Lawrence Ferlinghetti is Dead; Long Live City Lights

Feb. 23, 2021 — Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 – 2021)

Early this afternoon, I heard the news that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had died. I guess that Naomi Replansky will remain the oldest living American poet for at least a little longer.

Tributes to him will no doubt flourish as the obituaries trot out the familiar details, but the only important tribute has already been paid by those who cared the most about his most significant accomplishment, a bookstore that took up the 18th century model of also being a publisher. In the early months of the Pandemic, City Lights Bookstore held a fundraiser in hopes of stabilizing its chances of surviving the loss of its flow of daily customers. The fundraiser was so successful that the bookstore generated a minor endowment that will nurture it through at least the rest of this decade. In 2028, the store will turn 75 years old. It is not too early to plan on making that occasion a chance to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of copies of books that have found grateful readers thanks to this store’s visibility.

*. *. ********. *****. ****** ******

Soon after posting the above, I received a letter from Doren Robbins,who gave me permission to reprint it in my blog:

My 1958 edition of A Coney Island of the Mind (title deriving from Henry Miller’s Black Spring, as we know) is the first book of poems I bought. Eighteen years old.

That 1958 edition along with Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems, 100 Poems by E.E. Cummings, Selected Poems by Langston Hughes, and the Selected of Edna St. Vincnt Millay along with an early translation of Baudelaire by George Dillon and Edna St. Vincent Millay, are my first books of poetry. Probably true of a lot of lucky poets (who are now) in their 70’s.

I was around eleven-years old when a younger salesman friend of my father, a guy named Wally Sussman, a jazz piano player, came through the front door excited and probably high into our TV room when we were sitting around after dinner and started spontaneously reading from A Coney Island of the Mind, I think it was “I am Waiting.” I’ll never forget it or couldn’t’ve anticipated what happened to me, but the visual performance of that scene is implanted and Pollocked into my memory.

LF was an important influence to me, alongside Ginsberg and Rukeyser. He could blend personal and social satire and dramatic observation and introspection as well as Villon, Petronius, or Nicanor Para or Henry Miller. And I sincerely regret never being published by City Lights, though from the 80’s till the early 2000’s whenever I sent him a book he always sent me a postcard with one of his paintings on it inviting me for espresso if I was in SF.

What a long, fertile, life full of personal and political meaning he had. Fortunately he is generally well-received.

I think Ferlinghetti would’ve laughed with a steady Anarchist sneer that I was unable to open your NY Times obituary because I had gone over the free limit, and had to go to National Public Radio (which sounds better than it is).

Comments are closed.