March 24th Birthday Love: Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti in front of his San Francisco bookstore City Lights in 1996. Photograph by Chris Felver.

Today is the birthday of the American poet Lawrence Monsanto Ferlinghetti,.  He was born March 24, 1919 in Bronxville, New York.

In 1953, he moved to San Francisco with his wife, Selden Kirby-Smith.  There, he and Peter D. Martin of City Lights magazine started City Lights Bookstore, and thus began Ferlinghetti’s central role in the rising of the Beat movement as the store became a gathering place for local writers.  As pivotal a role he played in the movement, he preferred not to describe his own writing as “Beat,” but rather “wide-open” writing, which he explained once in an interview for the San Francisco Herald:

“Wide-open poetry refers to what Pablo Neruda told me in Cuba in 1950 at the beginning of the Fidelista revolution: Neruda said, ‘I love your wide-open poetry.’ He was either referring to the wide-ranging content of my poetry, or, in a different mode, to the poetry of the Beats…”

City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco

Ferlinghetti founded City Lights publishing in 1955 after Martin left the bookstore.  With City Lights he published his first book of poetry, Pictures of the Gone World, as well as works by Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Gregory Corso, among others.

His most famous work is his collection of poems, A Coney Island of the Mind, which was published by New Directions in 1958.

A Coney Island of the Mind, 1958

Recipe For Happiness Khaborovsk Or Anyplace

One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups.

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you.

One fine day.

-Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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