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The Legacy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I made my first trip to Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights bookstore in San Francisco nearly 20 years ago on a mission: I wanted to see if my first book, Dinner at the New Gene Cafe, was on its shelves. Perhaps displayed near the front of the store. Maybe even in the window?

I recalled that outing when I heard that Ferlinghetti, poet, publisher and founder of the iconic City Lights, had died this week, at 101.

It’s nice at this juncture to be able to say I was too young to be part of something. But that was the case with the Beat Generation, whose mid-20th Century participants regarded Ferlinghetti as a spiritual guide.

But I absorbed their work, particularly that of Jack Kerouac. It’s been said that Kerouac’s On the Road changed not just American literature but also anyone who read it. Of course that’s hyperbole. But as for me, the post-war experiences of Sal Paradise (Kerouac's character) and Dean Moriarty (his pal Neal Cassady) blazing across America in search of fun and freedom are unforgettable.

Did you ever go to the grocery store and want to ... just keep driving?

Ferlinghetti published works that other publishers wouldn’t touch, including Allan Ginsberg’s wildly erotic Howl, triggering a celebrated court fight that cemented publishing freedoms that stand to this day.

Ferlinghetti was a prolific poet himself. Perhaps you’ve heard of Coney Island of the Mind.

The wounded wilderness of Morris Graves

is not the same wild west

the white man found

It is a land that Buddha came upon

from a different direction

It is a wild white nest

in the true mad north

of introspection

where ‘falcons of the inner eye’

dive and die

glimpsing in their dying fall

all life’s memory

of existence

and with grave chalk wing

draw upon the leaded sky

a thousand threaded images

of flight

Poetry resonates here at New Bay Books. This month, we published our first poetry title,

Issues of Immorality, the 27th volume from the brilliantly irrepressible Elisavietta Ritchie, who settled in Calvert County after her global wanderings. We have more poetry for you in the pipeline.

Ferlinghetti would have loved Issues of Immortality — even though I have reason to question his tastes.

On that trip to City Lights a while back, after an unsuccessful trip through the shelves, I finally asked a clerk (not Ferlinghetti) where I might find my book.

“Haven’t heard of it,” she said, “so we probably don’t carry it. But I’ll check.”

She turned to a computer screen roughly the size of San Jose and scrolled for a bit.

“Don’t see that book anywhere,” she said. “Are you sure of the author’s name?”

“I think so,” I replied, just as the lights dimmed, announcing the bookstore's closing.

No hard feelings, Mr. Ferlinghetti.

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