Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (born Lawrence Ferling on March 24, 1919) [1] is an American poet. He is also the co-owner of the City Lights Bookstore and publishing house; the store and publishing company that published early literary works of the Beat generation, and helped to launch the careers of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.


  • 1 Biography
    • 1.1 Early life
    • 1.2 Career
    • 1.3 Ferlinghetti in pop culture
  • 2 Bibliography
  • 3 Discography
  • 4 Further reading
  • 5 Footnotes
  • 6 External links


Early life

Ferlinghetti was born in Yonkers, New York. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Brescia (Lombardy) -born father was Italian and had changed his surname from "Ferlinghetti" to "Ferling", although Lawrence changed the family name back when he was 36.[1] Lawrence's mother was the daughter of a French mother and a Sephardic father who taught at the United States Naval Academy and at a New York City college.[2] He attended the Mount Hermon School and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. He then attended University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and served as an officer in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war, he got a master's degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from the Sorbonne. While studying in Paris, he met Kenneth Rexroth, who later persuaded him to go to San Francisco to experience the growing literary scene there. Between 1951 and 1953 he taught French, wrote literary criticism, and painted.


City Lights Bookstore, 2007
City Lights Bookstore, 2007

In 1953, Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin started a bookshop, which they named City Lights after a film made by Charlie Chaplin. Two years later, after Martin left for New York, Ferlinghetti started the publishing house, specialising in poetry. The most famous publication was Howl, the poem by Allen Ginsberg, which was initially impounded by the authorities, and subject of a groundbreaking legal case.

Ferlinghetti had a retreat in a fairly wild area of Coastal California, Big Sur. In Kerouac's novel Big Sur, Ferlinghetti appears as the character Lorenzo Monsanto. He always enjoyed nature, and he espoused a liberal spirituality imbued with kindness. These aspects of his character inclined him toward friendships with American practitioners of Buddhism, including Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. Politically, he has described himself as an anarchist at heart (a community-oriented, ethical anarchist) who has come to accept that common humanity is not yet ready to live well within anarchism; consequently, he has espoused the sort of social democracy modelled in Scandinavian countries.

Ferlinghetti's best-known collection of poetry is A Coney Island of the Mind, which has been translated into nine languages. In 1998 he was named Poet Laureate of San Francisco. In addition to writing and publishing poetry and running the bookstore, Ferlinghetti continues to paint, and his work has been exhibited in galleries and museums.

Ferlinghetti's poetry often reflects his views about politics and social issues of the time, and he challenges contemporaneous thoughts about an artist's role in the world.

Ferlinghetti in pop culture

The Italian band Timoria dedicated the song Ferlinghetti Blues (from the album El Topo Grand Hotel) to the poet, where Ferlinghetti himself speaks one of his poems. Recordings of Ferlinghetti reading want ads, as featured on radio station KPFA in 1957, were recorded by Henry Jacobs and are featured on the Meat Beat Manifesto album At the Center, mistakenly credited to Kenneth Rexroth. Philadelphia rock musician, Kenn Kweder, also dedicated a track to the poet entitled, "Ferlinghetti." He also gave Canadian punk band Propagandhi permission to use his painting The Unfinished Flag of the United States, which features a map of the world painted in the stars and stripes, as the cover of their 2001 release Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes. On November 25, 1976 Ferlinghetti recited the poem Loud Prayer at The Band's final performance. Titled The Last Waltz, this concert was filmed by Martin Scorsese and released as a documentary which included Ferlinghetti's recitation.
Julio Cortázar, in his masterpiece Rayuela (Hopscotch) (1963) references a poem by Ferlinghetti. In Chapter 121 he quotes:

Yet I have slept with beauty
in my own weird way
and I have made a hungry scene or two
with beauty in my bed
and so spilled out another poem or two
and so spilled out another poem or two
upon the Bosch-like world.

It is also said that the rhythmic and musical qualities of Cortazar's writing brings to mind the best of Ferlinghetti's poetry.

Boston-based folk band Aztec Two Step took their name from the Coney Island of the Mind book of poems, quoting from the poem on the back of their first album of the same name.:

It was like this when
we waltz into this place
a couple of Papish cats
is doing an Aztec two-step
And I says
Dad let's cut
but then this dame
comes up behind me see
and says
You and me could really exist
Wow I says
Only the next day
she has bad teeth
and really hates


  • Pictures of the Gone World (1955)
  • A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)
  • Her (New Directions 1960)
  • Unfair Arguments with Existence (short plays) (1963)
  • Routines (short plays) (1964)
  • Starting from San Francisco (New Directions 1967)
  • Tyrannus Nix? (New Directions 1969)
  • The Secret Meaning of Things (1970)
  • The Mexican Night (Travel Journal) (New Directions 1970)
  • Landscapes of Living and Dying (1980) ISBN 0-8112-0743-9
  • Over All the Obscene Boundaries (1986)
  • A Buddha in the Woodpile (Atelier Puccini 1993)
  • A Far Rockaway Of The Heart (New Directions 1998)
  • Love in the Days of Rage (2001)
  • Americus: Part I (2004)
  • Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in a Mercedes (Unknown)


  • Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness (Track #8 "Dream: On A Sunny Afternoon..." with Helium). 1997
  • Poetry Readings in the Cellar (with the Cellar Jazz Quintet): Kenneth Rexroth & Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1957) Fantasy Records #7002 LP, (Spoken Word)
  • Ferlinghetti: The Impeachment of Eisenhower (1958) Fantasy Records #7004 LP, (Spoken Word)
  • Ferlinghetti: Tyrannus Nix? / Assassination Raga / Big Sur Sun Sutra / Moscow in the Wilderness (1970) Fantasy Records #7014 LP, (Spoken Word)

Further reading

  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Italian Tour 2005, photographs by Walter Pescara (Nicolodi, 2006 - special edition, not for sale)
  • Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)
  • Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time, by Barry Silesky (Warner Books, 1990)
  • Constantly Risking Absurdity: The Writings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, by Michael Skau (Whitson, 1989)
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poet-at-Large, by Larry R. Smith (Southern Illinois University Press, 1983)
  • Ferlinghetti: A Biography, by Neeli Cherkovski (Doubleday, 1979)


  1. ^ a b Academic.Brooklyn. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s italianita. Retrieved on October 30, 2006.
  2. ^ Guardian Unlimited. Last of the bohemians. Retrieved on October 30, 2006.
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti at The Soredove Press Limited Edition Poetry Chapbooks, Broadsides and Art
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti at The Beat Page Biography and Selected Poems.
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti at Literary Kicks
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti at American Poetry
  • Blue Neon Alley - Lawrence Ferlinghetti directory
  • 1988 audio interview by Don Swaim
  • Audio and video of reading at University of California Berkeley "Lunch Poems" series (December 1, 2005)
  • He is a co-signer of the urgent call to Drive Out the Bush Regime
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