Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Lawrence Ferlinghetti Reading "At Sea" (Fragment), October 20, 2015, City Lights, San Francisco

 Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 96 years young, read last night from his new book of his travel writings. Ferlinghetti, poet, painter, publisher, and proprietor of San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore, was prosecuted and acquitted (a major free speech victory) in 1957 for "obscenity" in Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl", which he published and sold at the bookstore, which became a nexus for The Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance.

Lawrence_Ferlinghetti on Wikipedia

Lawrence read from the new collection (as did his two editors), told stories related to the travel described, and finished with his poem "At Sea", for Pablo Neruda.

City Lights Bookstore was crammed to capacity with admirers of all ages.

We got there about a half an hour early, but the store was already full, with a sign on the door informing folks there was no more room.

We joined the line, hoping to be admitted as people left, and saw Bob Dylan's old pal Dave Whittaker there. He recalled being at City Lights in 1957, and seeing Ferlinghetti placing copies of "Howl" in the front window.

We were fortunate enough to get in (big thanks to the staff, who did a great job, despite the stress and demands of the overcapacity crowd and those waiting to gain admittance out front).

It was wonderful to see Lawrence, still active and full of life at 96.

He read from his entry about being in Cuba shortly after the Revolution, and meeting Pablo Neruda there. I recently read a biography of Federico Garcia Lorca, and Chilean poet/diplomat Neruda was a great friend of his. It was so amazing to bear witness to someone who personally knew Neruda and the subsequent connection to Garcia Lorca.

But this was someone who also was in Paris in 1968 for the great student-worker uprising (which he also read about from the new collection) and was a friend and colleague to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac (Ferlinghetti lent him his Big Sur cabin to dry out), William Burroughs, and so many others.

What was remarkable was his humor, which constantly was on display. He complained about glaucoma messing up his eyesight, but otherwise seemed to be in excellent shape.

The crowd, obviously adored him.

He is a national treasure.


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