A thrilling moment for me in my writing career was to discover that my first published poem appeared in the same issue of New Press Literary magazine in which there a poem written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
I’d read about the Beat Generation of poets and rebels who founded a whole new way of producing literarture and who used their platform to promote many progressive ideas. I dreamed that one day, I’d visit City Lights bookshop in San Francisco, the bastion of their independent thought and creativity.
City Lights was the inspiration of Peter D. Martin, who first used ‘City Lights’—in homage to the Chaplin film—in 1952, as the title of a magazine, publishing early work by such key Bay Area writers as Philip Lamantia, Pauline Kael, Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and Ferlinghetti himself. A year later, Martin used the name to establish the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S., at the time an audacious idea.
As Ferlinghetti was walking past the building one day in 1953, he encountered Martin out front, hanging up a sign that announced a “Pocket Book Shop.” He introduced himself as a contributor to Martin’s magazine and told him he had always wanted a bookstore. Before long, he and Martin agreed to a partnership. Each man invested $500.
Fast forward a hundred years, when, while volunteering for Litquake literary festival in San Francisco, I got to meet Ferlinghetti, right there in City Lights, and hear him read. He was already over ninety years old. Though I’d been warned of his by then somewhat cantankerous nature, I produced that old magazine, told him my story, and asked him to sign it for me. He did.
I still have it. It’s one of my most treasured possessions.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a poet, an activist, an essayist, a painter, and a publisher, instrumental in founding a whole new literary movement. He was a great influence on me. This week, at age 101, he left us. I am one of many who will remember what he contributed to humankind.
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