Lawrence Ferlinghetti, popular adventurous poet and publisher, who turned his legendary City Lights bookstore into the shuttle and lair of the generation beat, has died at his home in San Francisco, a month before his 102nd birthday, due to a lung condition.
In that labyrinthine bookstore at the gates of the North Beach neighborhood, which is still a must-see for readers from around the world, as well as the headquarters of the small publishing house still active after more than 60 years, on March 24, 2019 a Ferlinghetti’s 100th birthday party. Almost blind, the spiritual father of the generation beat He could no longer read and preferred not to go. He wanted others to celebrate for him, even though he had things to celebrate, like the publication of a little autobiographical novel, Little boy, about a child who in the first line describes as “quite lost.”
So was the Ferlinghetti boy. He was born in 1919, at the end of the First World War. His father, an Italian immigrant who started a small real estate business, died shortly after he was born. Before the little boy was two years old, his mother was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and the future poet was raised by a distant aunt, went through an orphanage and then was taken in by a wealthy couple who saw potential in that child. A childhood with Dickensian overtones that contributed to his adult tendency to come out in defense of losers.
Raised in New York, curiously he had no relationship with what would be the great writers beat from the East Coast until in 1951 he crossed the country and opened City Lights in San Francisco. That bookstore became a magnet for writers. Older than them and a supporter of a less crazy lifestyle, Ferlinghetti nevertheless accompanied, published and defended the great poets beat. He set up a small publishing house in which in 1956 he published Howl, the manifest anti hallucinogen establishment by Allen Ginsberg, which turned bible into counterculture verse. In 1957, mainly due to the scenes of homosexual imagery in the book, the publisher was arrested, accused of printing “indecent writings”. After a long and media trial, he was acquitted. The world discovered Ginsberg and the generation beat. The legend of Ferlinghetti was born.
A defender of the freer margins of creativity and allergic to the prevailing Puritan conservatism, the fight against censorship was one of Ferlinghetti’s two great achievements. Another was the start of a revolution in independent publishing. Created from scratch, City Lights’ message to radical and innovative writers was that they didn’t have to worry if the big New York publishers ignored them.
He also leaves an important work as an author. Although critics did not consider him on par with his friends, the great writers beatLike Kerouac, Corso or Ginsberg himself, he wrote dozens of books. Highlights A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), one of the most successful collections of poems in American literature, which has sold more than a million copies. Directly spoken, written to be recited with jazz accompaniment, the book was a milestone in poetry’s journey to the street.
Critic from irony with American culture, in his verses he compares The disasters of war of Goya with the scenes of the Second World War in the United States: “We are the same people / only further from home / on fifty-lane highways / on a concrete continent / strewn with insipid posters / illustrating idiotic illusions of happiness ”. Time has turned Coney Island of the Mind not only in a title of great cultural importance, but in a classic of modern poetry.
As a child, the aunt who was left in his care moved with him to Strasbourg, where he learned French before English. Back in the United States, life was not easy for both of them, until she found a job as a governess at Presley and Anna Bisland’s home in Bronxville, New York. They assumed the education of little Lawrence, who devoured the books in the family library. He combined his taste for epic poetry with the prose of the streets, which led to small episodes of juvenile delinquency that destroyed his bones in a strict Massachusetts boarding school. That certain feeling of abandonment influenced his literary tastes.
He graduated from journalism and fought in World War II aboard a submarine fighter across the North Atlantic. Before moving to San Francisco, he graduated from Columbia with a literature degree and attended the Sorbonne like so many postwar bohemians. “If anything, I was more the last of the bohemians than the first of the beat ”, he said in an interview on The Guardian in 2006. “But somehow, what I really did was take care of my store.”