Published: February 25th, 2015
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born in 1919, is a poet, playwright, publisher, and activist who sparked the Beat movement in San Francisco by creating a gathering place for some of the most influential poets of the time - Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Patchen, Gregory Corso... - at his bookstore, City Lights, and published some of their work through the store’s publishing branch called Pocket Poets. In World War II, Ferlinghetti commanded a U.S. Naval ship and took part in the Normandy invasion. He was also sitting in the audience of the 1955 unveiling of Ginsberg’s acclaimed poem, “Howl.” Ferlinghetti’s own poetry was considered to be an integral part of American poetry’s evolution through the 1950’s and 60’s. Rochelle Ratner wrote in Library Journal that, “Ferlinghetti is the foremost chronicler of our times.” His accolades include the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters, two years as San Francisco’s Poet Laureate, the Robert Frost Memorial Medal, the Author’s Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and was named Commandeur of the French Order of Arts and Letters among many others. Upon learning that the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize, for which he was awarded in 2012, was partially sponsored by the Hungarian government, Ferlinghetti declined the award and it’s €50,000 prize, declaring his opposition to the regime of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He believed that Orban’s government was curtailing the freedom of speech and civil liberties of his people.
Howl: What is your writing and editing process like?
Ferlinghetti: It's a mystery.
Howl: How do you get over writer's block?
Ferlinghetti: Never had writer's block.
Howl: What advice do you have for budding poets?
Ferlinghetti: Write night & day.
Howl: Your poem, "Populist Manifesto," is a great call-to-arms for poets. How has poetry shifted in the 21st century and how do you feel about that?
Ferlinghetti: Read "Populist Manifesto" again for your answer.
Howl: Which poets, do you feel, called you to action to become a poet?
Ferlinghetti: Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, William Blake, Shakespeare.
Howl: Why do you feel poetry is your creative medium of choice?
Ferlinghetti: Read my "Poetry As Insurgent Art" (New Directions Publisher).
Howl: What responsibility do you feel the poet has to the reader and vice versa?
Ferlinghetti: Ditto - Read it again.
Howl: How did serving in World War II shape your perspectives on the world, and thus, your work?
Ferlinghetti: It made me a pacifist.
Howl: Did you notice a shift in your poetry pre- and post-war and how did you feel about that?
Ferlinghetti: The wars radicalized me.