Lawrence Ferlinghetti

About the Film by Chris Felver FERLINGETTI | THE OLD ITALIANS DYING ; Poem | DOVE STA AMORE: Poem

Born in 1919 in New York, Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a best selling poet of America to this day and a seminal figure of the Beat Generation that many believe could not have existed without his entrepreneurship. He earned a doctoral degree in poetry at the Sorbonne in Paris with a dissertation entitled The City as Symbol in Modern Poetry: In Search of a Metropolitan Tradition. After leaving Paris he moved to San Francisco. Ferlinghetti with Peter Martin started a magazine there called City Lights, titled after the Charlie Chaplin film. He and Martin established their enterprize on the second floor of a building on Broadway and Columbus in North Beach. They then opened a bookstore on the floor below as an additional venture, naming it after the magazine. The City Lights Bookstore became one of the most widey known bookstoreson the planet, and still stands in its original location today.Ferlinghetti began publishing original books by himself and others under the City Lights logo. His Pocket Poets Series made poetry books inexpensive, and the small attractive paperback is still a common style today. Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ as Pocket Poets Number Four, and was tried on obscenity charges for this. He was declared innocent, a landmark victory for free speech that furthered the fame of City Lights Press and made Ferlinghetti instrumental in changing American mores toward a more progressive openess, helping to quell earlier hypocrisies. Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind has been in print for over fifty years and sold over a million copies.

About the Film by Chris Felver: “FERLINGHETTI” to be shown at
Poets House Oct. 28, 7 PM, 2011. Admission Free.

(Ferlinghetti photos copyright (C) 2011 Chris Felver.
All rights including electronic reserved by the artist.

In his definitive documentary, FERLINGHETTI, director Christopher Felver crafts an incisive, sharply wrought portrait that reveals Ferlinghetti’s true role as catalyst for numerous literary careers and for the Beat movement itself. Felver’s one-on-one interviews with Ferlinghetti, made over the course of a decade, touch upon a rich mélange of characters and events that began to unfold in postwar America. These events include the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, the divisive events of the Vietnam war, sexual revolution, and according to many this country’s perilous march towards intellectual and political bankruptcy.

Since its inception in 1953, Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore quickly became an iconic literary institution that embodied social change and literary freedom. Continuing to thrive for over five decades, it is a cornerstone of America’s modern literary and cultural history. Felver’s documentary explores the world of San Francisco’s legendary poet, artist, publisher and civil libertarian. Ferlinghetti reads many of his significant poems, discusses his political and social activism, and gives viewers an insight into his public and private life as it unfolds over nine remarkable decades. His ideological identity began to coalesce soon after visiting the ruins of Nagasaki – just weeks after the devastation of the atomic bomb in 1945 – an event which he says transformed him into “an instant pacifist.” Ferlinghetti’s new found skepticism regarding the power of the state materialized into his unique brand of political activism shortly after he moved to San Francisco and made the acquaintance of Kenneth Rexroth.

The political principles he infused into his poetry quickly spread throughout the world — even cited as one of the primary catalysts of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Back at home, the Beat Generation’s rebellion, which could not have existed without Ferlingetti’s level headed sense and primary role as publisher, against the social conservatism of the 1950’s jump-started social awareness and permanently impacted the tone and character of American culture. It was Ferlinghetti’s infamous censorship trial – for his publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1956 – versus the City of San Francisco that launched the social rebellion of the Beats into national consciousness.

By winning the trial, Ferlinghetti who stood alone as Ginsberg did not attend the trial, set a precedent that secured the First Amendment rights of publishing in this country and preserved the freedom of speech in literature. Ferlinghetti industrious entrepreneurship set the foundation for successive generations of First Amendment activists: the musicians, poets, authors, and filmmakers who continue to protect our freedom of speech today.

The film features archival photographs and historical footage, with appearances by Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Billy Collins, Dennis Hopper, Robert Scheer, Dave Eggers, and Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Snyder. The appearance of numerous other prominent figures from the literary, political, and art community further underscore the enormous social impact Ferlinghetti’s legacy continues to have on the American cultural scene. As he reads from A Coney Island of the Mind, Ferlinghetti manifests what it means to be a rebel poet, a renegade publisher and a true bearer of the Whitman tradition. Despite being the best-selling poet in modern literature, his place in the history of American literature was not carved out by his pen alone. With his publishing house at City Lights, he has championed the writings of countless other writers and continues to turn successive generations on to poetry. This film hopes to further educate the general public as to why Lawrence Ferlinghetti is easily one of the pre-eminent figures of modern political activism and very likely the most influential artist in the history of American literature since the 1950s. Now in his nineties, he remains productive.

For inquiries regarding print sales, photo and film licensing, books, films, exhibitions, and publicity contact:
CHRISTOPHER FELVER at 511 Johnson Street #1 Sausalito, CA 94965 USA <>

(C) 1979 Lawrence Ferlinghetti. All rights reserved by the author and his publisher New Diretions

For years the old Italians have been dying all over America
For years the old Italians in faded felt hats
have been sunning themselves and dying
You have seen them on the benches
in the park in Washington Square
the old Italians in their black high button shoes
the old men in their old felt fedoras
with stained hatbands
have been dying and dying
day by day
You have seen them
every day in Washington Square San Francisco
the slow bell
tolls in the morning
in the Church of Peter & Paul
in the marzipan church on the plaza
toward ten in the morning the slow bell tolls
in the towers of Peter & Paul
and the old men who are still alive
sit sunning themselves in a row
on the wood benches in the park
and watch the processions in and out
funerals in the morning
weddings in the afternoon
slow bell in the morning Fast bell at noon
In one door out the other
the old men sit there in their hats
and watch the coming & going
You have seen them
the ones who feed the pigeons
cutting the stale bread
with their thumbs & penknives
the ones with old pocketwatches
the old ones with gnarled hands
and wild eyebrows
the ones with the baggy pants
with both belt & suspenders
the grappa drinkers with teeth like corn
the Piemontesi the Genovesi the Siciliani
smelling of garlic & pepperoni
the ones who loved Mussolini
the old fascists
the ones who loved Garibaldi
the old anarchists reading L’Umanita Nova
the ones who loved Sacco & Vanzetti
They are almost all gone now
They are sitting and waiting their turn
and sunning themselves in front of the church
over the doors of which is inscribed
a phrase which would seem to be unfinished
from Dante’s Paradiso
about the glory of the One
who moves everything…
The old men are waiting
for it to be finished
for their glorious sentence on earth
to be finished
the slow bell tolls & tolls
the pigeons strut about
not even thinking of flying
the air too heavy with heavy tolling
The black hired hearses draw up
the black limousines with black windowshades
shielding the widows
the widows with the black long veils
who will outlive them all
You have seen them
madre de terra, madre di mare
The widows climb out of the limousines
The family mourners step out in stiff suits
The widows walk so slowly
up the steps of the cathedral
fishnet veils drawn down
leaning hard on darkcloth arms
Their faces do not fall apart
They are merely drawn apart
They are still the matriarchs
outliving everyone
in Little Italys all over America
the old dead dagos
hauled out in the morning sun
that does not mourn for anyone
One by one Year by year
they are carried out
The bell
never stops tolling
The old Italians with lapstrake faces
are hauled out of the hearses
by the paid pallbearer
in black mourning coats & dark glasses
The old dead men are hauled out
in their black coffins like small skiffs
They enter the true church
for the first time in many years
in these carved black boats
The priests scurry about
as if to cast off the lines
The other old men
still alive on the benches
watch it all with their hats on
You have seen them sitting there
waiting for the bocce ball to stop rolling
waiting for the bell
for the slow bell
to be finished tolling
telling the unfinished Paradiso story
as seen in an unfinished phrase
on the face of a church
in a black boat without sails
making his final haul


Dove sta amore
Where lies love
Dove sta amore
Here lies love
The ring dove love
In lyrical dellight
Hear love’s hillsong
Love’s true willsong
Love’s low plainsong
To sweet painsong
In passages of night
Dove sta amore
Here lies love
The ring dove love
Dove sta amore
Here lies love


Copyright ©1955-1993-2011 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. From THESE ARE MY RIVERS: New & Selected Poems, NY: New Directions Press: All rights including electronic reserved by the author and publisher. Ferlinghetti’s books are available at New Directions Publishing and book shops and sites worldwide.

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