Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet Who Nurtured the Beats, Dies at 101

The world is a beautiful place 
to be born into 
if you don’t mind some people dying 
all the time 
or maybe only starving 
some of the time 
which isn’t half bad 
if it isn’t you 

Oh the world is a beautiful place 
to be born into 
if you don’t much mind 
a few dead minds 
in the higher places 
or a bomb or two 
now and then 
in your upturned faces 
or such other improprieties 
as our Name Brand society 
is prey to 
with its men of distinction 
and its men of extinction 
and its priests 
and other patrolmen 

and its various segregations 
and congressional investigations 
and other constipations 
that our fool flesh 
is heir to 

Yes the world is the best place of all 
for a lot of such things as 
making the fun scene 
and making the love scene 
and making the sad scene 
and singing low songs and having inspirations 
and walking around 
looking at everything 
and smelling flowers 
and goosing statues 
and even thinking 
and kissing people and 
making babies and wearing pants 
and waving hats and 
dancing 
and going swimming in rivers 
on picnics 
in the middle of the summer 
and just generally 
‘living it up’ 
Yes 
but then right in the middle of it 
comes the smiling 
mortician

N Y Times – 23 Feb 2021

“An unapologetic proponent of “poetry as insurgent art,” he was also a publisher and the owner of the celebrated San Francisco bookstore City Lights.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a poet, publisher and political iconoclast who inspired and nurtured generations of San Francisco artists and writers from City Lights, his famed bookstore, died on Monday at his home in San Francisco. He was 101. 
The cause was interstitial lung disease, his daughter, Julie Sasser, said.
The spiritual godfather of the Beat movement, Mr. Ferlinghetti made his home base in the modest independent book haven now formally known as City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. A self-described “literary meeting place” founded in 1953 and located on the border of the city’s sometimes swank, sometimes seedy North Beach neighborhood, City Lights, on Columbus Avenue, soon became as much a part of the San Francisco scene as the Golden Gate Bridge or Fisherman’s Wharf. (The city’s board of supervisors designated it a historic landmark in 2001.)
While older and not a practitioner of their freewheeling personal style, Mr. Ferlinghetti befriended, published and championed many of the major Beat poets, among them Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Michael McClure, who died in May. His connection to their work was exemplified — and cemented — in 1956 with his publication of Ginsberg’s most famous poem, the ribald and revolutionary “Howl,” an act that led to Mr. Ferlinghetti’s arrest on charges of “willfully and lewdly” printing “indecent writings.”
In a significant First Amendment decision, he was acquitted, and “Howl” became one of the 20th century’s best-known poems. (The trial was the centerpiece of the 2010 film “Howl,” in which James Franco played Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers played Mr. Ferlinghetti.)
In addition to being a champion of the Beats, Mr. Ferlinghetti was himself a prolific writer of wide talents and interests whose work evaded easy definition, mixing disarming simplicity, sharp humor and social consciousness.

“Every great poem fulfills a longing and puts life back together,” he wrote in a “non-lecture” after being awarded the Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal in 2003. A poem, he added, “should arise to ecstasy somewhere between speech and song.”
Critics and fellow poets were never in agreement about whether Mr. Ferlinghetti should be regarded as a Beat poet. He himself didn’t think so.
“In some ways what I really did was mind the store,” he told The Guardian in 2006. “When I arrived in San Francisco in 1951 I was wearing a beret. If anything I was the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats.”
Still, he shared the Beats’ taste for political agitation. Poems like “Tentative Description of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower” established him as an unapologetic proponent of, as the title of one of his books put it, “poetry as insurgent art.”

Photo: N Y Times

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