In pursuit of yesterday’s blog about growing old, I pause here not only to celebrate the 100th birthday of Beat Generation poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but also the publication of his new book, Little Boy: A Novel
Unlike other writers in the pantheon of literary history, Ferlinghetti is someone with whom I’ve had passing acquaintance. Once, I submitted a story to his magazine, City Lights. He rejected it, then invited me to submit more work in the future. The gesture struck me as a peg above having a door slammed in my face, so I wasn’t discouraged, though I never accepted his invitation. Life took me in another direction, which I will describe in my upcoming memoir. Still, I continue to think warmly of the man whose poetry I discovered when I was a freshman in college, along with others members of the beat generation, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
Ferlinghetti’s home was San Francisco, as it was mine between semesters in the summers of the late 1950’s. That proximity, alone, gave him and me a connection. I knew his turf — knew the coffee houses of North Beach and longed to mimic the charcoal-eyed women who blew blue smoke through lips blackened with grease paint. But I never became a beatnik. I hadn’t the courage. Instead, I was a gawker, and hoped that by drowning in endless cups of espresso, I might mirror the expressions of ennui around me. I never mastered that either. The best I could do was sit in silence, feigning a small degree of existential fatalism.
A decade separated Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac and me from the baby boomers, though it might as well have been centuries. My generation flowered without sunlight at the height of the cold war. We gathered in dark places, muttered cynicism to one another to prove we had no fear of death. We were all destined for the mushroom cloud, weren’t we?
Boomers grew impatient with waiting. Eventually, they tore off their clothes and danced in the sun with flowers in their hair. So much had changed in a decade.
Happy birthday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In spite of your curled lip, you’ve survived 100 years.