May 1, 2001
Contact: John Newman (831) 459-2496; email@example.com
FERLINGHETTI TO READ
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SANTA CRUZ, CA--America is a fragmented society. A multitude of contradictory
agendas. A dizzy kaleidoscope of protean demographics. World War II may have been
the last war that will ever have anything resembling popular support, but even then,
when those clean-cut soldiers came marching home with every confidence they had set
the world right, there were those who were troubled by the insistent rhythm of the
drumbeat. A few who couldn't get comfortable in button-down, post-war, Joe McCarthy
America, who were haunted by the scorched earth of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and found
no refuge in the American dream, who were ruined, spent, beaten-down, beaten-up,
and beaten-out--a "beat" generation.
That, at least, is how Jack Kerouac described himself and his associates to John
Clellon Holmes, and how Holmes characterized the movement in the New York Times
article that defined it to the public. But for Kerouac, and most of the other "beats,"
the term had another meaning as well, "beat" as in beatitude: the bliss
of sacred knowledge--knowledge beyond the insular comforts of conventional American
The Beat culture is still identified with the city of San Francisco and the North
Beach neighborhood in particular, in part because of the city's long history of tolerance
for unconventional lifestyles, and because Lawrence Ferlinghetti chose to live and
Ferlinghetti is recognized as one of the seminal figures and most important poets
of the Beat movement. By the time he and his business partner, Peter Martin, opened
City Lights Bookstore and founded a magazine by the same name, Ferlinghetti had already
spent years living the "beat" life, completed a stint in the Navy, and
earned a doctoral degree in poetry from the Sorbonne in Paris. City Lights became
one of the most celebrated bookstores in the world, and a mecca for Beat writers
and artists. Along with such North Beach attractions as The Coffee Gallery, the Hungry
I, and Coffee and Confusion, City Lights was a principal meeting place for a flood
of alienated young people drawn to the neighborhood, and the spawning ground for
one of America's most literate, dissident subcultures.
Herb Caen, the late columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, coined the
term "Beatnik" in a column he wrote on April 2, 1958. It was a pejorative
term that evoked Yiddish slang, but Caen actually borrowed the suffix from the recently
launched Soviet "Sputnik." The association was enough to color most Americans'
view during the frostiest days of the Cold War, but Caen's bongo-toting beatnik burlesque
had little to do with the real Beat writers. They were hard at work, not just pushing
the envelope of modern American literature, but mailing it in from another galaxy.
When Allen Ginsburg composed the classic Beat poem Howl, Ferlinghetti published it
as volume four in the City Lights Pocket Poets series--prompting customs officers
and San Francisco police to seize the inventory and charge them both with publishing
obscene materials. The ensuing trial, and their ultimate vindication, was a landmark
victory for free speech in the United States. Ironically, the enormous publicity
generated by the trial made Ginsburg the best known of the Beat poets, and Howl one
of the best-selling books of American verse ever published.
Ferlinghetti's own poetry is simple and muscular, and even though less widely known
than Ginsburg's, it has remained popular for five decades. His best known works are
probably A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), and the follow-up volume A
Far Rockaway of the Heart (1997). He is still active as a poet and as the proprietor
of City Lights Bookstore, which still stands in its original location.
Ferlinghetti is one of the most important figures in a period of American arts that
today seems like a golden age. He will read from his works at the Rio Theater, 1205
Soquel Ave, on May 24, sponsored by the UCSC Friends of the Library. The reading
begins at 7:30 and goes until 9:30. Admission is free and open to the public. For
more information call: (831) 459-5870; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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