The great Lawrence Ferlinghetti has been assumed into heaven at the age of 101. More than any other figure in the Anglo-American Literary world, Ferlinghetti contributed to the democratisation of literature, especially poetry, in the post second world war period.
Through his City Lights publishing house he published numerous diverse & non-mainstream, non-academic poets who would otherwise never have been heard of. He published them in cheap, widely available paperbacks, & encouraged a culture of lively public readings, widening the audience for poetry considerably for a time.
He stood by Allen Ginsberg when Howl (which, if you have not read, you have not lived) was under attack from the religious right & government censors & their win in that critical ‘obscenity’ trial in 1955 paved the way for the liberation of the word in the following decades & made possible the subsequent flowering of many alternative literatures.
In particular he will always be associated with the Beat Movement – that’s Ginsberg & Kerouac, but also Patti Smith & Bob Dylan.
The Beats wrote about freedom & travel & loving who you wanted to love & promoted a lifestyle of fellowship & celebration. They saved Anglo-American literature from the various deadly boring dead-ends of post-war modernism & they were the first & greatest of post-war youth DIY countercultures in the west.
Without them all, rock & roll (& thus punk, rave etc etc) would have been very different or maybe not happened atall.
This, in important senses, is the person who invented us.
Read a poem or better still write one today in his honour & glorious memory.
Me & a few other poets who love The Beats will organise a memorial reading for Irish fans in a few days time – keep an eye our for details.