Friday, June 17, 2011

Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg & Dad

Chapbooks have played a key role in American poetry, integral to its development in our culture. It has provided a platform for emerging poets, and for that reason attract the indie, experimental and avant garde. Something about chapbooks romances people, and brings out the inner artist in poets. If you want to see an example, take a look at the chapbooks reviewed by Fiddler Crab Review.

About the time my father was contemplating boat plans, two emerging poets were rocking culture: Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allan Ginsberg.

Ferlinghetti, born in Yonkers, NY, eventually resettled in San Francisco and founded the now famous and iconic City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. By 1955 he had launched the City Lights publishing house--a mecca for a generation of writers, artists, and intellectuals—Bohemians and the Beat generation.

The City Lights Pocket Poets Series was a series of poetry collections—chapbook style—small, affordable paperbacks with a distinctive black and white cover design. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was #4 in the series, and led to obscenity charges for City Lights, who successfully opposed the charges with ACLU’s help. (Who ever thought poetry was genteel!?)

The two men were often described as anarchists, opponents to American imperialism, militarism and capitalism. As one poet described him: “Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a more complicated individual than we’re used to having in American life.”

My father had a few obscene comments himself about the poets, and I’m not a fan of either one either. But they changed the face of poetry, gave it a subversive edge, and endure as cultural icons (Ferlinghetti is still living and active in poetry readings; Ginsberg died in 1997). Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind remains the most popular poetry book in the United States.

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