Lawrence Ferlinghetti

City Lights founder and prolific poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti appears in person to celebrate the release of his long-anticipated new book, Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals 1960-2010. Lawrence and editors Giada Diano and Matthew Gleeson read choice excepts from this extraordinary volume, which provides a panoramic portrait of art and life across the twentieth century, from Mexico to Morocco, Paris to Rome, and beyond. Ferlinghetti closes the evening reading his poem, “At Sea,” dedicated to Pablo Neruda. This event was packed, thanks to all who came out.

Over the course of an adventured-filled life, now in its tenth decade, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has been many things: a poet, painter, 87286100431850Lpacifist, publisher, courageous defender of free speech, and owner of San Francisco’s legendary City Lights bookstore. Now the man whose A Coney Island of the Mind  became a generational classic reveals yet another facet of his manifold talents, presenting here his travel journals, spanning over sixty years. Selected from a vast trove of mostly unpublished, handwritten notebooks, and edited by Giada Diano and Matthew Gleeson, Writing Across the Landscape becomes a transformative work of social, cultural, and literary history.

Beginning with Ferlinghetti’s account of serving as a commanding officer on a Navy sub-chaser during D-Day, Writing Across the Landscape dramatically traverses the latter half of the twentieth century. For those only familiar with his poetry, these pages present a Lawrence Ferlinghetti never before encountered, an elegant prose stylist and tireless political activist who was warning against the pernicious sins of our ever-expansive corporate culture long before such thoughts ever seeped into mainstream consciousness.

Yet first and foremost we see an inquisitive wanderer whose firsthand accounts of people and places are filled with pungent descriptions that animate the landscapes and cultures he encounters. Evoking each journey with a mixture of travelogue and poetry as well as his own hand-drawn sketches, Ferlinghetti adopts the role of an American bard, providing panoramic views of the Cuban Revolution in Havana, 1960, and a trip through Haiti, where voodoo and Catholicism clash in cathedrals “filled with ulcerous children’s feet running from Baron Hunger.” Reminding us that poverty is not only to be found abroad, Ferlinghetti narrates a Steinbeck-like trip through California’s Salton Sea, a sad yet exquisitely melodic odyssey from motel to motel, experiencing the life “between cocktails, between filling stations, between buses, trains, towns, restaurants, movies, highways leading over horizons to another Rest Stop…Sad hope of all their journeys to Nowhere and back in dark Eternity.”

Particularly memorable is his journey across the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1957, which turns into a Kafkaesque nightmare in which he, lacking a proper visa, is removed from a Japan-bound freighter and forced back across the Russian steppe to Moscow, encountering a countryside more Tolstoy than Khrushchev, while nearly dying in the process. Readers are also treated to glimpses of Ezra Pound, “looking like an old Chinese sage,” whom Ferlinghetti espies in Italy, as well as fellow Beat legends Allen Ginsberg and a dyspeptic William S. Burroughs, immured with his cats in a grotto-like apartment in London.

Embedded with facsimile manuscript pages and an array of poems, many never before published, Writing Across the Landscape revives an era when political activism coursed through the land and refashions Lawrence Ferlinghetti, not only as a seminal poet but as an historic and singular American voice.

David Meltzer, Two-Way Mirror

City Lights celebrates the classic, Two Way Mirror: A Poetry Notebook, published in its newest gift edition with a reading from prominent Beat Generation poet, David Meltzer.

Two Way Mirror: A Poetry Notebook available here

published by City Lights Books

A classic book of poetics by a major Beat Generation poet, published in a beautiful new edition.

Rational and practical, a teaching tool and a guide to creativity that makes the perfect gift for poets at any stage of development.

Praise for Two-Way Mirror:

“Reading Two-Way Mirror, I feel continually surprised, excited, alive. This book makes me want to make poems, and readers, beware: if you are not already a poet, this book could very well turn you into one.”––Matthew Zapruder, author of Sun Bear (Copper Canyon, 2015) and Why Poetry (Ecco Press, 2016)

“I know of no better amalgam of poetry & poetics & no better introduction to the ways in which poetry can emerge for us & lead us beyond ourselves & toward our own fulfillments. Meltzer’s grace of mind & the life of poetry that surrounds it make the case complete.”––Jerome Rothenberg

“A great book of learning from a lifetime’s thoughts of the poem. Ramble, scribble, tickle, lightbulb! Timely and highly worthwhile.”—Clark Coolidge

“Invaluable for anyone who reads or writes poetry, or has a restless desire of any kind, this wondrous, zany compendium gives us ‘a biography of poetry’ that directly enters our veins, bypassing all the crud and restoring our sense of the art, and David Meltzer is a champion of the impossible to have compiled it. Out of print since 1977, this new expanded edition is a gift of delight and wisdom––keep it in your bag by day and by your bed at night.”––Mary Ruefle

About the Author:

David Meltzer is a poet, novelist, editor, and musician. He has edited many anthologies, including SF Beat: Talking with the Poets. His last book is When I Was a Poet, Number 60 in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has called him “one of the greats of post-World War Two San Francisco poets and musicians.”


George Herms

George Herms celebrates the release of his new book, The River Book, at City Lights Bookstore with a guest appearance by Diane di Prima.

The River Book is thgeorge-herms-the-river-book-2(1)e first-ever comprehensive publication on acclaimed and pivotal California assemblage artist George Herms (born 1935). The handsome, two-volume slipcased book covers his earliest works from the 1960s, through his influential assemblages from the 1970s to today, as well as his work on such films as Easy Rider, his set designs for poet and playwright Michael McClure and dancer/choreographer Fred Herko, and his fascinating collaborations with, among others, Diane di Prima and Wallace Berman, for his LOVE Press series of hand-printed books. Interspersed throughout are comments by Herms on various works and on his creative ethos. Also included is a trove of never-before-seen archival photographs of Herms’ friends, such as Wallace and Tosh Berman, Fred Herko, Diane di Prima, Kirby Doyle and Ray Johnson, as well as of Herms himself. A bonus DVD showcases the entirety of Herms’ opera The Artist’s Life. Renowned art critic Dave Hickey provides an insightful look at the artist and his milieu, and the artist himself offers witty and informative text throughout. This is truly an essential book for anyone interested in California art, the Beats, avant-garde theater and film, and fine-art printing.

A Tribute to Peter Orlovsky

Bill Morgan, Joanne Kyger, and Michael McClure celebrate the release of:

Peter Orlovsky, a Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer

by Bill Morgan

from Paradigm Publishers

Until now, the ginsberg_orlovskypoet Peter Orlovsky, who was Allen Ginsberg’s lover for more than forty years, has been the neglected member of the Beat Generation. Because he lived in Ginsberg’s shadow, his achievements were seldom noted and his contributions to literature have not been fully recognized.

Now, this first collection of Orlovsky’s writings pulled from unpublished journals, correspondence, photographs, and poems traces his fascinating life in his own words. It also tells, for the first time, the intimate story of his relationship with Ginsberg.

Orlovsky’s story is a refreshing departure from the established history of the Beats as depicted by his more famous companions. The reader will discover why Jack Kerouac described him as the saintly figure of Simon Darlovsky in Desolation Angels and why the elder poet William Carlos Williams praised his poetry as “pure American.” His was a complicated life, this book shows, filled with contradictions. Best known as Ginsberg’s lover, Orlovsky was heterosexual and always longed to be with women. Always humble, he became a teacher at a Buddhist college and taught a class that he entitled “Poetry for Dumb Students.” His spirit was prescient of the flower children of the sixties, especially his inclinations toward devotion and love. In the end Orlovsky’s use of drugs took its toll on his body and mind and he slipped into his own hell of addiction and mental illness, silencing one of the most original and inspiring voices of his generation.

Peter Anton Orlovsky (1933–2010) was more than just the long-time partner of Allen Ginsberg; he was a poet in his own right. Orlovsky’s work has appeared in The New American Poetry 1945–1960 (1960) and The Beatitude Anthology (1965). His work has been included in literary magazines such as Yugen and Outsider. Orlovsky appeared in films such as Andy Warhol’s Couch (1965), Robert Frank films, Pull My Daisy (1959; based on a Kerouac script), and Me and My Brother (1969).

Bill Morgan is an American writer, known for his work as an archivist and bibliographer for popular figures such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Abbie Hoffman, and Timothy Leary. Morgan was Allen Ginsberg’s personal archivist and bibliographer. Over their 20-year relationship, Morgan became quite close to Ginsberg and wrote his biography, I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg (2006). Morgan has written extensively on the Beat generation and its key figures.

Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics 40th Anniversary Party

Jack Kerouac SchoolWe were proud to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at City Lights. It was fantastic night of readings from JKS faculty and guests who have taught in their summer writing program.

City Lights celebrates Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics 40th anniversary.

Hosted by Andrea Rexillus. With readings by Robert Gluck, Juliana Spahr, Cedar Sigo, Eric Baus, Michelle Naka Pierce, and Chris Pusateri.

Founded in 1974 by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, as part of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s 100-year experiment, the Jack Kerouac School continues to honor its historical roots while bringing forward new questions that both invigorate and challenge the current dialogue in writing today. This event will celebrate Naropa’s 40th year and will feature readings by JKS faculty and renowned guests who have taught in the Summer Writing Program.

Archival Audio: An Interview with Allen Ginsberg

Earlier this year, we received a nice surprise in the (e)mail from a Beat Generation fan asking if we’d like to share an old interview with Allen Ginsberg from the 1980s. Ginsberg visited the University of Maine, and Walt Isgro, the host from the local radio station at the time, shared the original interview with us. Copied from a reel to reel tape and now digitized, we’re happy to share with you now.

David Calonne discussing his new book Charles Bukowski (Critical Lives Series)

David Calonne came into City Lights Bookstore to discuss his new book Charles Bukowski (Critical Lives Series) (Reaktion Books) on December 4, 2012. 

Charles Bukowski (Critical Lives Series)

Poet, short-story writer, and novelist Charles Bukowski (1920–94) was once called by Time a “laureate of American lowlife.” In this new interpretation of his life and work, David Stephen Calonne examines the creation and originality of Bukowski’s writings through the lens of his colorful life, the literary traditions that influenced him, and his unique place in world literature.

Calonne describes how Bukowski, who was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States at the age of three, was influenced by German literary and intellectual traditions. He shows how the writer’s traumatic childhood—his abusive father, social withdrawal, and early introduction to alcohol—influenced the themes and content of his work. Calonne also explores several unknown pieces of fiction and poetry from the early years of Bukowski’s career, as well as his major works—including Post Office and the poetry volumes published by Black Sparrow Press—and biographical films such as Barfly. Comprehensive but concise, Charles Bukowski will find a wide audience in fans of this prolific, influential figure and provide a valuable introduction to his new admirers.

David Stephen Calonne is the author of William Saroyan: My Real Work Is Being and Bebop Buddhist Ecstasy: Saroyan’s Influence on Kerouac and the Beats, and he has edited several Bukowski titles, including Absence of the Hero: Uncollected Stories and Essays, Vol. 2: 1946-1992, More Notes of a Dirty Old Man, and  Portions From a Wine-Stained Notebook Uncollected Stories and Essays, 1944-1990.

Gordon Ball and Bill Morgan in Conversation

On Wednesday, March 14 two great storytellers and keepers of the Beat flame, Gordon Ball and Bill Morgan met for an evening of heartwarming discussion in celebration of Gordon Ball’s new book, East Hill Farm: Seasons With Allen Ginsberg (Counterpoint Press).


During the late 1960s, when peace, drugs, and free love were direct challenges to conventional society, Allen Ginsberg, treasurer of Committee on Poetry, Inc., funded what he hoped was “a haven for comrades in distress” in rural upstate New York. First described as an uninspiring, dilapidated four-bedroom house with acres of untended land, including the graves of its first residents, East Hill Farm became home to those who sought pastoral enlightenment in the presence of Ginsberg’s brilliance and generosity.

A self-declared member of a “ragtag group of urban castoffs” including Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, Herbert Huncke, and the mythic Barbara Rubin, farm manager Ball tends to a non-stop flurry of guests, chores, and emotional outbursts while also making time to sit quietly with Ginsberg and discuss poetry, Kerouac, sex, and America’s war in Vietnam. In honest and vivid prose, Ball offers a rare intimate glimpse of the poetic pillar of the Beat Generation as a striving and accessible human being at home on the farm and in the world.



Gordon Ball is a poet, photographer, filmmaker, professor of english, and master storyteller. For 28 years Gordon Ball took informal photographs of poet Allen Ginsberg and other members of the Beat Generation, the literary and cultural phenomenon which has had a world-wide impact since its inception in the mid-1950s. As well as being exhibited at five conferences on Ginsberg and the Beat Generation, at one-man shows at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art and other venues, Ball’s photos have appeared in many books, including Dennis McNally’s Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America; Michael Köhler’s Burroughs: Eine Bild Biographie; Carole Tonkinson’s Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation; Steven Watson’s The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1994-1960; and many more. Starting at Ginsberg’s farm in 1968, he worked with the poet on numerous literary and artistic projects, editing three books, including two volumes of journals and the Pulitzer Prize nominee Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, Consciousness. He’s the author of ’66 Frames: A Memoir (Coffee House Press, 1999) and Dark Music (Cityful Press, 2006) Gordon now lives in Lexington, Virginia, where he teaches at the Virginia Military Institute.


Bill Morgan is a painter, archival consultant, and historian working in New York City. He is the author of numerous publications including The Works of Allen Ginsberg 1941-1994: A Descriptive BibliographyLawrence Ferlinghetti: a Comprehensive Bibliography, The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete Uncensored History Of The Beat Generation, The Beat Generation in New York, The Beat Generation in San Francisco, Howl On Trial (co-authored with Nancy Peters), I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life Of Allen Ginsberg. He has worked as an archivist for Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Abbie Hoffman, and Timothy Leary. He is a storyteller extraordinaire.

Charlie Newton and the RE/BEAT Manifesto

On Tuesday, January 24, 2012, Charlie Newton stopped by City Lights bookstore to discuss his novel, Start Shooting and “Beat-Noir” as a form of literary alchemy — burning away at the veneer of consumer culture and impacting America’s inner life just like the Beats did in the 1950s.

about Charlie Newton’s Start Shooting

Officer Bobby Vargas and actress/waitress Arleen Brennan understand hopes-and-dreams, the bet-it-all kind that either propel you through the fire or burn you to death. At age thirteen a gruesome rape/murder rocked their lives and the unforgiving streets of Chicago’s Four Corners. Now, twenty-nine years later, a dying Chicago newspaper plans a serial exposé on that “solved” case, threatening to implicate Bobby and his older brother, Ruben—a decorated detective, patron del barrio. The “exposé” will lead Arleen and the Vargas brothers down an increasingly twisted and terrifying path, where the sins of the past threaten to destroy what remains of the truth.

As readers and critics discovered in his first novel, Calumet City, Charlie Newton’s Chicago is a landscape as brutal and poignant as any in modern crime fiction—a multi-faceted, shockingly violent labyrinth of gangland politics, political backstabbing, corporate malfeasance, and, possibly, hope.

Newton was joined by author of City of Secrets Kelli Stanley.

City of Secrets is a powerful, heart-pounding sequel to Kelli Stanley’s scorching thriller and first-in-series City of Dragons, which introduced her unique and unforgettable series heroine, Miranda Corbie. Stanley writes 1940 without gloves on, without censorship, evoking the beauty of Benny Goodman swing and the brutality of a synagogue stained by a swastika. Against the backdrop of a Europe defeated by Nazi Germany, the world on the brink of total war, and an America unsure of where to turn, Miranda Corbie fights on, a lost soldier … but never a lost soul.



Charlie Newton (photo courtesy of Lisa Law)

Charlie Newton‘s first novel, Calumet City, was a finalist for the Edgar, International Thriller Writers, and Macavity awards, among others. Start Shooting is his second novel.








Kelli Stanley is the author of a critically acclaimed Roman Noir series. The first book in that series, Nox Dormienda, won the Bruce Alexander Award for best historical mystery. The second, The Curse-Maker, was also published by Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books. The first book in the Miranda Corbie series, City of Dragons, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was also named one of the 2010 Top Ten Mystery Thrillers by Oline Cogdill and one of the Top Ten Best Fiction by Bay Area Authors by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Victoria Nelson and Jack Werner Stauffacher celebrate the release of Bestiary of My Heart: Cautionary Tales

On Wednesday, December 14, 2011, Victoria Nelson joined Jack Werner Stauffacher as City Lights celebrated Jack’s 91st Birthday! on the occasion of the release of Bestiary Of My Heart: Cautionary Tales (InkerMen Press) by Victoria Nelson.

King Cobra. Draculess. Son of the Pope. Black leather cats. Panther-parrots. A wild child. An eighty-year-old woman eight months pregnant. A man and a woman. A woman and a woman. A woman and a dead man. Flash floods and earthquakes. Spirit animals and strange herbs. The pig that knew the trick. A man’s heart roasted on a spit. A red ruby. Stories drawn from dreams, anecdotes, and other unexpected sources over thirty years.

Tall tales, cataclysms, transformations.


‘Victoria Nelson must stop being a national secret. What a writer she is! And what a mind she is—brilliant, original, imaginative; her language dazzles. A splendid critic and storyteller, she is also an authority on the literature of the spectral and the surreal. In A Bestiary of My Heart, Nelson and Deborah Barrett achieve a mesmerizing fusion of tale and drawing reminiscent of the high art of Bruno Schulz.’ – Cynthia Ozick

‘Rather than a bestiary, Victoria Nelson could well call her book a treasure chest or jewel box. She gifts the reader with gems, crowns, amulets—poetry. Resplendence. Deep Satisfaction.’ – Maxine Hong Kingston

Victoria Nelson is the author of the award-winning The Secret Life of Puppets, and its companion volume, the forthcoming, Gothika. Her other works include a memoir, a study of creativity, and a previous collection of stories Wild California. She was the co-translator of Letters, Drawings, and Essays of Bruno Schultz and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Jack Werner Stauffacher is an master printer, typeface designer, and fine book publisher. He has taught at the Carnegie Mellon University and the San Francisco Art Institute. He is the founder of Greenwood Press and examples of his work can be found in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Michael McClure reads from Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems

Michael McClure reads from Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems

SF Bay Area favorite Michael McClure stopped by City Lights Bookstore on January 26th, 2011 to read from Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems.

This essential collection of Michael McClure’s poetry contains the most original, radical, and visionary work of a major poet who has been garnering acclaim and generating controversy for more than fifty years. Ranging from A Fist Full, published in 1957, through Swirls in Asphalt, a new poem sequence, Of Indigo and Saffron is both an excellent introduction to this unique American voice and an impressive selection from McClure’s landmark volumes for those already familiar with his boldly inventive work. One of the five poets who heralded the Beat movement in the 1955 Six Gallery reading in San Francisco, McClure reveals in his poetry a close kinship to Romanticism, Modernism, Surrealism, and Japanese haiku. These poems–grounded in imagination and a profound regard for the natural world–chart a poetic landscape of utter originality.

New Directions 75th Anniversary Gala Reading at City Lights Bookstore

Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading at the New Directions 75th Anniversary Celebration at City Lights Bookstore. Photo courtesy of Julie Michelle.

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011, City Lights and Litquake hosted a Gala Celebration of a quintessential American publisher with appearances by: Willis Barnstone, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, Denise Newman, Michael Palmer, Katy Silver, Declan Spring, Nathaniel Tarn, and special guests.

New Directions was founded in 1936, when James Laughlin (1914 – 1997), then a twenty-two-year-old Harvard sophomore, issued the first of the New Directions anthologies. “I asked Ezra Pound for ‘career advice,'” James Laughlin recalled. “He had been seeing my poems for months and had ruled them hopeless. He urged me to finish Harvard and then do ‘something’ useful.” Intended “as a place where experimentalists could test their inventions by publication,” the ND anthologies first introduced readers to the early work of such writers as William Saroyan, Louis Zukofsky, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Kay Boyle, Delmore Schwartz, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Merton, John Hawkes, Denise Levertov, James Agee, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Soon after issuing the first of the anthologies, New Directions began publishing novels, plays, and collections of poems. Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, who once had difficulty finding publishers, were early New Directions authors and have remained at the core of ND’s backlist of modernist writers. Publishing influential foreign writers in translation, (often in bilingual editions), New Directions has been largely responsible for America’s interest in Céline, André Gide, Apollinaire, Yukio Mishima, Italo Svevo, Tommaso Landolfi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Kafka, Octavio Paz, Eugenio Montale, Lorca, Nabokov, and most recently W.G. Sebald, Javier Marías, Roberto Bolaño, Inger Christensen, Uwe Timm, Yoko Tawada, Antonio Tabucchi, Bei Dao, and Victor Pelevin. And from Britain — E.M. Forster, B. S. Johnson, and H. E. Bates. New Directions now publishes about 30 books annually in hardcover and paperback. It remains a vital force in the world of American letters. visit:

Willis Barnstone is a poet, translator, and memoirist. He has translated poets from the the Ancient Greek and is also a New Testament and Gnostic scholar.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti
 is a poet, painter, den-mother to the Beat Generation, and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. He has authored poetry, translation, fiction, theatre, art criticism, and film narration. He is best known for his bestseller A Coney Island of the Mind and for publishing the legendary Beat classic HOWL, by Allen Ginsberg.

Michael McClure
 is one of the movers and shakers of the Beat Generation. He is a  poet, playwright, songwriter, and novelist. He read at the famous San Francisco Six Gallery reading in 1955. He is the author of numerous books of poetry and has collaborated on music projects with the likes of Terry Reilly and Ray Manzarek of The Doors.

Denise Newman 
is a poet and translator. She is the author of three collections of poems. She translated The Painted Room by the Danish poet Inger Christensen, and her translation of Azorno, also by Christensen, was published by New Directions in 2009. Her work has  appeared in Denver Quarterly, Volt, Fence, New American Writing, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere.

Michael Palmer is a poet and translator. He has worked extensively within contemporary dance and has collaborated with numerous composers and visual artists. Palmer is the author of ten books of poetry, including Company of Moths, Codes Appearing: Poems 1979-1988, The Promises of Glass, and several others. He has published translations from the French, Russian and Brazilian Portuguese.

Katherine Silver is an award-winning translator of Spanish and Latin American literature. She has translated plays, screenplays—some for major motion pictures—and a wide assortment of academic and other non-fiction books. She also works as an editor and publishing consultant for trade, academic, and literary presses. Her most recent and forthcoming translations include works by Daniel Sada, Horacio Castellanos Moya, César Aira, and Carla Guelfenbein.

Declan Spring is Vice President and Senior Editor at New Directions Publishing.

Nathaniel Tarn is poet, translator, essayist, and anthropologist. He has translated the work of Neruda and Segalen and is the author of numerous books of poetry, criticism, and anthropology. His published works include Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers, Recollections of Being, Selected Poems: 1950-2000, and many, many others

David Meltzer reads from When I Was a Poet

David Meltzer reads from When I Was a Poet

Accompanied by a reading from his creative partner, Julie Rogers, David Meltzer read at City Lights on June 24th, 2011 from his new collection of poetry, When I Was A Poet. A dual milestone in City Lights history, When I Was a Poet is volume 60 of the Pocket Poets Series as well as our first book of poems by this renowned Beat author.

The title piece is an ambitious work by a master at the height of his powers, a spiritual assessment of the meaning of a lifetime spent writing poetry. Also included are portraits of key figures in the poet’s life, including Semina artist Wallace Berman, as well as “California Dreamin’,” a reminiscence of Beat-era bohemian life. Among its other highlights are the vintage, previously uncollected series, “French Broom,” a nutty homage to “Mr. Peanut,” a section of mystical “amulets,” and complete versions of “Night Reals” and “Dogma,” which appear here for the first time. With its profound meditations on love, loss, aging, and death, When I Was a Poet is a substantial contribution to American poetry by one of its foremost living practitioners.

David Meltzer is a poet associated with both the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance. A pioneer of jazz poetry readings, Meltzer also formed a psychedelic folk-rock group. He continues to perform with the music and poetry review, “Rockpile.” He has edited many anthologies, including San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets (City Lights, 2001), and has published 11 erotic novels. He also taught for many years in the poetics program at New College of California. In 2005, Penguin Books published David’s Copy: The Selected Poems of David Meltzer.

Inventor, environmentalist, and literary icon John Dolphin Allen reflects on his life thus far

John Dolphin Allen discusses his new book, Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir, published by Synergetic Press

Anyone suffering from the Global Warming Blues will cherish this uplifting account of the most ambitious environmental experiment of our time: Biosphere 2, a miniature Earth under glass, the world’s largest laboratory for global ecology. John Allen’s memoir, Me and the Biospheres is a rich and complex narrative, filled with rollicking adventure, exceptional camaraderie and mind-bending science.

Covering three acres of Arizona desert, Biosphere 2 contained five biomes: a 900,000-gallon ocean with coral reef, a rainforest, a savannah, a desert, a farm and a micro-city, all housed within an air-tight, sealed glass and steel frame structure. Eight people lived inside for two years (1991-1993) setting world records in human life-support, monitoring their impact on the environment, while providing crucial data for future manned missions into outer space.

Almost as astonishing as the structure is the story of how it came to be. Back in 1969, Biosphere 2 was a mere seed in the luminous mind of writer, actor, philosopher, inventor, and scientist John Allen. He prepared for the manifestation of Biosphere 2 by assembling smaller projects: the creation of a ship to study ocean and river ecologies and cultures; a rainforest enrichment project; a theater group; a world-class art gallery and more. As awe-inspiring as the great cathedrals, Biosphere 2’s building and operation demanded the efforts of the most diverse team of scientists, engineers, artists and thinkers from around the world with whom John Allen worked closely for decades.

Me and the Biospheres is also an account of the singular life John Allen has led: his travels to Egypt, Vietnam, Nepal, Tibet and India, his meetings with people like Buckminster Fuller, William Burroughs, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman. From building developments in Iran to adobe houses in New Mexico, from Harvard Business School to cafés in Tangiers, from board meetings in Fort Worth to mystical moments with Sufi sages, John Allen has impacted millions of people with manifest integrity. His humorous and Whitmanesque memoir is a tribute to the ingenuity and dauntlessness of the human mind. Me and the Biospheres is a passionate call to reawaken to the beauty of our peerless home, Biosphere 1, the Earth.

Synergetic Press was founded in 1969 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After 39 years of publishing, they are still fiercely independent and continue to follow their mission of advancing the most relevant and far-reaching work they can find in the fields of biosphere science, ethnobotany, and world cultures.

ACLU’s Stan Yogi & Elaine Elinson Discuss California’s Epic Civil Rights Battles

Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi dropped by City Lights to talk about their new book, Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California from Heyday Books.

Wherever There’s a Fight captures the sweeping story of how freedom and equality have grown in California, from the gold rush right up to the precarious post-9/11 era. The book tells the stories of the brave individuals who have stood up for their rights in the face of social hostility, physical violence, economic hardship, and political stonewalling.

It connects the experiences of early Chinese immigrants subjected to discriminatory laws to those of professionals who challenged McCarthyism and those of people who have fought to gain equal rights in California schools: people of color, people with disabilities, and people standing up for their religious freedom. The authors bring a special focus to the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, focusing on the infamous Korematsu case, which was foreshadowed by a century of civil liberties violations and reverberates in more recent times—regrettably, even today in the Patriot Act. And they follow the ongoing struggles for workers’ rights and same-sex marriage.

State and federal constitutions spell out many liberties and rights, but it is the people who challenge prejudice and discrimination that transform those lofty ideals into practical realities. Wherever There’s a Fight paints vivid portraits of these people and brings to light their often hidden stories.

Elaine Elinson was the communications director of the ACLU of Northern California and editor of the ACLU News for more than two decades. She is a coauthor of Development Debacle: The World Bank in the Philippines, which was banned by the Marcos regime. Her articles have been published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, Poets and Writers, and numerous other periodicals. She is married to journalist Rene CiriaCruz and they have one son.

Stan Yogi has managed development programs for the ACLU of Northern California since 1997. He is the coeditor of two books, Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley and Asian American Literature: An Annotated Bibliography. His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, MELUS, Los Angeles Daily Journal, and several anthologies. He is married to nonprofit administrator David Carroll and lives in Oakland.

This podcast was recorded live at City Lights Books on Nov. 11, 2009.

Speaking Obscenity To Power: Paul Krassner Reads At City Lights

Paul Krassner

Yippie co-founder. merry prankster and satirical provocateur Paul Krassner reads from Who’s to Say What’s Obscene?: Politics, Culture and Comedy in America Today, published by City Lights Books, July 15, 2009.

Fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Onion will appreciate this timely collection of satirical essays by counterculture icon Paul Krassner. With irreverence and an often X-rated wit, Krassner explores contemporary comedy, and obscenity in politics and culture from “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banners to scenes cut out of recent movies, including Borat.

In his essay “Don Imus Meets Michael Richards” Krassner examines racism in comedy from Lenny Bruce to Dave Chapelle, on The Sarah Silverman Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and in controversial comic strips like The Boondocks.

“These are times of repression,” says Krassner, “and the more repression there is, the more need there is for irreverence toward those in authority.”

Praise for Paul Krassner:

“He is an expert at ferreting out hypocrisy and absurdism from the more solemn crannies of American culture.” — New York Times

“To classify Krassner as a social rebel is far too cute. He’s a nut, a raving, unconfined nut.” — Federal Bureau of Investigation

“The FBI was right. This man is dangerous—and funny; and necessary.” — George Carlin

He Remains: Lew Welch Reads From His Work, 1968

Lew-WelchLew Welch, advertising copy-writer, taxi cab driver, and one of the principal poets of the Beat Generation in San Francisco, reads from his poetry at a raucous evening at San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church on June 8, 1968.

Read more about Ring of Bone, the collected poems of Lew Welch. A new edition will by published by City Lights in June 2012.

This podcast was made possible by the generous folks at the Pacifica Radio Archives.

Jack Hirschman & Neeli Cherkovski Recall Life With Bukowski

Former San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman and poet Neeli Cherkovski remember life with the inimitable Charles Bukowski. The event took place at City Lights on the occasion of our publishing Portions From a Wine-Stained Notebook, a collection of unpublished essays and stories from the drunken bard, edited by David Calonne.


Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), one of the most outrageous and controversial figures of 20th-century American literature, was so prolific that many important pieces were never collected during his lifetime. Portions is a substantial selection of these wide-ranging works, most of which have been unavailable since their original appearance in underground newspapers, literary journals, even porno mags. Among the highlights are his first published short story, “Aftermath of a Lengthy Rejection Slip”; his last short story, “The Other”; his first and last essays; and the first installment of his famous “Notes of a Dirty Old Man” column. The book contains meditations on his familiar themes (drinking, horse-racing, etc.) as well as singular discussions of such figures as Artaud, Pound, and the Rolling Stones. Other significant works include the experimental title piece; a fictionalized account of meeting his hero, John Fante (“I Meet the Master”); an unflinching review of Hemingway (“An Old Drunk Who Ran Out of Luck”); the intense, autobiographical “Dirty Old Man Confesses”; and several discussions of his aesthetics (“A Rambling Essay on Poetics and the Bleeding Life Written While Drinking a Six-Pack (Tall),” “In Defense of a Certain Type of Poetry, a Certain Type of Life, a Certain Type of Blood-Filled Creature Who Will Someday Die,” and “Upon the Mathematics of the Breath and the Way”, revealing an unexpectedly learned mind behind his seemingly offhand productions.

Diane DiPrima: San Francisco Poet Laureate

On the occasion of her becoming San Francisco’s 5th Poet Laureate, we thought we’d celebrate the work of Diane di Prima with a podcast of her reading from her book, Revolutionary Letters in October 2007. Di Prima succeeds Jack Hirschman, who served in the position from 2006 to 2009. Allen Ginsberg described her as “a revolutionary activist of the 1960s Beat literary renaissance.” City Lights was fortunate to have published her Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems in 1990.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights

For our first episode, we thought it might be fitting to hear from our founder. Lawrence Ferlinghetti read a series of his thoughts from Poetry As Insurgent Art on October 24, 2007. Enjoy!

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