Gary Snyder: Warmly Remembering Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Gary Snyder (photo: Larry Miller) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (photo: Elsa Dorfman)

My first night in  North Beach, (at 18) roaming the night streets on a layover from Oregon, I heard of Larry Ferling.  He had recently arrived in town it was said,  and was  looking into buying the little bookstore at the corner of Broadway and Columbus. 

I got my ride back to Portland.

I returned to the Bay Area a couple of years later and Lawrence’s place had become “City Lights Books” and had an admirable booklist of current labor politics, Socialist theory, Marxist vision, Rexroth travels, Kropotkin Mutualism, plus much poetry and novels. 

I got to know Lawrence and we talked about nature theory and wild ecosystems.  I went my way on to work in the high Coastal Mountain trails and then linguistics and languages at Berkeley. My contacts there led to the dedicated Buddhist Imamura Family, to poetry research, and on to living in Japan.

I started writing my own poems and sent a sheaf to San Francisco.  Lawrence wrote back to say that if we got the paper, printed and bound them and then sent them to him, he’d sell them. Potter Will Petersen and I did the labor.  We sent 500 and they sold.

Through later years I got to know Lawrence better via my friend Allen Ginsberg.  We even met and cooked for friends at Lawrence’s little house on the ocean coast.  Lawrence came once to do a poetry reading in my home territory in a noble wooden church structure from the gold mining era.  In a driving rain.

Summers of drouth, bark beetles, and wildfire have come through. I managed to have a last lunch with Lawrence together with novelist Kim Stanley Robinson in a modest restaurant in North Beach the Fall of 2011.

From start to finish, he was the biggest, clearest, most consistent supporter of radical, adventurous, experimental writing on the whole west coast.

■ Gary Snyder, (III.2.2021)