City Lights, 4 vols., 1963–78.

Editor, Panic Grass, by Charles Upton. San Francisco, City Lights, 1969.

Editor, The First Third, by Neal Cassady. San Francisco, City Lights, 1971.

Editor, City Lights Anthology. San Francisco, City Lights, 1974.

Editor, with Nancy J. Peters, City Lights Review I [3]. San Francisco, City Lights, 2 vols., 1987–89.

Editor, City Lights Pocket Poet Anthology. San Francisco. City Lights, 1995.

Translator, Selections from Paroles by Jacques Prévert. San Francisco, City Lights, 1958; London, Penguin, 1963.

Translator, with Anthony Kahn, Flowers and Bullets, and Freedom to Kill, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. San Francisco, City Lights, 1970.

Translator, with Reinhard Lettau, Love Poems, by Karl Marx. San Francisco, City Lights, 1977.

Translator, with Francesca Valente, Roman Poems, by Pier Paolo Pasolini. San Francisco, City Lights, 1986.

*

Bibliography: Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Comprehensive Bibliography to 1980 by Bill Morgan, New York, Garland, 1982.

Manuscript Collection: Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Critical Studies: Ferlinghetti: A Biography by Neeli Cherkovsky, New York, Doubleday, 1979; Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-at-Large by Larry Smith, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983; Constantly Risking Absurdity: The Writings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti by Michael Skau, Troy, New York, Whitston, 1989; Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time by Barry Silesky, New York, Warner, 1990; "A Hundred Harms: Poetry and the Gulf War—Ferlinghetti at Laugharne," by Tony Curtis, in Poetry Review (London), summer 1992; by James Oliver, in Dionysos: The Literature and Addiction TriQuarterly (Seattle, Washington), winter 1993; in How Poets Work, edited by Tony Curtis, Brigend, Seren, 1996.

*  *  *

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a writer whose work remains as exciting as it was in the 1950s, when he was one of the founders and the chief impresario of the beat group of poets. While most of the other beats have died or have gradually drifted away from the literary world, Ferlinghetti remains a powerful force on the poetic scene, not only as an author but also as an editor who has encouraged and published numerous young writers and as the proprietor of the City Lights Bookstore.

Like Walt Whitman, Ferlinghetti believes that the poet should be an agitator whose message reaches the great masses of people too often ignored by more traditional poets. And like Whitman, Ferlinghetti has had great success at this. His A Coney Island of the Mind remains one of the all-time best-sellers for a volume of poetry. Part of its success was no doubt due to its experimental technique, which owed much to e.e. cummings, and to its use of what were for the time shocking words. Published during a period of great conventionality, Ferlinghetti's book provided a rousingly vigorous alternative view of life. The book celebrates love, sex, and freedom and attacks the crass materialism that, as these lines from "Christ Climbed Down" indicate, controls society:

   Christ climbed down
   from His bare Tree
   this year
   and ran away to where
   no intrepid Bible salesmen
   covered the territory
   in two-tone Cadillacs

Godless society is the frequent target of Ferlinghetti's satiric attacks. "Beat is the soul of beatific," Jack Kerouac said, and all of the beats had a strong concern for the spiritual side of man. Ferlinghetti's poetry stems from his intense moral concern about where "the Bosch-like world" is heading.

"When the guns are roaring the Muses have no right to be silent," writes Ferlinghetti, and during the violence-filled 1960s he continued to make his voice heard. His poetry took on a surrealistic edge, in part because of the surreal rush of events in the decade. "Some days I'm afflicted / with Observation Fever / omnivorous perception of phenomena," begins "Buckford's Buddha," and in the world of "death TV" sensory overload ensues. It was at about this time that some of Ferlinghetti's poems came to be written under the influence of LSD, a drug the poet took not because of hedonism but rather, in the words of the title of one of his volumes, to find "the secret meaning of things." The poems of this period are more fragmented than his earlier work, but their message, as expressed in "Assassination Raga," a powerful elegy for the Kennedys, remains the same: "There is no god but Life … love love and hate hate."

In the 1970s Ferlinghetti's technical experiments involved working with the prose poem and creating Indian chants and mantras in English. He continued to keep an "open eye, open heart" on his society and to condemn "a world awash with fascism and fear." For Ferlinghetti there was no middle-aged mellowing or watering down of his ideals. A few lines from "Overheard Conversation" indicate how little his concept of poetry changed in two decades: "And still the whole idea of poetry being / to take control of life / out of the hands of / the Terrible People." On rare occasions the terrible people Ferlinghetti attacks are hackneyed subjects, as in the long poem "Vegas Tilt," which exposes the materialism of Las Vegas. This is hardly a novel or challenging concept, but more frequently his adversaries are well chosen. With Whitman, Vachel Lindsay, and Carl Sandburg, Ferlinghetti stands in the great line of American poets who have been gadflies, yea-sayers to humanity and nay-sayers to the forces of repression. One of his finest poems, "Populist Manifesto," expresses Ferlinghetti's ideas about and hopes for poetry. It is a clarion call: "Poets, come out of your closets … / You have been holed-up too long / in your closed world." It continues by stating that poetry has become too stifling. Ironically echoing his friend Allen Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti writes, "We have seen the best minds of our generation / destroyed by boredom at poetry readings," and after a Whitman-like catalog of the various schools of poetry flourishing today, Ferlinghetti exhorts other writers, crying,

   Poets, descend
   to the street of the world once more
   And open your minds and eyes
   with the old visual delight
   Clear your throat and speak up,
   Poetry is dead, long live poetry
   with terrible eyes and buffalo strength.

Ferlinghetti practices what he preaches. One only wishes that more poets would write with his immediacy, power, and passion.

—Dennis Lynch