Lawrence Ferlinghetti

A prominent voice of the wide-open poetry movement that began in the 1950s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti writes poetry, translation, fiction, theater, art criticism, film narration, and essays. Often concerned with politics and social issues, Ferlinghetti’s poetry counters an elitist conception of art and the artist’s role in the world. Although his poetry is often concerned with everyday life and civic themes, it is never simply personal or polemical, and it stands on his grounding in tradition and universal reach.

Ferlinghetti was born in Bronxville, New York on March 24, 1919, son of Carlo Ferlinghetti, an immigrant from Brescia, Italy, and Clemence Mendes-Monsanto. Following his undergraduate years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he took a degree in journalism, he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He was a commander of three different submarine chasers in the Atlantic and saw action at the Normandy invasion. Later in the war, he was assigned to the attack transport USS Selinur in the Pacific. In 1945, just after the atomic bomb obliterated Nagasaki, he witnessed firsthand the horrific ruins of the city. This experience was the origin of his lifelong antiwar stance.

Ferlinghetti received a Master’s degree in English Literature from Columbia University in 1947 and a Doctorate de l’Université de Paris (Sorbonne) in 1950. From 1951 to 1953, after he settled in San Francisco, he taught French in an adult education program, painted, and wrote art criticism. In 1953, with Peter D. Martin, he founded City Lights Bookstore, the first all-paperback bookshop in the country. For over sixty years the bookstore has served as a “literary meeting place” for writers, readers, artists, and intellectuals to explore books and ideas.

In 1955, Ferlinghetti launched City Lights Publishers with the Pocket Poets Series, extending his concept of a cultural meeting place to a larger arena. His aim was to present fresh and accessible poetry from around the world in order to create “an international, dissident ferment.” The series began in 1955 with his own Pictures of the Gone World; translations by Kenneth Rexroth and poetry by Kenneth Patchen, Marie Ponsot, Allen Ginsberg, and Denise Levertov were soon added to the list.

Copies of Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems were seized by authorities in 1956 and Ferlinghetti was arrested and charged with selling obscene material. He defended Howl in court, a case that drew national attention to the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat Generation writers, many of whom he later published. (With a fine defense by the ACLU and the support of prestigious literary and academic figures, he was acquitted.) This landmark First Amendment case established a legal precedent for the publication of controversial work with redeeming social importance.

In the 1960s, Ferlinghetti plunged into a life of frequent travel––giving poetry readings, taking part in festivals, happenings, and literary/political conferences in Chile, Cuba, Germany, the USSR, Holland, Fiji, Australia, Nicaragua, Spain, Greece, and the Czech Republic––as well as in Mexico, Italy, and France, where he spent substantial periods of time. A resolute progressive, he spoke out on such crucial political issues as the Cuban revolution, the nuclear arms race, farm-worker organizing, the Vietnam War, the Sandanista and Zapatista struggles, and the wars in the Middle East.

Ferlinghetti’s paintings have been shown at a number of exhibitions and galleries in the U.S. and abroad. In the 1990s he was associated with the international Fluxus movement through the Archivio Francesco Conz in Verona. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including a 2010 retrospective at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere, Italy, and a group exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2016. His works are in the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of American Arts and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and most recently exhibited at a one-man show at San Francisco’s Rena Bransten Gallery in July 2016.

He was named San Francisco’s Poet Laureate in August 1998. He has been the recipient of numerous awards: the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Kirsch Award, the BABRA Award for Lifetime Achievement, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award, the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, and the Authors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, he was was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2005 the National Book Foundation gave him the inaugural Literarian Award for outstanding service to the American literary community. In 2007 he was named Commandeur, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In Italy, his poetry has been awarded the Premio Taormino, the Premio Camaiore, the Premio Flaiano, and the Premio Cavour.

Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) continues to be one of the most popular poetry books in the U.S., with over 1,000,000 copies in print. A prolific author, Ferlinghetti has over a dozen books currently in print, and his work has been translated into many languages. Among his poetry books are These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems, 1955-1993(1993), _A Far Rockaway of the Heart _(1997), How to Paint Sunlight (2001), Americus Book I(2004), Poetry as Insurgent Art (2007), _Time of Useful Consciousness _(2012), and Blasts Cries Laughter (2014), all published by New Directions. His two novels are Her (1960) and Love in the Days of Rage (2001). City Lights issued an anthology of San Francisco poems in 2001. He is the translator of Paroles by Jacques Prévert (from French) and Roman Poems by Pier Paolo Passolini (from Italian.) In 2015 Liveright Publishing, a division of W.W. Norton, published his Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals (1960-2010). In 2017, New Directions published an anthology of his work titled Ferlinghetti’s Greatest Poems, and his latest book is a novel, titled Little Boy (Doubleday, 2019).

Related Articles

Ferlinghetti's Greatest Poems

At last, just in time for his 99th birthday, a powerful overview of one of America’s most beloved poets: New Directions is proud to present a swift, terrific chronological selection of Ferlinghetti’s poems, spanning more than six decades of work and presenting one of modern poetry’s greatest achievements.
More Information

Blasts Cries Laughter

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Blasts contains blasts, blessings, and curses in the vortex of today, taking its cues from the original little magazine, Blast (published by Wyndham Lewis with Ezra Pound in 1914–15), which helped create the modernist movement in literature and the visual arts. Ferlinghetti speaks for the poor, the forgotten, the beaten, and the bombed. And speak to us in the poet’s voice the voice of the people mixed with a wild soft laughter —…
More Information

Time of Useful Consciousness: Limited Edition

Nonfiction by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

New Directions is proud to announce a galvanizing new book by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. At ninety-three, Ferlinghetti shows more power than most any other poet at work today. He describes his new book, Time of Useful Consciousness — his first since Poetry as Insurgent Art — as “a fragmented recording of the American stream-of-consciousness, always westward streaming; a people’s poetic history in the tradition of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, Charles Olson’s Maximus, Allen Ginsberg’s Fall of America, and Ed Sanders’s America: A History in Verse.…
More Information

Time of Useful Consciousness

Nonfiction by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

**A limited edition Time of Useful Consciousness is also available. **Details are here. **** New Directions is proud to announce a galvanizing new book by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. At ninety-three, Ferlinghetti shows more power than most any other poet at work today. He describes his new book, _Time of Useful Consciousness — _his first since _Poetry as Insurgent Art — as “a fragmented recording of the American stream-of-consciousness, always westward streaming; a people’s poetic history in the tradition of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, Charles Olson’s Maximus, Allen Ginsberg’s Fall of America, and Ed Sanders’s America: A History in Verse_.…
More Information

Poetry As Insurgent Art

Since publishing A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), Lawrence Ferlinghetti has been the poetic conscience of America. Now in Poetry as Insurgent Art, he offers a primer, in prose, of what poetry is, could be, and should be. If you read poetry, find out what is missing from the usual fare you are served; if you are a poet, read at your own risk––you will never again look at your role in the same way.…
More Information

Americus

Describing Americus as “part documentary, part public pillow-talk, part personal epic—a descant, a canto unsung, a banal history, a true fiction, lyric and political,” Ferlinghetti combines “universal texts, snatches of song, words or phrases, murmuring of love or hate, from Lotte Lenya to the latest soul singer, sayings and shibboleths from Yogi Berra to the National Anthem, the Gettysburg Address or the Ginsberg Address, that haunt our nocturnal imagination.” This book is a wake-up call that breaks new ground in the grand tradition of Whitman, W.…
More Information

How To Paint Sunlight

How to Paint Sunlight, now being made available in paperbook format, is graced with a short introduction by the poet in which he says, “All I ever wanted to do was paint light on the walls of life.” For more than fifty years Ferlinghetti has been doing just that––illuminating both the everyday and the unusual, all the while keeping true to his original dictum of speaking in a way accessible to everyone.…
More Information

Routines

In this collection of thirteen very short plays, Ferlinghetti extends the experiments he began in Unfair Arguments with Existence (1963) into an area barely explored by any dramatist to date––a no man’s land between old-style drama and the spontaneous improvisation of the “happening.’ In between these two extremes, he has created blueprints for dramatic action––outlines from which director and actors may create and interpret freely. There has been much talk lately (in quarterlies such as Studies on the Left) about “revolutionary theatre,” and these “Routines” are a certain step in that direction.…
More Information

A Coney Island of The Mind (Special Edition)

Ferlinghetti is a national treasure, and his voice has become part of our collective conscience. Some of his most famous poems from this collection such as “I Am Waiting” and “Junkman’s Obbligato” were created for jazz accompaniment. Written in the conservative post-war 1950s, his poems still resonate, as they will continue to resonate, with a joyful anti-establishment fervor that beats a rhythmic portrait of humanity. Ferlinghetti sings of a world in which “the heart flops over / gasping ’Love’,” “cadillacs fell thru the trees like rain,” and where “we are the same people / only further from home / on freeways fifty lanes wide.…
More Information

A Far Rockaway Of The Heart

A Far Rockaway of the Heart is Ferlinghetti’s sequel to Coney Island of the Mind, written forty years afterwards in what the author has called “a poetry seizure” that lasted more than a year. A sequence of one hundred and one poems with recurrent themes, it includes various sections on love, art, music, history, and literature, as well as confrontations with major figures in the avant-garde before the arrival of the Beat generation.…
More Information

These Are My Rivers

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “one of our ageless radicals and true bards” (Booklist), has gathered here four decades of poetry in his inimitable everyman’s voice, including more than fifty pages of new work. The tone has deepened over the years, and he may now be seen as a true maestro in his field. Behind the irresistible air of immediacy and spontaneity lies much erudition and an antic imagination intent on subverting “the dominant paradigm.…
More Information

European Poems And Transitions

These poems on European themes by the author of Her (his Paris novel) and the enduring A Coney Island of the Mind were mostly written during the last seven years and, in the poet’s words, are “transformations and transitions looking westward to America and beyond.” Flowing from France to Italy to the Netherlands, on to Germany, back to France, and finally toward America, they follow Ferlinghetti’s own recent journeying. The poems progress geographically and chronologically with a cohesive development of ideas and themes.…
More Information

Wild Dreams Of A New Beginning

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning brings together two acclaimed poetry volumes by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of our “ageless radicals and true bards” (Booklist). Who Are We Now? (1976), the first half of Wild Dreams, takes a long poetic look at the cultural fallout of a more radical time. This probing of the changes in the American psyche through the 1970s is carried forward in the second part, Landscapes of Living & Dying (1979)––a work originally hailed by Library Journal as “Ferlinghetti’s strongest work since his 1957 A Coney Island of the Mind ….…
More Information

Over All The Obscene Boundaries

These poems on European themes by the author of Her (his Paris novel) and the enduring A Coney Island of the Mind were mostly written during the last seven years and, in the poet’s words, are “transformations and transitions looking westward to America and beyond.” Flowing from France to Italy to the Netherlands, on to Germany, back to France, and finally toward America, they follow Ferlinghetti’s own recent journeying. The poems progress geographically and chronologically with a cohesive development of ideas and themes.…
More Information

Endless Life: Selected Poems

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is surely (as a reviewer in Booklist phrased it) “one of our ageless radicals and true bards.” He has consistently spoken in poetic terms accessible to every type of reader about our life and time and its issues, not only the political ones but those of the interior life. Behind the immediacy of what Library Journal called his “Dynamic, verbose, alarming, charming, and unsettling” poetry and its irresistible spontaneity lie serious thought and erudition.…
More Information

Landscapes Of Living And Dying

In Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s first “Populist Manifesto,” he called for “a new wide-open poetry/with a new commonsensual public surface’’ which still retains “subjective and/or subversive depth.” In Landscapes of Living & Dying, the poet has himself answered that call. As a result, most of these poems have already appeared on the Op/Ed pages or in the news sections of major metropolitan dailies, and this fact alone makes the book unique among new poetry collections.…
More Information

Who Are We Now?

“Do you enjoy your own mind? Maxims and legends of total reality, echoing and re-echoing there?” asks Lawrence Ferlinghetti in discussing this, his seventh book of verse. “If we could only decipher it… Visual beatitudes, landscapes of living and dying flashed upon the dark screen…” The poems in Who Are We Now?, truly “landscapes of living,” are naturally attempts to decipher that reality, ranging eclectically from the populist to the esoteric, from Bob Dylan to Gustav Klimt to the already famous “Populist Manifesto,” which the late jazz critic Ralph Gleason characterized as an “important document of the Seventies.…
More Information

Open Eye, Open Heart

It is poems such as these, among those of other poets roughly associated with the San Francisco school, which Pablo Neruda had in mind when he spoke with Ferlinghetti in Cuba not so long ago of “your wide-open American poetry.” There is a wide-angle vision and a very great range in the different kinds and genres of poems––personal and lyric, satiric and meditative, public and political, spoken and sung––written over the past decade during the poet’s travels in the world and inside himself––a world seen in a semi-dark glass through which light nevertheless keeps breaking.…
More Information

Back Roads To Far Places

This single long poem of intimately linked verses is not a translation, although the echoes of Japanese poetry and Tibetan Buddhist texts are many. Starting out after Basho but meeting Milarepa and Dante among others en route, the poet finds his own way, toward a kind of American mantra.
More Information

The Mexican Night

Nonfiction by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The Mexican Night is the first of several travel journals, to be published over the next few years, which Ferlinghetti originally envisioned under the title of “Writing Across the Landscape.” It is considerably more than a travel book, including as it does much pure prose-poetry, new poems, and drawings taken from the author’s notebooks. The Mexican Night is not only personal but political, while at times it would seem to be a kind of “travel novel”––with but one character––the wandering figure (somehow surrounded with solitude) of the poet himself.…
More Information

The Secret Meaning Of Things

The Secret Meaning of Things is Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s fourth book of poems, and it has all the elements of his earlier poetry: lyrical intensity, wit, social concern, satirical bite, and above all a classical claritas. But it goes much further: there is a deepening of vision and a darker understanding of “our clay condition.” The six long poems in The Secret Meaning of Things show a progressive continuity and clarity of perception that apprehends both the hard reality and luminous irreality in everyday phenomena.…
More Information

Her

Fiction by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Translated by Vincent McHugh

With a contribution by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

“A surreal semi-autobiographical blackbook record of a semi-mad period of my life, in that mindless, timeless state most romantics pass through, confusing flesh madonnas with spiritual ones.” This is how the author describes this extraordinary expatriate novel. “To all those who have for several years sought to discredit the new American literature, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has just dealt a most powerful blow,” wrote French critic Pierre Lepape in 1961 when Her was published in France as La Quatrième Personne du Singulier.…
More Information

A Coney Island of the Mind

The title of this book is taken from Henry Miller’s Into the Night Life and expresses the way Lawrence Ferlinghetti felt about these poems when he wrote them during a short period in the 1950s—as if they were, taken together, a kind of Coney Island of the mind, a kind of circus of the soul. A Coney Island of the Mind is not about the geographical Coney Island. The author intended it as a sustained metaphor or allegory of modern life.…
More Information

Starting From San Francisco

Starting From San Francisco, first published in 1961, was the third collection of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry. The long poems of Starting From San Francisco present a new, quieter, more profound aspect of the poet. His original lyricism and caustic humor have been confronted, as it were, with the real presence of evil and death. “Starting from Paumanok… I strike up for a New World” wrote Walt Whitman in 1860. Starting from San Francisco, a hundred years later, Ferlinghetti roved back across the country (this “cradle we rocked out of”) then turned south of the border to visionary conclusions in that lost horizon symbolized by Machu Picchu, the Inca city the Spaniards never found.…
More Information

Shards: Fragments of Verses

Poetry by Lorenzo Chiera

Translated from the Italian by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Sensual and glimmering, Lorenzo Chiera’s elliptical fragments evoke nights of bawdy excess in Trastevere (“City made of Roman ruins … / what a whorehouse!”), translated here by one of the most renowned poets of our time. In his preface, Lawrence Ferlinghetti describes the experience of reading Chiera for the first time: “We soon realize we are in the presence of a savage erotic consciousness, as if the lust-driven senses were suddenly awakened out of a hoary sleep of a thousand years, a youth shaken awake by a rude medieval hand, senses still reeling, drunk in the hold of some slave ship, not knowing night from day nor sight from sound, the eye and the ear and the nose confounding each other, not yet knowing which function each was to take up in the quivering dawn.…
More Information

He has a gift for helping you hear what needs to be said… His high points are the poems that you wish you could listen to in a car, on a long coastal highway with the windows rolled down.

—Jeff Gordinier, New York Times

Tenderly lyrical, outrageously irreverent, yet always accessible. ​

Fort Worth Star Telegram

Lawrence gets you laughing then hits you with the truth.

—Francis Ford Coppola

A brave man and a brave poet.

—Bob Dylan

Time of Useful Consciousness is a fresh missive from an elderly Beat who has always refused to sit down.

Truthdig

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a national treasure and the kind of poet laureate we really deserve.

CounterPunch

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s engrossing new work, Time of Useful Consciousness, is an ode to modern American myth. At ninety-two, Ferlinghetti has rhythm, he has vision, and he captures the magic energy of Jack Kerouac.

The Coffin Factory

Ferlinghetti refers to Ginsberg as ‘the Whitman of our age,’ but Time of Useful Consciousness has that epic, galvanizing, country-hopping voice of a latter-day Good Gray as Ferlinghetti recreates the pioneer spirit of racing west for gold, for freedom, for art, for land, for the hell of it, for life — as well as all the messy stops along the way.

—Christopher Bollen, Interview Magzine

In the spirit of Whitman, [Ferlinghetti] unwinds a country in all its speed and vibrancy.

San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco’s first poet laureate and its most lyrical town crier.

San Francisco Chronicle

Tenderly lyrical, outrageously irreverent, yet always accessible.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Lawrence is my favorite poet, to warn us of the coming of Big Brother. Lawrence gets you laughing, then hits you with the truth. From D-Day to 911 Lawrence is the poet who asks us why the human race is trying to kill itself.

—Francis Ford Coppola

Ferlinghetti’s poems burn through modern America’s absurdities and unrepentant historical revision in a glorious rant against mediocrity, greed, capitalism and boring poetry.

Publishers Weekly

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is our determined conscience, our wit and eloquence – our steadfast friend and witness – and our communal wisdom’s articulate, patiently insistent old-time voice. Would that all might stand up as he and be counted!

—Robert Creeley

Tenderly lyrical, outrageously irreverent yet always accessible.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

…the foremost chronicler of our time.

Library Journal
< Takashi Hiraide Jenny Erpenbeck >