Lawrence Ferlinghetti interview on Democracy Now!
Marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's On The Road, Democracy Now! has a wide-ranging interview with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the publisher, poet, activist, founder of City Lights Books, and embodied spirit of San Francisco.
A small excerpt, on Ferlinghetti's having published Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems:
AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, you start the bookstore in’53. In ‘57, you and Allen Ginsberg, you’re already involved in an obscenity trial. Talk about that.
LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, the first printing was done in England, because the presses—it was much better printing and much better binding and cheaper to print in England. And we were just a little one-room press. And so, it was letterpress. The first copies of Howl were stopped by customs—Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems. And then, customs in San Francisco were holding the books, and they finally released them after the US attorney refused to prosecute. And then—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the significance of Howl and why you published Allen Ginsberg’s poem.
LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, it was that reaction when I first read it and when I first heard it: I’ve never seen the world before like this. It’s just a new reality I’m seeing and hearing. And I think that’s the way it is with great works. When you first read it, you say, “I’ve never known this was the way things are. I never realized that’s the way the world really is.”
And another, on the state of the world:
AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. So what about the state of the world today and our role in it?
LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: It’s rushing over the cliff. I think practically all of Congress is totally ignoring the ecological crisis fast ascending on us. I mean, and so many people have even refused to see Al Gore’s movie—and I’m looking forward to seeing the new one, The Eleventh Hour—because people think that, “Oh, the calamities aren’t going to happen in my little corner right now. It might happen fifty years or a hundred years from now. I mean, my house isn’t going to be swept away. Or my house isn’t—or my life isn’t going to change. I’m always going to be able to drive to work.”
But it could change overnight. The ecosystem is so finely balanced that it could go out of balance overnight and crash like a computer by tomorrow morning. And not a single presidential candidate for the next election seems to have any really potent ecological program to save the world from this ecological disaster.
Three of my favorite Ferlinghetti poems can be found online: