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Lawrence Ferlinghetti Biography | Poet

Photo of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is best known as the poet who helped initiate the culturally significant Beat movement and 1950's San Francisco literary renaissance. He was born on the 24th of March in 1919, and is still alive today at the age of 96. He was born in Yonkers, New York. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 1958 work A Coney Island of the Mind is still probably his most famous poem collection.

Educating Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti went to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. However, he differs somewhat from some of the more modern poets who are seasoned academics who have been to almost every school, and who seem to have taught at all schools. He earned a B.A. in journalism and then enrolled in the graduate program of Columbia University thanks to the G.I. Bill. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was certainly educated, but his poetry and his life were less academic in nature than those of many modern poets.

The Family and Life of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti had something of a troubled early life. His father passed away before he was even born, and his mother was institutionalized soon after his birth. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was largely raised by his aunt Emily, but she wasn't especially well-equipped to care for him financially and sometimes had to put him in the care of orphanages while she hunted for stable employment.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a naval officer during World War Two. Few men of his generation did not fight in World War Two, and he was certainly not one of the exceptions. He actually visited the ruins of the city of Nagasaki, which helped shape his later political development. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was strongly progressive. He had anarchist sympathies, as well as pacifist sympathies. Some of his political attitudes can be seen in his poetry, but a lot of his poetry is not overtly political in nature.

Work and Achievements of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Pictures of the Gone World was the first poetic collection that Lawrence Ferlinghetti published. People still probably know him from A Coney Island of the Mind, which was published in 1958. Lawrence Ferlinghetti has won may awards throughout his poetry career, including the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Award for Contribution to American Arts and Letters, the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Kirsch Award, and the BABRA Award for Lifetime Achievement.

The Legacy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's connection to Beat poetry is somewhat strange. On the one hand, he is the poet who is often credited with starting the movement itself, and he is certainly associated with many of the other members. His style is also similar to theirs, so his poetry certainly belongs with theirs. However, he is also noticeably different from many of them in important ways.

Beat poets are associated with being very free-spirited and people will often think of them as the people who are always on the road. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was very much a settled individual. While he had very liberal and radical beliefs, he was not against the establishment to the extent that many of the other Beat poets were. He is also notably older than many of them, and he often regarded himself as an older Bohemian helping a new generation of poets. Lawrence Ferlinghetti primarily helped the Beat poets by publishing their work.

A lot of the work of the likes of Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Diane diPrima would have been lost to history forever if Lawrence Ferlinghetti had not been around to publish them, particularly in the case of Allen Ginsberg. He offered a great deal of support to all of them.

However, he also supported the movement through his own impressive poetic contributions. His poetry has a lyrical and narrative style to it, even though it is more accessible than plenty of older poems. He did help bring poetry back to the public sphere again, so this isn't surprising. Lawrence Ferlinghetti explored naturalistic themes, the tragedy and comedy of life, and the dream and failure of democracy. His poetry ranged from the political to the personal and back again. It had more structure than the poetry of many of the Beat poets, and demonstrated the extent to which Lawrence Ferlinghetti seemed to have been caught between two worlds. 

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