The very image of the counterculture, the City Lights Bookstore opened its doors on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood in 1953. At first, under the name of the Pocket Bookshop, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin sold only paperbacks and magazines; the name was changed in 1955 when the famous Pocket Poets Series began with Ferlinghetti’s own Pictures of the Gone World. The series and the bookshop flourish to this day. In 1956, a few months after the famous Six Gallery reading, Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, causing a firestorm of controversy when he was arrested and tried for the sale of obscene material in 1957. Ferlinghetti was acquitted, and the powerful little book of poems has since sold over a million copies. The poem itself was a watershed work for the New American Poetry, and is still contemporary in its angry protest.
Charles Plymell, The Last of the Moccasins (1971).
Ferlinghetti started the City Lights Journal in 1963, basing it on such older and distinguished European literary journals as Botteghe Oscure and Transition and on the yearly American anthologies from New Directions. The entire Beat pantheon, including Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Ed Sanders, Gary Snyder, and Neal Cassady, contributed to the first issue. The Journal did not stay on schedule, however; it numbered only four issues, the last of which was not published until fifteen years after the first. But the Journal was notable for the catholicity of its taste, combining writing from around the world. Under the City Lights imprint, Ferlinghetti has published a truly international selection of avant-garde literature, including works in translation by García Lorca, Rimbaud, Picasso, Prévert, Neruda, and others, as well as original work by almost all the Beat, Black Mountain, and San Francisco Renaissance writers. Ferlinghetti today is an incarnation of his own hero, Charlie Chaplin, a symbol of integrity, of a life lived for art. Chaplin’s famous film provided Ferlinghetti with the name for his equally famous and truly exemplary bookstore.
Denise Levertov, Here and Now (1957). Pocket Poets Series, No. 6.
Nicanor Parra, Anti-Poems (1960). Pocket Poets Series, No. 12.
City Lights books include
Beatitude Anthology. 1960.
Corso, Gregory. Gasoline. 1958. Pocket Poets Series, No. 8. Introduction by Allen Ginsberg.
Di Prima, Diane. Revolutionary Letters. 1971. Pocket Poets Series, No. 27. Cover design by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Duncan, Robert. Selected Poems. 1959. Pocket Poets Series, No. 10.
Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. Pictures of the Gone World. 1955. Pocket Poets Series, No. 1.
Ginsberg, Allen. Howl and Other Poems. 1956. Pocket Poets Series, No. 4.
Ginsberg, Allen. Kaddish and Other Poems 1958–1960. 1961. Pocket Poets Series, No. 14.
Kerouac, Jack. Book of Dreams. 1961. Cover photograph of the author by Robert Frank.
Kerouac, Jack. Scattered Poems. 1971. Pocket Poets Series, No. 28. Cover photograph of the author by William S. Burroughs.
Lamantia, Philip. Selected Poems 1943–1966. 1967. Pocket Poets Series, No. 20.
Levertov, Denise. Here and Now. 1957. Pocket Poets Series, No. 6.
Mailer, Norman. The White Negro. 1957. Cover negative of photograph by Harry Redl.
McClure, Michael. Ghost Tantras. 1964. Cover by Wallace Berman.
McClure, Michael. Meat Science Essays. 1963.
O’Hara, Frank. Lunch Poems. 1964. Pocket Poets Series, No. 19.
Parra, Nicanor. Anti-Poems. 1960. Pocket Poets Series, No. 12.
Pickard, Tom. Guttersnipe. 1971. Cover photograph of the author by Elsa Dorfman.
Rothenberg, Jerome, ed. and trans. Nine Young German Poets. 1959. Pocket Poets Series, No. 11.
Waldman, Anne. Fast Speaking Woman. 1975. Cover photograph of the author by Sheyla Baykal.
Watts, Allen. Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen. 1959.
Weishaus, Joel, ed. On the Mesa: An Anthology of Bolinas Writing. 1971. Cover photograph by Steven Lazar.
Williams, William Carlos. Kora in Hell. 1957. Pocket Poets Series, No. 7.
For further information about City Lights, the reader is referred to: Ralph T. Cook, City Lights Books: A Descriptive Bibliography (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1992).