Counterculture Icon Lawrence Ferlinghetti
The Poetry Center at Smith College will host poet, publisher, activist, playwright, translator and author Lawrence Ferlinghetti at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3, in John M. Greene Hall. The event is free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible.
Ferlinghetti, who helped spark the San Francisco literary renaissance of the 1950s and the subsequent Beat movement in American poetry, is still going strong at age 81. From 1998 to 1999, he served as the first Poet Laureate of San Francisco, and he continues to write a weekly column, "Poetry as News," for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Ferlinghetti's life and writing, according to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "stand as models of the existentially authentic and engaged. Besides molding an image of the poet in the world, [he] became the most important force in developing and publicizing anti-establishment poetics."
Long before the advent of café bookstores, Ferlinghetti co-founded the City Lights Book Shop in San Francisco as "about the only place around where you could go in, sit down and read books without being pestered to buy something." Modeled on the bookshops of Paris, it was the first bookstore in the United States devoted exclusively to paperbacks.
Ferlinghetti's fledgling publishing venture, City Lights Pocket Books, became world famous during the 1957 court battle that ensued when Allen Ginsberg's first book, "Howl," was impounded for obscenity. Ultimately, "Howl" was declared literature, not pornography. City Lights published the early work of writers Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder, as well as a good deal of European poetry. Its list of publications remains vibrant, currently featuring art, politics and literature in translation from Europe and Latin America.
Of Ferlinghetti's own poetry, the best known is perhaps "A Coney Island of the Mind" (1958). Having sold well over a million copies, it is one of the country's best-selling books of poems.
Other volumes by Ferlinghetti include "Starting from San Francisco" (1961), "The Secret Meaning of Things" (1969), "Landscapes of Living and Dying" (1979), "These Are My Rivers" (1993) and "A Far Rockaway of the Heart" (1997), which, published 40 years later, is a sequel to "Coney Island" and consists of 101 poems as unrepentant and exultant as ever, defying popular notions and reflecting the influence of jazz and the American idiom. "How to Paint Sunlight," Ferlinghetti's 14th collection of poems, is being released by New Directions this month.
Unbeknownst to most of the literary world, Ferlinghetti has been a serious and obsessive painter since 1948 and in recent years has had a number of exhibitions, including a major show in Italy. He comes to Northampton direct from Greece, where he was one of a select group asked to read a poem to the Delphic Oracle on the occasion of the spring solstice.
Ferlinghetti's reading will be followed by a bookselling and signing. For more information, call Cindy Furtek in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson, director, at (413) 585-3368, or visit the Poetry Center Web site at http://www.smith.edu/poetrycenter/home.html.
Contact: Marti Hobbes, firstname.lastname@example.org
March 14, 2001
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