Lawrence Ferlinghetti was named the first poet laureate of San Francisco by Mayor Willie Brown in August 1998. His inaugural speech,was delivered to an enthusiastic, full house at the San Francisco Main Library. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the author of fourteen books of poems, as well as fiction, translations, plays, and essays. He is also a committed painter, a renowned publisher, and co-proprietor of the City Lights Bookstore, which he co-founded in 1953.
Here are some extracts from his speech that will help you to understand his poetry:
I certainly was surprised to be named Poet Laureate of this far-out city on the left side of the world, and I gratefully accept, for as I told the Mayor, “How could I refuse?” I’d rather be Poet Laureate of San Francisco than anywhere because this city has always been a poetic centre, a frontier for free poetic life, with perhaps more poets and more poetry readers than any city in the world. But we are in danger of losing it; in fact, we are in danger of losing much more than that. All that made this City so unique in the first place seems to be going down the tube at an alarming rate.
This week’s Bay Guardian has the results of a survey that “reveals a city undergoing a radical transformation from a diverse metropolis that welcomed immigrants and refugees from around the world to a homogeneous, wealthy enclave.”
The gap between the rich and the poor in San Francisco increased more than 40 percent in just two years recently. “San Francisco may soon become the first fully gentrified city in America, the urban equivalent of a gated bedroom community,” says Daniel Zoll in the Guardian. “Now it’s becoming almost impossible for a lot of the people who have made this such a world-class city people who have been the heart and soul of the city for decades from the fishers and pasta makers and blue-collar workers to the jazz musicians to the beat poets to the hippies to the punks and so many others to exist here anymore. And when you’ve lost that part of the city, you’ve lost San Francisco.”