My Photo

the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]

Follow 1michaelgray1 on Twitter

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Here's the entry in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia on this grand old man of American letters:

Ferlinghetti, Lawrence [1919 - ]
Ferlinghetti, born in Yonkers, New York, on March 24, 1919, became one of the most influential figures of the Beat Generation. He was a publisher - and was arrested for publishing GINSBERG’s Howl in 1955 - as well as a poet: and not the usual self-taught poet - he studied at the University of North Carolina, Columbia University and the Sorbonne. He co-founded the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, where he moved in 1951 after working for Time in New York City. City Lights was an important rendezvous, talkshop and publishing house for experimental writers.

Unsurprisingly, then, he is the Beat poet whose work most noticeably includes constant allusions to others’ texts and titles - a feature we recognise as characteristic in Dylan’s 1960s poetry, in Tarantula and throughout his songs. Ferlinghetti’s poem ‘Autobiography’ includes allusions to ELIOT, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Wolfe, ALLEN GINSBERG, WOODY GUTHRIE, Wordsworth, Thoreau and Melville.

Specific passages also prefigure Dylan: ‘I got caught stealing pencils / from the Five and Ten Cent Store / the same month I made Eagle Scout.’ absolutely sets the tone for Dylan’s ‘My Life In A Stolen Moment’. ‘Junkman’s Obbligato’ [sic] chimes similarly, updating Eliot’s glamorously sordid city in very much a ‘Dylanesque’ way: ‘Stagger befuddled into East River sunsets / Sleep in phone booths... / staggering blind after alleycats / under Brooklyn Bridge / blown statues in baggy pants / our tincan cries and garbage voices / trailing.’ And you can’t read, in ‘The Long Street’, the unmemorable lines ‘where everything happens / sooner or later / if it happens at all’ without hearing Bob Dylan’s voice reciting a passage with that same rhythm and that same last line on the unreleased early version of ‘Brownsville Girl’, ‘New Danville Girl’ [Hollywood, December 1984]: ‘Nothing happens on purpose / It’s an accident / If it happens at all.’ Another poem, ‘Dog’, with the recurrent line ‘The dog trots freely in the street’, might be the prompt for ‘If Dogs Run Free’.

All these Ferlinghetti poems are from the group ‘Oral Conversations’ in A Coney Island Of The Mind, 1958, which Dylan namechecks in the sleevenotes to Biograph - but Dylan also alludes to Ferlinghetti’s collection Pictures From The Gone World in his interesting sleevenote prose poem for Planet Waves: ‘Yeah the ole days Are gone forever And the new ones Aint fAR behind, the Laughter is fAding away, echos [sic] of a staR, of Energy Vampires in the Gone World going Wild!’ (See also Planet Waves, disappearing sleevenotes, the.)

Dylan is known to have written Ferlinghetti a long, not overly successful prose-poem-style letter, postmarked April 28, 1964, after calling on him that February 20, finding him not at home, and leaving him a short note. Despite this apparent friendliness, the following year, when Ferlinghetti attended one of Dylan’s early electric concerts (Berkeley, November 3, 1965), his attitude was described like this by RALPH GLEASON:

‘I thought Larry was a tragic figure that weekend, a shaken and embittered man. You know, “What is that stringy kid doing up there with his electric guitar?” I mean, “I am a major poet and this kid has thirty-five hundred kids in this hall.” And Larry has been mumbling to himself ever since.’

He appeared to have reached an acceptance of the electric guitars by the time of The Last Waltz concert in 1976, at which, already looking ancient, he performed his ersatz version of the Lord’s Prayer.

His 40+ poetry books also include Endless Life: The Selected Poems, 1981. At the time of writing, Ferlinghetti is still alive... He has outlived all his major contemporaries among THE BEATS.

[Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Pictures of the Gone World, San Francisco: City Lights, 1955; A Coney Island of the Mind, New York: New Directions, 1958; Endless Life: Selected Poems, New Directions, 1981. Bob Dylan: note and letter to Ferlinghetti, 20 Feb & 28 Apr 1964, both in the City Lights archive deposited with the Bancroft Library at UCLA, Berkeley; first published in The Telegraph no.36, Romford UK, Summer 1990; letter seen online 02 Sep 2005 in the ‘Words Fill My Head’ section of (though here it is laid out like a poem and not as on Dylan’s typed sheet). Ralph Gleason quoted in Robert Shelton, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, 1986, Penguin edn. p.333.]

- photographer unknown -


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love City Lights - bought an English translation of 'Ein weites Feld' by Gunter Grass when I was there in 2001/02. Popped in again in 2007 - great place. Neatly matched by Vesuvio bar next door - as relaxed a place in which to start reading a book as can be imagined.

11:35 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home