Poetry News

SF Gate Sits Down With Lawrence Ferlinghetti

By Harriet Staff
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

John McMurtrie writes for the SF Gate about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who recently "warmly welcomed an interviewer at his second-floor apartment on a country-quiet street in North Beach." Listen to it here. For now, an excerpt:

Q: Why San Francisco?

A: It seemed like it was still the last frontier, which it isn’t anymore. I mean, in 1951, it was a wide-open city, and it seemed like you could do anything you wanted to here. It was like there was so much missing that if it was going to be a real city, there was so much that it had to get, that it didn’t have. And, for instance, as far as bookstores go, all the bookstores closed at 5 p.m. and they weren’t open on the weekends. And there was no place to sit down. And there was usually a clerk on top of you asking you what you wanted.

And so the first thing I realized, there was no bookstore to become the locus for the literary community. It’s really important if you’re going to have a literary community, it has to have a locus. It just can’t be out there in the air. So, from the very beginning, when we started City Lights in June 1953, the idea was to make it a locus for the new literary community that had developed out of the Berkeley Renaissance, so called, and it proved to be true. People just flocked to it because there had been no locus for the literary life.

Q: Back to San Francisco and how it’s changing. What has changed the most about the city, in your opinion, over those years?

A: You’d have to write a couple books to cover that. In 1951, San Francisco was a small, provincial capital. And it was provincial. For instance, there was no place in town to get a croissant, except in the basement of the City of Paris department store, where there was a cafe. And so that was a test of our provinciality (laughs).

Q: What needs to change in San Francisco, in the Bay Area in general, to keep artists here?

A: Well, San Francisco now, it’s Boomtown USA — it’s a bigger boom than after the Gold Rush in the 1850s and ’60s. The boomtown today is transforming San Francisco into something you’re not even going to recognize in another 15 years. It hasn’t quite hit North Beach yet, but the rest of the town, it’s just a huge traffic jam everywhere. The automobile is transforming and ruining most of the cities, not just San Francisco. I call it Autogeddon. Autogeddon is ruining the cities...

Find the full piece on Ferlinghetti's all-too important voice at SF Gate.


Originally Published: December 14th, 2018