Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poet and Publisher, Dies at 101

From Bill Mohr’s Blog, Koan Kinship:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is Dead; Long Live City Lights

Feb. 23, 2021 — Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 – 2021)

Early this afternoon, I heard the news that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had died. I guess that Naomi Replansky will remain the oldest living American poet for at least a little longer.

Tributes to him will no doubt flourish as the obituaries trot out the familiar details, but the only important tribute has already been paid by those who cared the most about his most significant accomplishment, a bookstore that took up the 18th century model of also being a publisher. In the early months of the Pandemic, City Lights Bookstore held a fundraiser in hopes of stabilizing its chances of surviving the loss of its flow of daily customers. The fundraiser was so successful that the bookstore generated a minor endowment that will nurture it through at least the rest of this decade. In 2028, the store will turn 75 years old. It is not too early to plan on making that occasion a chance to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of copies of books that have found grateful readers thanks to this store’s visibility.

And from NPR:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti has died in San Francisco. He was 101. Ferlinghetti is probably best known for three things: his Beat poetry, his San Francisco bookstore and small press, and his defense of the First Amendment in a famous court case.

His most famous work is a 1958 collection of poetry called A Coney Island of the Mind. In it, he compares the horrors depicted in Francisco Goya’s paintings of the Napoleonic wars to scenes of post-World War II America.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem

A Coney Island of the Mind was translated into nine languages and sold more than a million copies. Despite his popularity, Ferlinghetti was never considered on par with some of the other Beat writers he called his friends — Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg.

Even though Ferlinghetti was raised in New York, he said he never met those East Coast writers until he moved to San Francisco and opened his bookstore, City Lights.

“A bookstore is a natural place for poets to hang out,” Ferlinghetti said in a 1994 interview. “And they started showing up there right from the beginning.”

City Lights became a magnet for West Coast intellectuals and later a tourist destination.

Ferlinghetti also started a small press called City Lights Books. In the fall of 1956, he published a little 75-cent paperback, the first edition of Howl by Allen Ginsberg.

Howl was a new type of poetry that gave voice to an undercurrent of dissatisfaction in Dwight Eisenhower’s America. It became an anthem for the nascent counterculture.

“Before Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, the state of poetry in America is a little bit like the way it is today: poetry about poetry,” Ferlinghetti said in 1994. “Howl knocked the sides out of things, just the way rock music in the ’60s knocked the sides out of the old music world.”

Howl included passages describing sex — both between men and women and between two men — and Ferlinghetti was arrested in 1957 on charges of publishing obscene material. At the end of a long federal trial, the poem was found to have redeeming social importance and therefore to not be obscene.

Read more here.

Posted on February 24, 2021
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Gerald Locklin (1941-2021)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Gerald Locklin (1941-2021)

The W-E Bicoastal Poetry Reading Series took place this afternoon and it went very well, though my heart was incredibly heavy. Shortly after 1 p.m., I learned that Gerald Locklin had died shortly before 8 a.m. Eileen Klink, the chair of the English Department at CSU Long Beach, sent out an email mid-day announcing his death, which was due to covid-19.

Most of the Los Angeles poetry community has heard the news by now. Out of respect for Gerry and his family and friends, I am not going to saything other than he was one of the founders of Stand Up poetry, a movement whose earliest practitioners were based in Long Beach. It became well enough known that Edward Field make a special point in his anthology A GEOGRAPHY OF POETS of mentioning the unlikelihood of anything poetic coming out of Long Beach. Poetry in California was supposed to have its pedigree in North Beach, not Long Beach, but Locklin had a gift for the comic poem that influenced an entire generation of poets in Southern California.

If Locklin went unrecognized by East Coast canon shapers, he didn’t let on that it bothered him that much. He was too busy working on the next poem. I’ll grant anyone that it’s impossible to publish 3,000 poems and have all of them be of equal quality, but it’s not necessarily the poet’s job to be the adjudicator. Some of his finest poems are his ekphrastic commentaries that he started producing in the last portion of his writing life, and I don’t believe he would been so deft at that form if he devoted himself to a poetics of casual improvisation.

If you are not familiar with his work, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one of his books or a few representative poems in an anthology such as Charles Harper Webb’s STAND UP POETRY or my anthology POETRY LOVES POETRY. or Suzanne Lummis’s GRADN PASSION and WIDE AWAKE: Poets of Losn Angeles and Beyond.

Gerald Locklin was born in 1941 in Rochester, New York and went to Catholic schools, an experience memorably recorded in his classic Stand Up poem, “The Criminal Mentality.” He earned a M.A. and Ph.D. from Arizona State University, which is where I believe he came to know one of his early compatriots in the Stand Up movement, Ron Koertge. Locklin started teaching college in Southern California in the mid-1960s and earned a formidable reputation as a professor whose knowledge of literature matched his willingness to spend time in local bars: one of his best-known early. poems was entitled “Beer.” His literary alter ego, Toad, never seemed to lack for anecdotal levity.

L to R: Ron Koertge, Ben Pleasants, Charles Bukowski, Steve Richmond, Gerald Locklin. Photograph by Mark Sullivan, Los Angeles, 1975.

In an interview, Charles Bukowski was asked about his opinion of contemporary poets in Los Angeles. Bukowski dismissed them all as mediocrities, except for one: Gerald Locklin. It should be emphasized that Locklin did not earn that praise because he was Bukowski’s drinking buddy. Locklin more than once commented that the secret of his relationship with Bukowski was that he kept his social distance from him.

Fortunately for the rest of us in Los Angeles, Gerry embraced us with a Fastaffian generosity. I could say he will be missed, but that had already begun before he died. I am lucky enough to have those memories to console me. R.I.P., Gerry.

Reprinted from Koan Kinship– Bill Mohr’s Blog

Posted on January 18, 2021
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Word Jazz

Flibberty Jib

What time is it

From Word Jazz
Ken Nordine · The Fred Katz Group

℗ 1957 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Released on: 1957-01-01

Associated Performer, Cello: Fred Katz
Associated Performer, Woodwinds: Paul Horn
Associated Performer, Guitar: John Pisano
Associated Performer, Bass Guitar: Jimmy Bond
Associated Performer, Drums: Forest Horn
Producer: Tom Mack
Narrator: Ken Nordine
Composer Lyricist: Ken Nordine
Composer Lyricist: Fred Katz

Posted on January 17, 2021
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The Beat Scene: ‘Pull My Daisy’ (1959)

Pull My Daisy (1959) is a short film that typifies the Beat Generation. Directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, Daisy was adapted by Jack Kerouac from the third act of his play, Beat Generation; Kerouac also provided improvised narration. It starred poets Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso, artists Larry Rivers (Milo) and Alice Neel (bishop’s mother), musician David Amram, actors Richard Bellamy (Bishop) and Delphine Seyrig (Milo’s wife), dancer Sally Gross (bishop’s sister), and Pablo Frank, Robert Frank’s then-young son.

Based on an incident in the life of Beat icon Neal Cassady and his wife, the painter Carolyn, the film tells the story of a railway brakeman whose wife invites a respected bishop over for dinner. However, the brakeman’s bohemian friends crash the party, with comic results.

From: Pull My Daisy from Altarwise on Vimeo.


Posted on January 16, 2021
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What’s in a Name?

By Harley W. Lond

In this age of Trumpistic double-speak and alternate facts, we need to take a closer look at our history and begin to understand how evil has come to be memorialized in our culture.

The vestiges of racism, slavery and corruption need to be eradicated; one step in that direction has already begun: the purging of overtly racist artifacts. Confederate flags are not appropriate to display in public; Confederate and racist monuments should be taken down (General Lee); some names need to be changed (Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians); some products need to be rebranded (Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Eskimo Pie).But let’s be careful how far we take this. Washington Post and MSNBC columnist Eugene Robinson recently asked: “What about non-Confederate historical figures who were white supremacists? If every statue of a racist were taken down, we’d mostly have empty pediments and plinths. It should depend on the person, the context and the memorial itself.”

Indeed, Woodrow Wilson’s name has been removed from Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson College because he was a segregationist; President Ulysses S. Grant and lyricist Francis Scott Key’s statues were toppled in SF’s Golden Gate Park (both were slave holders). Locally, Orange County has decided to rename John Wayne Airport because the actor had made racist comments in several interviews. What are the contexts here?

Robinson again: “There is an obvious difference between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who founded our union, and, say, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson, who tried to destroy it. The fact that [they] owned slaves should temper our admiration for them but not erase it entirely.” I kind of think that sentiment goes for Wilson, Grant, Key, and even John Wayne. If you disagree, then there’s still more to do, right here in Los Angeles. The history of our city is one of oil, land and water scandals, of genocide and segregation. Maybe we should reconsider some of our local names and make some changes. And let’s not stop at racism.

The growth of California, particularly the southern portion, was pushed along by slavery. The Franciscan missions were built on the backs of the Indians, who were beaten and slaughtered by the Spanish. In 1769, Father Junipero Serra founded California’s first missions by implementing a near-genocidal policy. With the help of Spain’s soldiers, the Indians were brought to the sites of the missions and, once there, they became slaves, directed by the friars. A side note: Serra was instrumental in bringing the Spanish Inquisition to the New World. For doing God’s work, Pope Francis canonized him in 2015. Activists have toppled his statues, but that’s not enough. Anything having to do with Serra and Mission culture needs to be reevaluated.

Joseph LeConte, who was one of the co-founders of the Sierra Club and was an early advocate for conservation and preservation of California’s natural wonders, was a die-hard racist from South Carolina. He joined the UC Berkeley faculty in the late 19th century as a professor of physics and chemistry and there used scientific language to promote racist ideas. In 1939, long after his death, the university named its  physics building after him. Just this week UC Berkeley pulled down LeConte’s name from the building.

Last July, the North Westwood Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to rename Westwood’s Le Conte Avenue (possibly changing the name to honor UCLA alumnus Jackie Robinson) but the city council has the final say on that. (Also at UCLA there has been a movement to rename the campus’ Janss steps, named after the Janss Investment Company, which used racial covenants to exclude people of color from buying or renting property in Westwood).

Until developer Abbot Kinney created Venice in 1905, he crusaded for Anglo Saxon racial purity through eugenics. He also demeaned women, Chinese, Jews, etc. — but, for some reason, changed his mind in later years (probably for economic reasons while he was building his “Venice of America”). Because of this disdain for minorities, Abbott Kinney Blvd. in Venice should have its name changed.

Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company bribed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall to get oil leases without competitive bidding; this was part of the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal (1921-23). Fall went to prison; Doheny has a street, a mansion, libraries, and several other buildings named after him. The street and these buildings should have their names changed.

The Chandlers (the Los Angeles Times dynasty), Henry Huntington (Southern Pacific Railroad)), Isaias W. Hellman (Wells Fargo) and other prominent LA tycoons, joined in “syndicates” to monopolize development and subdivisions of Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley in the 1900s-1920s. The San Fernando valley was indeed ripe for development, but to turn it into a boom area it needed water. Under the pretext of bringing needed water to LA, Frederick Eaton (LA’s Mayor) and William Mulholland (head of the Los Angeles Water Dept.) sold the city on building an aqueduct from the Owens Valley — in eastern California — to LA proper. They created a false drought by dumping water from Los Angeles reservoirs into the sewers and supported the “drought” by scare articles in the Los Angeles Times.

LA acquired the Owens Valley water rights in a deceitful way, forcing prices down and pitting neighbors against one another. There was violence on both sides of these “Water Wars” (1905-1928) — some Owens Valley farmers were fond of dynamite — but in the end, LA won. Meanwhile, the aforementioned syndicates, with secret inside information from Eaton, connived to buy land in the San Fernando Valley at incredibly low prices. Unknown to the public, the water from the aqueduct would be used to irrigate the San Fernando Valley, allowing for unbridled development, and filling the syndicates’ coffers with money. The Owens Lake was drained, and the once bountiful farming paradise became a desert — to this day.

Should we change the names of any buildings, streets or charities bearing the names Chandler, Huntington, Mulholland or Hellman?

The city of Lakewood, developed by Mark Taper and his partners in the early 1950s, was funded by FHA loans with the stipulation that African Americans be barred. The rules stated that “incompatible racial elements” would disqualify builders from federally backed loans. Additionally, property deeds were required to prohibit resale to African Americans. Because of Taper’s complicity in this implicit act of segregation, the Mark Taper Forum should have its name changed.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I know there’s many, many LA racists, scoundrels, and crooks I’ve missed who have had buildings and streets named after them. What do you think?

Published November 23, 2020, in CityWatch.

Posted on November 24, 2020
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