Posts Tagged ‘Lawrence Ferlinghetti’

“Get in the dumpster with the hat and the dog.” And Ferlinghetti did.

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

Photographer Margo Davis and the late poet-activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who died on Monday, Feb 22, at 101, go back a long way. From about 1969 to 1970, she rented a downstairs apartment at the City Lights founder’s “classic red” house on Wisconsin Street, in the Potrero Hills district of San Francisco.

She was building her career as a photographer. The local celebrity was a natural subject. She wanted him to use the sombrero that was hanging in his house for a photo. Ferlinghetti told her he wanted the picture to include his dog Homer. “Get into the dumpster with the hat and the dog!” said the photographer. And so he did. This is the result.

Eventually, he sold the house, but she remembered one more story about him from those long-ago days. Davis’s then-husband, Professor Gregson Davis, taught Latin and classics at Stanford. One day Ferlinghetti burst in with a magnifying glass and a dollar bill. “Can you translate this dollar?” he asked. What did he want translated? E Pluribus Unum. What else?

Postscript: Margo Davis reminds me that there is also Latin on the other side of the dollar bill, around the pyramid with the eye. If I had a dollar bill in the house I’d run and check.

And another postscript, this time from Gregson Davis, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Duke University: On the reverse of the dollar bill there are two Latin citations above and below the pyramid: annuit coeptis (top) and novus ordo seclorum (below).  The latter is an allusion (not an exact quote) to Vergil’s 4th Eclogue: “A new order/cycle  of ages”.  I put Lawrence on to the Eclogues, which he had never read, and he immediately began composing a poem, originally called “The Nixon Eclogues,” but later published as “Tyrannus Nix.”  By the way, the top citation (which is loosely translated as “he favors our beginnings”) is inscribed in very large letters on the dome of the Capitol.  In one of the vivid mages that captured moments of the insurrection, an intruder can be seen hanging by one hand from the architrave directly under the large letters: ANNUIT COEPTIS. Ironies galore!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s editor remembers: “it was a thrill to get to work on his stuff.”

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021
For his 100th: a poet reading outside Caffe Trieste (Photos: Regan McMahon)

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is dead at 101. As someone said on Facebook, we thought he would go on and on – like Keith Richards. Many voices have been heard today memorializing the City Lights legend, but one aspect of the poet’s career has been forgotten: he once wrote a regular column for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was during the time David Kipen was the valiant book editor of the paper’s book section … back in the days when it had a standalone book section, and back in the days when I was writing for the section regularly, too. David signed up the poet and activist to write some time after Ferlinghetti was named San Francisco Poet Laureate in 1998.

Former Deputy Editor Regan McMahon (now books editor at Common Sense Media) remembers: “I was privileged to get to edit the column Ferlinghetti wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Books section for a while. Loved when he’d reminisce about his early days in San Francisco in the early ‘50s. A man of integrity, artistic vision, and wit. City Lights has always been a touchstone. Think how many travelers saw Ferlinghetti’s bookstore as a destination and walked away with a book of poetry. That alone should earn him sainthood.”

“I had to fret over it coming in late, as I recall. I basically copyedited it, and of course wanted to let his voice shine through, even if I had to make a few schoolmarmish fixes. He took ’em in stride. I forget how long he wrote for us or how or why it ended. I think he got tired of meeting deadlines. But the pieces were full of charm, wit, and wisdom. And it was a thrill to get to work on his stuff.”

She also remembers “the great day we had in North Beach for his 100th birthday celebration in 2019.” And she took some photos.

“Slid by Caffe Trieste, where a poet was reading outside on the sidewalk, natch, then walked down to Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store, a family tradition.”

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Another reason why poetry today has a bad name

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s latest is for the birds. It’s in the San Francisco Chronicle here.

On the printed page, the lines are indented inward, on each successive line, for no apparent reason except to give the visual appearance of poetic form. (The Chronicle routinely screws up online lineation.)

It opens:  A cock cried out in my sleep

Even forgiving the double entendre, which I will mercifully assume is unintentional, I wonder when is the last time Ferlinghetti saw an actual, non-figurative cock in downtown San Francisco.  (Example for city-dwellers, see right.)

Basically, this United Colors of Benetton poem is in support of smiling niceness.  The politics are safe and clichéd, the term “Third World” in itself has become something of a cliché. It’s hard to believe we’ve come so far from Allen Ginsberg and “Howl.”

Where are the editors?  This is an appalling lapse of judgment.

Ferlinghetti, San Francisco’s first poet laureate, is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

What? No Kepler’s?

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

10,000 square feet of books

On Christmas Eve, Flavorwire named the top ten U.S. bookstores here. The article begins in this user-friendly way:  “Bookstores are dying. They’re dying because of jerks who are too cheap to buy a hardcover, or even a paperback, and too lazy to get a library card.”  Odd, for an article that is running online.

Two bookstores in Seattle made the cut, and Powell’s of Portland.  San Francisco’s City Lights is named — no surprise there, either:

Justly famous: City Lights

“Started by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, City Lights Booksellers and Publishers in San Francisco, CA offers the best in classic and newly-released literature. Their claim to fame is publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems then suffering through the resulting obscenity trial. After all that, the store was designated a San Francisco landmark. Supplementing their in-store performances and promotion is their delightful podcast with news on releases and upcoming events.”

Kepler's in 1955

The comments are filled with protest.  Several nominate San Francisco’s Green Apple Books and one reader voted for Diane Goodman’s Ocean Avenue Books.  But, surprise:  no Cody’s and Moe’s from Berkeley.  And … what?  No Kepler’s?

After all, the fame of Kepler’s is international.  Salman Rushdie, the Shah of Blah himself, lamented during a recent visit that he had “never made it to Kepler’s before” and added “I am delighted to finally find my way to Menlo Park.”

Roy Kepler

Kepler’s was founded in May 1955 by peace activist Roy Kepler. The Grateful Dead gave live shows there early in their career, and they, along with folk singer Joan Baez, often made appearances at the bookstore.  (Management assumed by Clark Kepler, Roy’s son, in 1980.)  Customer loyalty is fierce.

In 1990 Publishers Weekly named Kepler’s “Bookseller of the Year.” However, by 1996, large discount warehouses and were revolutionizing the bookselling business. Kepler’s closed its doors on August 31, 2005.  That’s where the fierce customer loyalty kicked in:  The local community responded with demonstrations. Thousands gathered on the expanse of what is now known as “Kepler’s Plaza” to express support and protest the loss.

The bookstore re-opened in October 2005.

Kepler’s story is told in the documentary, Paperback Dreams, which aired on PBS, tells the tale of two landmark independent booksellers and their struggle to survive. Cody’s and Kepler’s Books helped launch a counter-culture, and for 50 years have protected free speech and celebrated intellectual inquiry. At one time or another, the owners of these stores were harassed, vandalized, threatened, and even suffered acts of terrorism for simply selling books. But their future is uncertain in our fast digital world.  You can order the DVD here.