Thursday, February 25, 2021

"He writes like he is seeing things for the first time, every time"

In the wake of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's death, how will he be most fondly remembered?

As not only a fervent believer in the idea that literature (and poetry in particular) should be accessible to all, but as someone who actually put his money where his mouth was and took a stand against intellectual snobbery by founding a bookshop dedicated to paperbacks? City Lights soon became the heartbeat of countercultural San Francisco and - as even the most fleeting of visits demonstrates - the now legendary store still retains some of its magic today.

Or perhaps as an early champion of the work of the Beats, and especially as the foolhardy/savvy publisher who dared to take a risk on Allen Ginsberg's Howl? That risk wasn't merely financial - the poem's purported obscenity saw him arrested. But it also generated huge publicity and, after he was acquitted, he told the Guardian's Colin Robinson in 2015, "the floodgates were opened. People ... were able to publish Lady Chatterley's Lover, Henry Miller's Tropics, Jean Genet, and so on."

For David Keenan, though, Ferlinghetti's most significant legacy is his own work. The novelist's personal tribute, published on The Social's site, is both rhapsodic and powerful: "Ferlinghetti makes me want to LIVE. His work, his ethos, his example, sounds a resounding yes to all of the yes to be had. His books point you out, once more, into the world, and it is made new, as it always truly is, by Ferlinghetti's wonderful command of beginner's mind. He writes like he is seeing things for the first time, every time, which really, you know, is the truth. Everything is new and risen up and blushing in its perfect moment, and Ferlinghetti's poems point to this again and again, the virgin ground of eternity is the map of his poetry."

Here he is, sat in City Lights' editorial office, reading 'The World Is A Beautiful Place'. That closing line about the "smiling mortician" strikes an even greater blow now - and yet, Keenan observes, "Lawrence Ferlinghetti will live forever, because poetry says so".

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