“Poetry is the shadow cast by our streetlight imaginations.” – Lawrence Ferlinghetti
On February 22, 2021, Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away at the age of 101. A prolific writer, Ferlinghetti was known for his poetry, his critique of politics, and his participation in creating the Beat movement of the 1950s. Poetry was the art form most important to him. His poetry held nothing back and his actions supported and encouraged others to do the same.
Do you support poetry enough to get arrested for it? Ferlinghetti did. In 1956, police arrested Ferlinghetti for printing an “indecent” poem. That poem was “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, the best-known poem of the 20th century.
Using City Lights Booksellers & Publishers as his home base, Ferlinghetti fostered a space for free thinking, writing, and poetry. He befriended and published a number of Beat poets. While Ferlinghetti is widely considered a Beat poet himself, he humbly insisted that he didn’t do much but mind the store.
Ferlinghetti painted, traveled, spoke at conferences, and read his poetry all over the world throughout his life. All the while he remained a stout progressive, speaking out against the Cuban revolution, the nuclear arms race, the Vietnam War, and the wars in the Middle East.
In 1958, Ferlinghetti published A Coney Island of the Mind, which continues to be one of the most popular American poetry books.
Here are a few more of his poems to honor him and his amazing contributions to poetry.
This collection of poems was written during the 1950s and the Beat movement. The title comes from Henry Miller’s Into the Nightlife and perfectly describes how Ferlinghetti was feeling as he wrote these poems.
Written as a sequel to A Coney Island State of Mind, this collection was released forty years later. Written in 101 related poems, Ferlinghetti takes this opportunity to confront other, more “renowned” poets from before his time. Other poems are just as critical of modern poetry.
This part lyrical novel, part autobiography is a tribute to Ferlinghetti’s 99 years of life. Covering everything from his French aunt, his childhood with a rich Bronxville family, his service during WWII, to his vagabond days in Paris. Filled with bursts of energy and raw emotion, there is inspiration on every page. What should be considered Ferlinghetti’s closing statement on his incredible career, he lets loose and in an unapologetic way.
With dozens of poems and collections under his name, his writing will continue to inspire generations to come.