Lawrence Ferlinghetti on my Mind
He made me fall in love with poetry, he made me want to come to America, he inspired me to start translating poetry and novels, to write about literature and eventually about him, he made me publish his books in Czech, he made me come back to his bookstore millions of times. I cherish our correspondence and especially the indescribable impact he had on my life: his life’s philosophy became mine.
Some people somehow become "pillars of humanity" who carry us on the wave of their vision. Ferlinghetti was one of them for me. I have admired his vigilance, selfless giving. I was inspired by his sense of justice, standing up for others, for nature and oceans and meaningful old buildings and messy old bookstores, and books, and dingy bars and tiny coffee houses where great conversation is heard since long.
He acknowledged Amazon only as a name of a river and ancient forest. He was a romantic idealist who would walk and bike rather than driving a car. He ignored corporate America and corporate America most likely ignored him! :)
He was no citizen of Wonderland. Raised interchangeably in France and in America by his aunt and later by foster parents, as his dad died from a heart attack before he was born and his mom sadly lost her mind in the aftermath. He went through a rough road even though everyone loved him, but also kind of gave him away here and there when "other" things came up.
Intellectual with the highest goals, his academic road took him to Chapel Hills followed by Columbia University. Service in WWII and a visit to Nagasaki "made me an instant pacifist". His academic journey continued with PhD from Sorbonne. And it was there in France during his studies where he found, so young, his clear calling: to bring a snippet of rich cultural Parisian life to America. Back in the States he packs his bag and travels from the east coast to San Francisco, drawn by the Mediterranian climate and charm of a coastal small quaint town. The year is 1951 and Ferlinghetti came with one duffle bag, wearing a beret, "I was the last Bohemian rather than a first Beatnik". And the history of one of the most colorful and meaningful chapters of American literature starts. His City Lights was established in 1953 and in 1956 he published probably the most famous American book of poetry, Ginsberg's Howl.
"Poets, come out of your closets, Open your windows, open your doors, You have been holed up too long in your closed worlds ... Poetry should transport the public / to higher places / than other wheels can carry it ..."
And I, sealed by the iron curtain in Czechoslovakia from the colorful free world, was devouring his books, and all of the
Beats that he promoted and made a talk of the world. I was a teenager then and promised myself that one day I will travel the world and my first stop will not be Paris or Singapore, Tokyo or Mount Everest, Statue of Liberty or Parthenon, but the City Lights Bookstore.
And my dream did come true.
A young teacher supplementing my saving for the big dream by cleaning offices in a
cinema Lucerna at night , I was coming close to that big day. Revolution in which I helped with millions of others to kick out the commies came handy, the borders opened and here I am! San Francisco USA I am walking your sidewalks in all of my youth beauty, enthusiasm and idealism!
And just like anyone, City Lights charmed me and made me feel like I am a part of something big!
I felt so free and inspired and at awe and I wanted to tell everyone CAN YOU SEE ME HERE IN THIS PLACE?
And I decided along with my brother and my husband to start publishing our beloved American literature in our home, in the Czech Republic. First we bought rights to Kerouac’s Big Sur, I translated it and I wrote Lawrence Ferlinghetti if he would write a preface for us.. A reply came right away saying he simply does not write prefaces and recommended the most important scholar on Kerouac, Ann Chartres. My husband and I visited her and her wonderful husband Sam in Connecticut, and spent an unforgettable day talking for twelve hours about beatniks and music and beatniks again.....and this is how it all started. We published Kerouac's Big Sur with quite a success, then I translated Keroauc's Tristessa that was published with another success, and finally: Ferlinghetti!!
Ferlinghetti was happy about our inquiry to republish him in Czech, and helped us to get the copyrights as he owned rights only to one of the three volumes we published. He also generously allowed us to use his painting on the cover, and — the book was out! And what a success we had with it was both unexpected and gratifying for all of us, Ferlinghetti included! We flew to Prague where in an old church U Salvatora 72 hours of Ferlinghetti reading took place.
The church was filled to capacity day and night and people who read came from all backgrounds: from students to ordinary people to politicians and artists, including many famous ones. Ferlinghetti arrived to a huge crowd anywhere he went and could not believe the craze for him and his poetry since it was many many years since he was published in Czech. Our book was a hit as we sold incredible 2,600 copies in one weekend.
And thus, with his short poem below, ends chapter one of this story called: Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
A poem can be made
Of common household ingredients
It fits on a single page
Yet it can fill a world
And fits in the pocket of a heart