Without Lawrence Ferlinghetti, it is safe to say, Black Spring Press would likely not exist, nor would hundreds if not thousands of other small presses; and countless poets, artists, activists, musicians and writers were also encouraged, inspired, edited, and published, by him - not least Neal Cassady, who we at BSPG are also proud to publish now.
Ferlinghetti, who died two days ago at the age of 101, was many things - but he is especially the slightly-older poet and impresario who encouraged Ginsberg to read HOWL in San Francisco more than 60 years ago, setting off a touch paper revolution for generations of Beat, indie, outlaw and counter-culture writers and poets to come. His City Lights Bookstore became iconic, as a meeting place, and publisher also, for so many.
Ferlinghetti was, like Whitman before him, open and generous, and wrote a lot. Some of his poetry collections, like Coney island of the Mind, sold over a million copies. Arguably one of the most popular and loved American poets since Frost, he nevertheless retained a modesty that strikes me as exemplary.
To share one instance - Once, as a young man in Paris I met him at Shakespeare and company, the famous bookshop, and told him, arrogantly in retrospect, I was also a poet. He surprised me by inviting me to read with him the next day, at the shop - it turned out, he allowed me to share the bill to an audience of hundreds outside on a lovely spring day! He barely knew me, and he gave so much because he loved to support poets.
As poet, editor, publisher, bookseller, writer, artist, political activist, Beat-generation generator, and all-around mainstay and cornerstone of the American revolution in democratic writing that erupted in the 1950s, he has no equal, and his death ends an era, as well as, fortunately, underlining its magnificent accomplishments and sustainability. His books remain in print, his poems still read, his influence still felt, his gifts recalled, and so he truly does become evergreen and eternal, like few other major poets and makers. He truly lit the city of the imagination, brilliantly.