San Francisco | February 26, 2021 1:53 pm

Seven Ways to Pay Tribute to Legendary San Franciscan Lawrence Ferlinghetti

How to fight off the “dot-commies and the whole computer consciousness”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Leonardo Cendamo

The fact that San Francisco still has a literary soul is largely due to the work, courage and creativity of a single man: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, publisher, free speech defender, and doula to the Beat Generation. Ferlinghetti died earlier this week at 101. 

“With the dot-commies and the whole computer consciousness, the Beat message is needed now more than ever,” Ferlinghetti told Chronicle writer Paul Iorio in 2000 — a sentiment that might be even truer now than then.

Here’s how to get a tiny bit radical, in the footsteps of the great man. 

1. Buy A Coney Island of the Mind, which might provide some answers as to how the creative spirit survived the decade of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (and created the world that created Don Draper). Published in 1958, it speaks of a world in which “cadillacs fell thru the trees like rain” and “we are the same people / only further from home / on freeways fifty lanes wide.” Do not buy it on Amazon (lol). Buy it at City Lights, for curbside pick-up; the 50th anniversary edition comes with a CD — appropriate for a collection of work meant, here and there, to be accompanied by jazz. 

A Coney Island of The Mind
New Directions Publishing

2. Start an analogue publishing company. Sidenote: Poets throw the best book-release parties. 

3. Get arrested for a good reason. Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl in an apartment at 1010 Montgomery Street, up the hill from the future site of the Transamerica Pyramid, and read from it at the 6 Gallery in North Beach in October 1955. Following that performance, Ferlinghetti wrote Ginsberg, referencing Walt Whitman’s message to Ralph Waldo Emerson after reading Leaves of Grass: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?” (Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti said, “didn’t initially catch the reference.”) Ferlinghetti published Howl, was subsequently arrested on obscenity charges, and then exonerated following trial. 

4. Take in the Cliffs Notes version of the trial in the 2010 film Howl, with James Franco as Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers as Ferlinghetti. 

5. Buy more poetry. A broadside is, basically, a poem-poster, suitable for framing and likely a safer investment than anything you can find on Robinhood. Abebooks has plenty — like this, from Poet Laureate and Pulitzer winner Rita Dove. 

6. Print your own broadside. Everyone has something worth saying — memorialize your own verse in a broadside. The excellent San Francisco Center for the Book periodically offers workshops in exactly this. 

7. Did we mention buying more poetry? Three suggestions: Diane Louie’s Fractal Shores, with prose poems that fairly deserve the descriptor “luminous”; Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s Every Day We Get More Illegal; and Why the Black Hole Sings the Blues, a new collection from Ishmael Reed — currently, among many other things, Distinguished Professor at California College of the Arts.