THIS IS probably one of my favorite corners to stand on on the planet. Crossing Columbus Avenue, facing City Lights Books & Publishers.
Over the weekend, City Lights’ co-founder, the poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, marked his 100th birthday and there was much noise and celebration throughout North Beach and beyond.
I have been visiting the store since before college, I would guess. Dragging friends along to wander among the many floors of books, later to pose outside under the signage. But always what was the most magical thing about this place was happening upon its founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, walking along Columbus or holding forth in one of the sunny cafes. This store is one of the important points on my personal map. I wouldn’t be who I was without it.
I wrote piece for the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed section that ran yesterday about both Ferlinghetti and the store’s legacy and impact. You can find it here.
A FEW months back, I had the pleasure to sit down for a few hours with San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck for a wide-ranging conversation facilitated by Denise Sullivan for Boom: A Journal of California. You can find it here.
Wandering North Beach: My Home Away From Home
For two cities that are so very different on the surface, we found we had similar experiences growing up in our respective home towns. I have lived both places and have watched both cities shift around me. Each one has left its mark in ways that are measurable and indelible.
“I walked up a hill, up California past Chinatown, someplace I came to a white garage….and this guy in a swivel chair wanted to know what I wanted, I understood all of my moves as one obligation after another to communicate to whoever not accidentally but by *arrangement* was placed before me, communicate and exchange this news, the vibration and new meaning that I had, about everything happening to everyone all the time everywhere….” — Jack Kerouac born OTD 1922 .
Often when I post here, I try to consider Los Angeles less a focus and more a prism. That said: I couldn’t help but not linger on the passages about Los Angeles in the new collection of Lawrence Ferlinghetti journals, Writing Across the Landscapes.
Though there wasn’t room to cite it in my review, I keep thinking about this vivid glimpse of an unexpected Los Angeles.
This entry reads like the photographs of Gordon Parks, Robert Frank — or the photo above captured by Larry Winogrand from the same period.
Here’s a little fragment of an image/thought montage.
It’s just a moment. A 50-year-old L.A. moment
Came upon Los Angeles by bus at night … Ah the crazy hotels, crazy streets, sad signs of America –Jesus Saves!–Tom’s Tattoo–The Electric Rembrandt–Snooker Parlor–“Acres of Autos”– Hotel Small — Ice Rink–Greyhound — Los Angeles Street -TV in Rooms –eat–Barber and Beauty Supply–Pawnshop–“Shave Yourself” — Might as well be on the Trans-Siberian Railway …
Strange people waiting in Greyhound Bus Depot: One all-leather cat with cowboy hat — tight motorcycle pants with zippers on slash pockets and lithe padlocks on each zipper–same on tight jacket — all black leather ….Animated, talking to a Negro also in cycle suit only much less flashy.
And lonely the hotel doors, gaping. And lonely the lobbies, lonely the beds! Forever & ever…Lonely the lunchrooms, lonely the cars running in the streets … Lonely Los Angeles, lonely world!
Sure are a lot of defeated people in this here America …”
I JUST finished floating through nearly 900 pages of dreamy recollections — those of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Two books arrive, just months apart, that provide a fresh look at the publisher and poet who was responsible for creating the necessary support for a new generation of thinkers and writers. Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books — both the publisher and book store — has served as north star in San Francisco’s North Beach for generations. I review two books for the Los Angeles Times — Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals: 1960-2010 and “I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career” The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg – 1955-1997 .
“I felt the sensation of each of the directions I mentally and emotionally turned into amazed at all the possible directions you can take with different motives that come in like it can make you a different person — I’ve often thought of this since childhood of suppose instead of going up Columbus as I usually did I’d turn into Filbert would something happen that at the time is insignificant enough but would be like enough to influence my whole life in the end? — What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?”
― Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans
Born March 12, 1922