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By This Book That BookMarch 31, 2021
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the seminal poet and co-founder of City Lights Books, died on February 22, 2021, at the age of 101. Described as “the spiritual godfather of the Beat movement”, Ferlinghetti was himself an accomplished and prolific poet, as well as a political agitator and literary provocateur.
In 1956, Ferlinghetti – through City Lights Books – published Allen Ginsberg’s seminal Beat poem “Howl“. The poem became the subject of a famous obscenity trial, leading to the arrest of Ferlinghetti. He was acquitted, with the judge deciding “Howl” was of “redeeming social importance”. Ferlinghetti has since been credited with breathing publishing life into Ginsberg’s literary career.
To celebrate Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s extraordinary life, we’ve gathered a brief list of his books, all of which are available from City Lights. Whether you’re revisiting or getting to know his work for the first time, these books offer an insight into a remarkable poetic life and career.
If you’d like to purchase any of these books, we’d highly recommend seeking out your local independent bookstore. Your business helps ensure the survival of these vital cultural institutions during this difficult time.
This collection, edited by Ferlinghetti and originally published in 1955, is a testament to his verve for poetry and his commitment to the democratizing potential of publishing.
The Pocket Poets collections were a series of pocket-sized poetry books that placed City Lights and Ferlinghetti at the forefront of literary counterculture. Ginsberg’s “Howl” was one of the Pocket Poets series.
This 60th-anniversary edition, published in 2015, provides an invaluable distillation of the energetic, iconoclastic and still fresh body of work represented in the ongoing series. Ferlinghetti selected a handful of poems from each of the sixty volumes that had been published up to that point, including the work of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso, Pasolini, Voznesensky, Prévert, Mayakovsky, Cortázar, O’Hara, Ponsot, Levertov, di Prima, Duncan, Lamantia, Lowry, and more.
Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were two of the twentieth century’s most influential literary rebels, and their correspondence documents a time when both were rising to the peak of their notoriety and international fame, traveling, writing, publishing, and performing their poetry during times of unprecedented social and cultural experimentation and upheaval. Ferlinghetti was Ginsberg’s publisher and editor, and the correspondence begins with a telegram from Lawrence after hearing Allen’s legendary reading of “Howl” at the Six Gallery: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?”
The majority of the letters collected here have never before been published, and they span the period from 1955 until Ginsberg’s death in 1997. Facsimiles and photographs enhance the collection, an evocative portrait of an inspiring and enduring relationship.
In 1955, shortly before he would gain fame as the beloved author of A Coney Island of the Mind, Ferlinghetti was an unpublished and mostly unknown poet. He launched City Lights Publishers that year with a five-hundred-copy letterpress edition of Pictures of the Gone World, Number One in the Pocket Poets Series. A classic collection of early work, Pictures includes many of Ferlinghetti’s most iconic poems. This limited edition sixtieth anniversary hardcover restores the book to its original selection with the addition of eighteen new verses and is a must for collectors and fans.
Here are all of Ferlinghetti’s poems set in the city he has lived in for over half a century. He brings alive, with wit and lyricism, scenes of city life: a Giants baseball game, the Green Street Marching Mortuary Band, bohemian North Beach, Golden Gate Park, yachts on the Bay, and more. Also included are historic photographs, scattered prose pieces, and the text of his mischievous inaugural address with his vision of the city’s history as a poetic center and suggestions for keeping it that way.